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Secrecy, search for baby continue

With a mixture of curiosity and dread, neighbors watch as authorities continue to look for Sabrina Aisenberg.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- Pete Berberich first saw a group of white cars, vans and sport utility vehicles three days ago. He figured his next-door neighbors were having a garage sale.

photo
[Times photo: Janel Schroeder]
Laurel Keller holds her 21-month-old daughter, Isabella, during an interview across the street from the house at the center of the investigation of missing Sabrina Aisenberg.
"I just thought it was funny to have a garage sale on a Tuesday," Berberich said.

Robin Peterson also saw the commotion, but she guessed the professional-looking men were part of a landscaping crew.

Nope.

Chuck Boltze assumed creditors had tracked down his neighbors.

"I thought the people just didn't pay their bills," he said.

Wrong again.

Turns out the cars were unmarked law enforcement vehicles and the men were searching for the body of 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg, whose father used to sell homes in the neighborhood.

In November 1997, Marlene and Steven Aisenberg reported their daughter missing from her crib in their Brandon home. Authorities have been trying to build a case against the couple for years.

The drama from one of the most mysterious crimes in the Tampa Bay area has been playing out this week, nearly three years and 35 miles north of where it started, in the Willow Bend subdivision of new homes, screened porches and quiet streets. The homes here were developed by Steven Aisenberg's former employer, M/I Homes.

The main stage has been the $185,000 home on White Hawk Trail, but investigators haven't shed light on what's happening inside. So journalists have sneaked around the back of the house, stood on their cars and even used helicopters to get a glimpse over a fence or into the screened back pool deck.

"It's turned their front yard into a circus," said Marsha McCreary, vice president of the Willow Bend Homeowners Association.

But the carnival-like atmosphere here is laced with morbid thoughts, neighbors said.

"I know a lot of people feel like they've really been deceived," Suzanne Nicholls said. "A lot of people feel really hurt. If they do find that girl there, I hope (Steven) gets what he deserves . . .. God will take care of it."

The mob scene began Wednesday evening with a block-party atmosphere. Neighbors gathered outside the house were just as curious as the television crews they stood beside.

Those television trucks, with their satellite transmitters, pulled away from the scene late Wednesday night.

But leaving wasn't so easy.

The Fox 13 television news van needed a tow truck to rescue it from the wet sand of the vacant lot across the street from the suddenly recognizable house. Quick thinkers from Bay News 9 saved a towing bill by sliding a knocked-down street sign under the van's tires to get traction.

The sun rose Thursday on the same pack of television crews and neighbors who were growing steadily more weary of their presence.

"We've just about had it with all the congestion," said Nicholls. "It's tough living here right now."

Several residents still were willing to mug for the cameras. But a middle-aged jogger with a bare midriff made cameramen promise they wouldn't film her before she passed by the scene.

Some say they know Steven Aisenberg. Others said they wouldn't know him from one of the 10 or 15 journalists standing in their front yard. They all have an opinion on the bizarre turn of events.

"It's just like the (Jon-Benet) Ramsey case," Georgette Claudia said. "I'd just like to get it over with."

- Staff writers Brady Dennis and Chase Squires contributed to this report.

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