Missing Sabrina

Sabrina Aisenberg - family photo

Infant disappears from her crib


©St. Petersburg Times, published November 25, 1997

Steve and Marlene Aisenberg felt so safe in their cookie cutter house at the end of a Brandon cul-de-sac, they often slept with the garage door up and the windows wide open.

At midnight Sunday, Mrs. Aisenberg checked on 5-month-old Sabrina, a chubby baby with a cap of black hair. She was in her crib.

Just before 7 a.m. Monday, when she checked on her daughter again, the crib was empty. Somehow, deputies said, someone kidnapped Sabrina during the night without waking her parents, her siblings, ages 8 and 4, or Brownie, the family's lively shepherd mix who slept inside the single-story stucco house.

Sabrina's parents called 911, then ran to a neighbor's home.

"My baby's gone, my baby's gone," Mrs. Aisenberg told next-door neighbor Marti Jones, who answered her door just after 7 a.m. Jones said Mrs. Aisenberg, 35, was frantic.

Marlene Aisenberg's father immediately offered a $5,000 reward for the baby's safe return, but the day wore on with few leads. Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown said detectives found none of the usual trails to follow: There was no ransom note, no witnesses, no signs of forced entry, no obvious family custody issues. The couple moved to Brandon in 1991 from Maryland and are considered good, caring parents by their neighbors.

Brown said there were no identified suspects in the case.

"In my wildest imagination I can't believe these parents had anything to do with it," Jones said.

Sometime between 3 and 4 a.m. Monday, her husband, Charles, was awakened by their two dogs, who sleep in cages in the garage.

"I heard my little dog. They really weren't barking real, real loud. I got up, I looked around the house real quick and went back to bed," said Charles Jones. He noticed that Brownie wasn't barking next door.

Like other neighbors interviewed, he worried that the Aisenbergs didn't lock their garage and often slept with their front windows protected only by a screen. Neighbors said they had called the couple in the past to remind them to shut their garage. Sheriff's officials would not say whether any other doors in the home were unlocked Monday morning.

Rabbi Marc Sack, who met the Aisenbergs after they joined Congregation Rodeph Shalom earlier this year, spent about 30 minutes with the family Monday afternoon, as they waited at a neighbor's home for word of their daughter. He said they did not wish to speak to reporters.

Later Monday night, however, the Aisenbergs made an emotional plea for the safe return of their daughter.

"This morning, someone came into our home, and took our baby Sabrina Paige, out of her crib and took her out of our home," Marlene Aisenberg said in a videotaped statement, her husband at her side. "I'm begging that person to please bring our baby back to us."

She said the little girl knows her family and they miss her and love her.

"And we need her to come home to us, please," Marlene Aisenberg said. "And I'm just begging that you please bring her home to her family."

Sheriff's deputies impounded the Aisenbergs' two vehicles Monday, after dusting the driver's side and trunk of the couple's silver Cadillac. The car had been parked in the open garage beside a jumble of children's equipment: their son's bike, their daughter, Monica's, two-wheeler with pink training wheels and an umbrella stroller. Deputies also took a white Mercury Villager van, which had been parked in the driveway overnight.

"We don't know what the suspect touched. We have to look at every possibility," he said.

Also described as routine was an interview with both parents at the Sheriff's Office that began after 2 p.m. and continued into the night before the Aisenbergs and investigators returned to the couple's home. Brown said the parents were being questioned in an effort to produce leads.

Sabrina, who was born June 27 at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital, was wearing a lavender one-piece pajama outfit with a pink, yellow and lavender floral band around the middle. Also missing was a yellow, handmade blanket with animal designs, Brown said.

The family videotaped Sabrina for the first time Sunday, just hours before she disappeared, and shared the tape with reporters. Marlene Aisenberg pointed the video camera at the baby, who balanced in a crawling position and looked into the lens. Off-camera, Mrs. Aisenberg narrated.

"Sabrina's crawling and she's almost 5 months old! This is our first time taping her. . . . Sabrina, come crawl to Mommy. C'mere, gorgeous!"

The baby rolled onto her back on the green carpet, wiggled her legs in the air, and played contentedly with her toes, as her mother encouraged her.

"Come here, gorgeous! Come here," she said.

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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