Missing Sabrina

Parents' stories trouble police


©St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 1998

Hillsborough sheriff's investigators launched an unusual public counterattack Thursday in the case of missing baby Sabrina Aisenberg, indicating at a news conference that they have serious suspicions about the child's parents.

Despite an investigation so broad it has encompassed 31 states, 702 leads and more than 1,200 interviews, "we still come back to the community, we still come back to Hillsborough County," said sheriff's Maj. Gary Terry.

Terry's remarks, the first significant release of information about the investigation, came a week after Marlene and Steve Aisenberg broke their silence in a spate of interviews with local reporters and national news shows.

Terry suggested it was unlikely a stranger could have targeted Sabrina for abduction, broken into the family's Brandon home Nov. 24, left all other valuables behind and vanished without a clue. Pointing to aerial pictures of the Aisenbergs' neighborhood, Terry questioned how a stranger could have maneuvered through the secluded cul-de-sac undetected.

Terry also said Mrs. Aisenberg has inaccurately told reporters that two polygraph exams she took within 48 hours of her daughter's disappearance were inconclusive. He would not elaborate, but said the Sheriff's Office was satisfied with its polygraph results.

"I don't give a damn whether it's true or not, because she passed a test that was very reliable," said Barry Cohen, the Aisenbergs' attorney, who immediately called his own news conference Thursday afternoon to counter Terry's remarks. The Aisenbergs both passed polygraph tests administered privately by the former FBI examiner who cleared Richard Jewell of the Atlanta Olympic bombing.

Terry said the refusal of the baby's parents to speak to investigators about their behavior the night before Sabrina's "reported abduction" on Nov. 24 "is a major stumbling block." Still, he said detectives are "encouraged" by an early analysis of evidence taken from the home that was hand-delivered to the FBI crime labs in Quantico, Va. He refused to elaborate.

He said 10 potential suspects were cleared of suspicion after taking polygraph tests, but he did not include the Aisenbergs in that group. Cohen, however, said he has no faith in the sheriff's examiner's ability to conduct an accurate polygraph.

He also accused the Sheriff's Office of focusing on the Aisenbergs as suspects to the exclusion of others. Cohen said he was alarmed after a two-hour meeting Tuesday with Terry that gave him the impression the parents were the prime suspects.

He was further alarmed by a subsequent exchange Wednesday night between investigators and the Aisenbergs.

"They were acting in violation of our agreement," said Cohen, who vowed to "step up my lawyering" and forbid any contact between investigators and the couple unless he is present. He would not elaborate on the exchange, beyond saying it involved the discussion of evidence.

The parents invoked their right to have an attorney present at all questioning shortly after a Nov. 25 polygraph test given by a sheriff's examiner, Terry said. They hired Cohen the next day and since that time have refused to discuss with detectives their conduct or demeanor the night before reporting Sabrina missing in a 911 call.

Cohen says he fears a manufactured case against the couple and has placed limitations on interviews until investigators share the case file and notes they wrote before his involvement. Terry said Thursday that will never happen.

After shunning the media for almost six weeks after the baby vanished, the Aisenbergs began a media tour with a Jan. 9 interview with the Times, then went on to appearances on Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, Today and Larry King Live.

Marc Klass, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted from her California home and was murdered, has appeared several times in television reports as an expert on child abductions. He said Wednesday that the Aisenbergs must endure the suspicions if they want to find Sabrina.

"Who knows what these parents know that might be a clue," said Klass, who described grueling police interviews before the discovery of his daughter's body two months after she was kidnapped. "I was willing to turn in members of my family. I was willing to bare my soul. Whatever it took to bring my child home.

"If I were the Aisenbergs now, I would dump Barry Cohen and go straight to the police station."

©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.