Parents of missing infant hire lawyer
By MARTY ROSEN
©St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 1997
The parents of a missing baby hired a high-profile defense attorney
Wednesday after a lengthy grilling from authorities left them
frightened and feeling suspect.
Marlene Aisenberg clutched a tissue and fought back tears as her
husband, Steve, stood behind her and gently rubbed her shoulders
in the office of lawyer Barry Cohen. On her brown sweater, the
mother of three wore a gold pin with three tiny rhinestone dolls,
one blue for her son, William, 8, and two pink for daughters Monica,
4, and Sabrina, the 5-month-old who vanished early Monday.
Mrs. Aisenberg reached up to clutch her husband's hand as Cohen
"When you have a high-profile case, people want to bring it to
a conclusion. . . . When you're innocent, and you're not used
to dealing with people like that, it's a little scary," said Cohen,
who said his new clients were sent to him Wednesday morning by
Rabbi Marc Sack, from Congregation Rodeph Shalom. Both Cohen and
the Aisenberg family belong to the conservative South Tampa temple.
Cohen said the family intends to continue cooperating with authorities,
who say they have no leads in the case. Sheriff's officials searched
the family's home again Wednesday, and a search of trash bins,
storm sewers and three ponds near the home failed to turn up clues.
Meanwhile, more than 100 neighbors and supporters gathered for
a prayer vigil Wednesday night at a Bloomingdale shopping center.
Frustrated by the lack of progress, the infant's grandmother said
she turned to a psychic for tips.
"I'm just the grandmother, and I've had a very hard time with
this," said Joan Sadowsky, who pleaded for Sabrina's safe return
during an interview with WTVT-Ch. 13. She said the psychic told
them the baby was kidnapped by a man and a skinny blond woman
in a red pickup truck.
"Please, help us get that baby back," she said.
The Aisenbergs' next-door neighbor, Marti Jones, was startled
to hear about the tip. Her husband, Chuck, had been working in
the yard Saturday, prior to the kidnapping and noticed a red pickup
turning in the cul-de-sac in front of their home. He did not recognize
the truck and could not identify the driver, she said.
Cohen, who said he puts no faith in psychics, declined to comment.
The Aisenbergs turned to Cohen after questioning late Tuesday
by FBI agents and sheriff's detectives made them feel they were
being looked at as suspects in the disappearance, Cohen said.
Increasingly, investigators and observers have commented on Marlene
Aisenbergs' composure, and the fleeting smiles captured by television
cameras when she was taken for questioning Tuesday night.
"This is a very traumatic thing for Marlene and Steve. People
react to stress differently," Cohen said.
Neither Cohen nor sheriff's spokesman Lt. Greg Brown would say
whether the couple was given a polygraph test Tuesday night. The
Aisenbergs were taken in an unmarked sheriff's car to the criminal
investigation office where polygraph equipment is kept, and they
were questioned rigorously.
"It was aggressive enough to cause them concern," Cohen said.
"Especially for someone who feels they've done nothing wrong."
Cohen thanked authorities, neighbors and the media for the efforts
to find Sabrina, who was last seen by her mother at about midnight
Sunday. Just before 7 a.m. Monday, Mrs. Aisenberg peeked in on
her daughter and discovered an empty crib. She called 911.
Robert Chiaradao, FBI acting special agent in charge, would not
comment on reports that the 911 tape has been sent to Quantico,
Va., for processing.
Also appearing at the 3 p.m. news conference in Cohen's Tampa
office were Mrs. Aisenberg's father, Stan Sadowsky, and Steve's
brother, David, and his wife, Kathy Guilfoyle. Both are lawyers,
and they also encouraged the Aisenbergs to hire a professional
to represent them, Cohen said.
The family did not comment Wednesday, even when directly questioned
by reporters. They appeared uncomfortable under the scrutiny of
cameras and reporters who have been camped out in front of their
Bloomingdale home since Monday morning. At the family's request,
the media has refrained from photographing either of the couple's
two young children. Cohen said they have met with their rabbi
through the ordeal and find strength in the support of family,
neighbors and each other.
"Fortunately, they have a loving marriage, and they've been very,
very close," Cohen said.
Cohen asked reporters and the public to keep the incident from
turning into a media event and said he did not want his retention
to create "an inference" in the public's mind. The Aisenbergs
plan to spend a quiet Thanksgiving as a family, praying for the
safe return of their child, he said.
Later Wednesday, more than 100 people took a break from their
own Thanksgiving preparations to gather at a prayer vigil for
the family, holding candles and singing hymns in the back corner
of a Wal-Mart parking lot.
"These are people just like you and me," said resident Gina Kent,
who expressed concern about those who would cast doubt on the
family's story. "I'm thinking somebody stole the baby for money.
A 5-month-old baby brings money in the world today, sick as it
Kari Shepard, 16, of Brandon said she recently made a new friend
through her computer who lives near the Aisenbergs.
"I just wanted to show whoever did this . . . that what they did
is definitely not right, and it hurts a lot of people," she said.
"It's really scary to think that a child in your care, especially
your own, can be just torn away from you."
-- Times staff writer Linda Chion-Kenney contributed to this story.
©Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.