A five-month-old infant is kidnapped from her crib.
According to Marlene Aisenberg, she got up shortly after 6 A.M. on November 24, 1997 , and went into her kitchen:
"I noticed the laundry room door to the garage is opened and I'm like, 'Whoa, what's that doing open?' And I just ran to the first bedroom and I look in Sabrina's crib and she was gone. And I was just, like, you know, I was hysterical. 'Steve, Sabrina's missing! Sabrina's gone!'"
Steve and Marlene Aisenberg's third child, five month-old Sabrina, had vanished from her own crib. The Aisenberg home, located in a suburb of Tampa, Florida, became an instant crime scene. According to Marty Rosen, a journalist who covered the story for St. Petersburg Times, news of the kidnapping sent shock waves through the local community:
"This frightened a lot of people, terrified a lot of young parents. It was chilling for people who lived in that community. It was a quiet, safe, out-of-the-way place. And then a baby disappears."
The Aisenbergs had left their garage door open overnight. The interior door may also have been left unlocked. But there was no sign of an intruder. Then, the investigation took a sudden, unexpected turn. Marlene and her husband became prime suspects.
Marlene Aisenberg says she was floored by the accusation:
"'To me, it was the most unbelievable thing I could have ever heard. And, I was like, 'I have no idea where Sabrina is, I have no idea who took her. That's why you're here. Help.' You know, 'Find her.'"
Deputies removed several items from the Aisenberg home, including Sabrina's crib and bedding. They were sent to the FBI lab for analysis. As the search for baby Sabrina continued, the Aisenbergs taped a public appeal, pleading for her return. The plea might have inspired sympathy for Steve and Marlene, but, according to Marty Rosen, their demeanor made people suspicious. The day after Sabrina vanished, the media taped the Aisenbergs smiling as they left their home:
"A lot of people in the community saw that clip and saw Steve smile, and they saw Marlene with a quick flash of a smile, and they jumped to conclusions. They said, 'Why would these people be smiling? There must be something wrong here.' Some people felt they were guilty of something. Some people felt that they were involved in some way in Sabrina's disappearance."
Steve and Marlene voluntarily took polygraph tests. In Marlene's case, she says the results were apparently a matter of debate:
"They told me it was inconclusive. And they told me that they expected it to be that because I was hysterical and, you know, everything. And my baby's gone, and you know, they would expect that."
The sheriff's office wouldn't say whether she passed or failed. Shortly after Sabrina disappeared, the Aisenbergs hired an attorney. To some, it was just another sign of their guilt. But Marlene Aisenberg said the police left them no choice:
"When the police sit across from you and say, 'We believe you know where your daughter is and we believe you know who has her,' there's a good reason to get an attorney."
Months passed with no sign of baby Sabrina. According to Marty Rosen, the police said that they would soon be laying out their case against the Aisenbergs:
"The police held several press conferences fairly early on in the case and told the reporters that, in fact, they had evidence and that we should just hang on. That they were processing the evidence and that it would be forthcoming. And I've not seen any of that evidence to date."
Lt. Greg Brown of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office:
"Unfortunately, most of the leads bring us back to a dead end, and that brings us back to this community. And we feel that the answers to this crime are within this community. Our policy has always been that we don't list people as a suspect unless we have enough to charge them. We have not ruled the Aisenbergs out. They have failed to assist us in some ways, and it makes it more difficult to rule them out as having some involvement in the case."
"I believe that somebody came into our home and just took her. It had to be someone who wanted a baby so bad and they couldn't have one themselves or they needed money so bad that they would want to sell her."
"It could be that somebody just watched Marlene and I, and saw our habits of occasionally leaving the garage open and knew we had a baby. Or, it could have been somebody that knew us casually and then through others knew our habits. So it, you know, anything is just pure speculation."