Love is an exciting and daunting journey most people experience at some point during their lives. It could be argued that one of the most potent, and sometimes volatile forms of love is the one shared by a couple. The bonds between two people are often tested, filled with happiness and joy, alongside trials and tribulations.
But sometimes, love just isn’t enough. Feelings can change. We grow and regress as individuals all throughout our lives, affecting who we are as part of a couple. But what happens when someone that you love turns on you?
Statistically, only about half of marriages work out in the long run. Infidelity and indifference can become a second language due to the stress of our daily lives. Indifference and resentment grow, until you no longer recognize the person sleeping in bed beside you.
But for some, this betrayal is taken a step further. Some lovers, whether premeditated or in the heat of the moment, choose to end the lives of the people they once held dear, for reasons we can only guess at. Anyone around in the 90’s knows of the O.J. Simpson trial, and while we may never know the truth, it is widely accepted that he did indeed kill his wife, and get away with it. But some killers aren’t as “lucky,” and some victims get justice, even if it does come too late, and at the cost of their lives.
MELISSA MENDOZA AND DANIEL ROBERTS
Daniel Roberts, 37, of Sabbatus, Maine, was indicted by a grand jury in 2013 for shooting his on and off again girlfriend in the back of the head. A member of the motorcycle club, Hell’s Angels, Roberts met Melissa Mendoza after a motorcycle accident, where she served as a member on his legal counsel. The two started dating, and within a year Mendoza gave birth to their daughter, Savanna. A tumultuous relationship of custody battles and harsh words ensued over the following years, with Melissa reportedly taking her daughter to California in violation of court order. Roberts went to the authorities, and Melissa had to turn her daughter to Maine.
In light of Mendoza breaking the law, Daniel Roberts was awarded custody on August 8, 2005, and Melissa was allowed supervised visitation. Immediately following the ruling, Mendoza filed a motion to appeal the decision, and exited the courtroom to find that her rental car had been vandalized. Due to the damage, she was late for her supervised visit, and Daniel Roberts immediately revoked her right to see her daughter, ending the visit short.
The following day, Dawn Destrini, a local woman and friend of Mendoza that was tasked with the supervision of the mother daughter visits, found her car vandalized as well. She declined to continue supervising the visits, and informed Mendoza, whom had been staying at her house, that she was no longer welcome. Mendoza moved to a local hotel, and the issue of visitation again came up.
The court decided that Mendoza could visit with her daughter in Robert’s home while he was not present, under the supervision of two women that Robert’s had recommended. During the visit occurring in his home he was served with a protection of abuse order filed by Mendoza. Mendoza and Savanna’s next few visits went smoothly.
On the evening of August 14, 2005, Mendoza and Roberts exchanged dozens of phone calls, ranging from angry to reconciliatory, some of which Mendoza was said to have recorded. During the last known call, Mendoza asked Robert’s if she could come back to their home, and Robert’s agreed as long as she “didn’t pull anything stupid.”* Sometime after 1 a.m. police received a phone call from Daniel Roberts’ stating that he had fatally shot Melissa Mendoza in self-defense. He claimed that she came to his home under the pretense of getting back together, but arrived with a gun and a secret agenda of revenge, and went as far as to threaten his and Savanna’s lives. Melissa Mendoza was fatally shot in the back of the head in Roberts’ darkened garage upon entering the home.
During the trial, Roberts’ told how he believed Mendoza had stolen a loaded weapon from his house at one of her earlier visits. His story changed, which ultimately proved to be his undoing, when he told the jury that he believed Mendoza was going to kill both himself and his daughter, or just kill him and kidnap their daughter. Local police maintained that Roberts’ said nothing about his kidnapping theory during the investigation, and it is believed to be a plot by his defense attorneys to try and lend credibility to the shooting. The state presented evidence and testimony of Mendoza as a loving mother incapable of harming anyone, and showed a past history of possible abuse by Roberts. In rebuttal, Roberts’ attorneys’ called previous women Mendoza had allegedly victimized, stating that Mendoza was violent toward himself and several women she believed her Daniel to be having affairs with. Roberts also claimed that Mendoza regularly used drugs and alcohol, and that he should have done more to help her.
During the trial, several Hell’s Angels members were in attendance, and some of the jury felt that the MC members were trying to intimidate them. Justice Joyce Wheeler declared that no “gang” colors or insignia could be worn, and that spectators were not allowed to make eye contact with jury members.
The jury concluded that Roberts’ was guilty of murder, for which is was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison. His lawyers have since appealed, although as of 2014, the decision was still upheld by the District Court in Maine.
