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November 20: Bierenbaum’s Escape Attempt

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A murderer fleeing town, only to settle in a quaint community to start a quiet life sounds like an overused trope. However, that is what happened in Minot over 25 years ago. Dr. Robert Bierenbaum was a plastic surgeon and a cherished member of the community. He moved to Minot in 1996. Originally from New York, people were initially cautious of him. They slowly opened up as he began ingratiating himself into the community, publishing a bagel recipe in the local paper and flying members of the Rotary Club to Mexico to offer medical services to orphans.

However, two years after his arrival in Minot, New York City investigators along with Dale Maixner, a special agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, confronted Bierenbaum on the steps of Trinity Clinic. He invoked his right to counsel, but in December of 2000, investigators arrested him for the murder of his wife, Gail Katz-Bierenbaum.

A New York Times article from October 30th, 2000 stated he was set to be charged with murder on this date. The article details the mix of emotions Minot citizens were feeling. Mike Berg, a friend from the Rotary Club expressed anger, saying: “Going to other states and acting like you're innocent? It's still wrong and you didn't face it.” Berg still sent an email to Bierenbaum wishing him luck with the trial. Darrel Williams, an eye surgeon and one of Bierenbaum’s closest friends, thought that Bierenbaum should be allowed to work on a work-release program, stating: “I feel grief, like someone has died. It's the loss of his life and the good he does to help other people.”

Another account paints a different picture. Alayne Katz, Gail Bierenbaum's sister, told of a double date with the Bierenbaums, witnessing Bierenbaum forcefully shoving sushi in her sister’s mouth and attempted the same with her. Another time, Gail called Alayne crying after Bierenbaum attempted to drown her cat in their toilet. Gail herself had reported an incident to police about Bierenbaum choking her to the point of unconsciousness when he caught her smoking. Despite the report, nothing came of it. Then she went missing on July 7th, 1985. Bierenbaum had claimed she stormed out after an argument.

Eventually, at a parole hearing in December 2021, Bierenbaum confessed to murdering his wife and tossing her body into the Atlantic from an airplane.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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