While the jury concluded that Daniel Roberts was guilty of murder, we may never know the truth of whether or not he believed Mendoza was a threat to his daughters’ life, or if he shot her in the back of the head in a cold blooded and calculating move. The evidence certainly points to his guilt, but I’ll be on the lookout for the verdict in his further appeals, and try to keep an open mind.
Melissa Mendoza leaves behind various family members and friends, including three children, including Savanna, all of whom are now reported to live with their grandmother in California. My thoughts go out to her and her family.
GAIL KATZ-BIERENBAUM AND ROBERT BIERENBAUM
On July 7, 1985, Gail Katz-Bierenbaum disappeared without a trace. The investigation into her disappearance and alleged death uncovered a bevy of lies and omissions told by her husband, prominent New York surgeon Robert Bierenbaum.
Robert Bierenbaum, born in 1955, was sentenced to life in prison in 2000, 15 years after the disappearance of his first wife. While her disappearance was abrupt and suspicious, Robert evaded prosecution, moved to North Dakota, and remarried to a fellow doctor. He was commended by friends for being a kind and charitable man. He learned how to fly airplanes, and even performed several surgeries for children with cleft-palette that could not have otherwise afforded the procedure. His wife declared him to a loving husband, and the two had a daughter. She stood by him during the trial, and as of 2015 there is no record of their divorce.
However, a more sinister side to the good doctor played out in Alayna Katz’ mind. Alayna, the victim’s sister, believed that Gail met with foul play at the hands of her husband. She reported that her sister told her Robert once tried to drown their cat in the toilet bowl during an argument, and that he did grow violent with her when angered.
Police investigated Gail’s disappearance again years later, and one prominent detail stood out to the lead investigators. Robert Bierenbaum had logged flight hours over the Atlantic Ocean on the day Gail disappeared, but failed to notify police of this during their initial investigation.
With the inquiry in full swing, the word of the couple’s family, friends, and even their respective psychiatrists came into play. While everyone recalled their turbulent and volatile relationship, some went a step further and implied that they believed Robert was abusive toward Gail. Robert himself, and some of his friends told a story of how Gail was troubled and manipulative, often having affairs with drug users, and engaging in high-risk behaviors.
Upon further investigation, another of Robert’s lies was brought to light. He had used his influence in both the local and medical community, and confided during the initial investigation that Gail’s therapist disclosed that she believed Gail was suicidal.
Police interviews revealed that Gail’s therapist never told him that, and did not believe it was true. She asserted that Gail was looking for apartments, and had plans for her future, and did not think or act in a suicidal manner. She furthered police suspicion of Robert, saying that she often told Gail she believed that Robert’s violence toward her may one day turn to homicide.
Due to doctor patient confidentiality the therapists’ testimony could not be used at trial, but provided the perfect motive. Although Gail and Robert frequently separated and reconciled, she believed that Gail chose the day of her disappearance to tell her husband that she was leaving him for good, and for another man. She believed that Robert’s jealous and abusive tendencies sent him into a rage, and he killed Gail. A police report Gail had filed in 1983 that her husband tried to strangle her lead credibility to this theory, which is what the state presented to the jury.
Without a body, it was hard to prove that Bierenbaum murdered his wife, yet justice prevailed. Robert’s medical expertise lead investigator’s and state’s attorneys to believe that he used his medical experience to cut his wife up into small pieces, and subsequently tossed her body into a duffle bag, and threw it from his airplane into the ocean. An attempt at tampering with the flight log made Robert look even guiltier, and the testimony that the two had an argument immediately before her disappearance hurt his case.
On October 24, 2000, after two weeks at trial, Robert Bierenbaum was sentenced to twenty years to life in prison for the murder of Gail Katz-Bierenbaum. His lawyers have since appealed the decision, but Bierenbaum still remains in prison, and Gail’s body still has yet to be discovered.
While love remains to be one of the top motives for murder, it does beg the question in some cases, why? Why not get a divorce and go your separate ways? Are some of the people that murder their significant other’s normal people just like you and I, caught up in the heat of the moment? Or are they pre-disposed in some way to be violent and homicidal?
Thankfully, most of us will never know.
So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, go home, curl up in bed with your loved one, and reconnect. Don’t become the strangers that live separate lives and secretly resent one another, keep the lines of communication open, and don’t forget to compromise.
I won’t bore anyone with more lame dating advice, but the lesson here is to be weary if the person next to you has become a stranger.
**Author’s Note – While some parts of this story are meant to be morbidly and inappropriately humorous in light of the over-glorified hallmark holiday and themes of love, domestic violence is a serious issue that should not be taken lightly. If you, or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, help, and hope are available. There are agencies in place across the country to provide assistance in these situations for men, women, and children, and can be reach at thehotline.com or 1-800-799-7233.