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May 6, 2024 30 mins

The club returns! Carole, Mindy, Alayne and Anna are back together again to eat food, drink wine… and solve a 35 year old cold case. 

If you’re affected by any of the themes in this show please reach out to DNA Doe Project, an organisation we’ve partnered with. 

The Girlfriends: Our Lost Sister is produced by Novel for iHeartPodcasts. 

For more from Novel visit 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:06):

Speaker 2 (00:11):
Hey listener, I just wanted to give you a heads
up on what to expect from this series. As always,
The Girlfriends is about solidarity, sisterhood, and uplifting women's voices,
but this is also a story about violence of the
most terrible kind against women. There's going to be mentions
of murder, and we'll also reference drug and alcohol use.

Above all, we're going to talk a lot about missing
and unidentified people. But on the way, as we tread
along this dark, uncertain path, we're going to try to
find moments of light, because that's what life is. It's
the good and the bad, the joy and the misery
all mixed up into one. If you feel impacted by

any of the themes while listening, I encourage you to
check out our charity partner, DNA Dough Project. They work
with law enforcement to identify Jane and John Doe's using
genetic genealogy in the hopes of reuniting the bodies of
unidentified people with their families. You can find them at
dnadough project dot org. Oh and just one more thing,

I still swear like a sailor, So if you're up
for listening, you're gonna hear a fair amount of let's say,
colorful language. But come on, you know me by now
you cook with familial.

Speaker 3 (01:33):
Yeah, this is it. I think it might get that
one over there.

Speaker 4 (01:36):
Oh you go the wine? Yeah?

Speaker 2 (01:38):
What's that old saying? Men come and go, but girlfriends
are for life. Well, hi, girlfriend, we are back. It's
a dark, cold evening on the sixth night of Hanukah
in twenty twenty three. Myself, my good Nindy, and my

producer Anna are in New York visiting the Lane Cats.
This is the first time we've all been in the
same room together, and we've got a lot of catching
up to do, so we'd best start pouring the wine.

Speaker 1 (02:13):
Did you want me to open up something you bought?

Speaker 3 (02:15):
The red on the table or the pink in the
refrigerator or both.

Speaker 1 (02:19):

Speaker 2 (02:23):
The last time I saw any of these ladies, we
were recording Season one of The Girlfriends. We told the
story of how we came together and helped law enforcement solve.

Speaker 1 (02:32):
A fifteen year old cold case and as a.

Speaker 2 (02:35):
Result, we put my fucking asshole ex boyfriend Bob behind
bars for the murder of his wife, Gail Cats. Now
you can listen to that first, if you haven't already.

Speaker 1 (02:49):
After we wrapped this series.

Speaker 2 (02:51):
I felt like I finally put that strange part of
my life in the past. But that was wishful thinking,
because it turns out that lurking within one cold case
was another, the case of our lost sister. In nineteen
eighty nine, a few years after Gail Cats disappeared, a

woman's torso washed up on Staten Island. She was then
misidentified as Gail Cats, and after spending nearly a decade
buried in the Cat's family plot, she was exhumed for
DNA testing in the lead up to Bob's trial. When
the results came back and confirmed that she was not Gail,

she just sort of disappeared. It's been thirty five years
since she washed up on that shore, and we still
don't know her name, which just doesn't sit.

Speaker 1 (03:47):
Right with us.

Speaker 2 (03:52):
There is this Jewish belief that after death, your name
is still connected to your soul, and so saying somebody's
name after they died is part of how we remember them.
We need to give our girl her name back so
that we can honor her properly.

Speaker 1 (04:09):
We owe that to her, We owe it to.

Speaker 2 (04:12):
Every murdered and missing woman whose stories go untold. Because
those stories matter, and because no girlfriend gets left behind,
We've decided to come together again to try.

Speaker 1 (04:28):
And find out who she is once and for all.

Speaker 2 (04:32):
We've got Gail's sister, Elaine Katz, who is a powerhouse
of a lawyer. Most importantly for this new investigation, Elaine
spent nine years believing that our Jane Doe was her
sister and has been wondering who she really is ever since.

Speaker 3 (04:48):
When they told me that they had made the wrongful identification,
that was a very blow point.

Speaker 2 (04:54):
Then there's Mindy Shapiro, my dear friend, who once not
so dearly set me up with that aforementioned murderer.

Speaker 1 (05:01):
I mean me, at least I say he's perfect on paper.
See what you think I thought?

Speaker 3 (05:06):
I said the exact same thing about him, perfect on paper,
exact same words.

Speaker 2 (05:12):
Mindy's also a fabulous doctor and the girlfriend's answered to
Sherlock Holmes with the nose for digging into the unknown.
And finally, our most recent recruit, producer Anna aka Anna
the Vegan aka the British One. Anna wrote and produced
the first series of the podcast and has been officially

adopted as a member of our club and adopted in
general I have no children.

Speaker 5 (05:38):
You could be my daughter. You can be my daughter.

Speaker 2 (05:47):
So where do we start? This is a thirty five
year old cold case, a case that couldn't be solved
by the police, the medical examiners, or anyone else. As
I'm sure you've picked up, we're not professional detectives. We're
just three nosy Jewish ladies and one tofu eating producer.

Speaker 1 (06:08):
But we really, really care.

Speaker 2 (06:11):
I'm determined that by the end of the series, not
only will we know this missing girlfriend's name, but we
will know her story.

Speaker 1 (06:20):
So back to that question, where do we start? Well,
how bad? At the beginning?

Speaker 2 (06:28):
I'm Carol Fisher and from the teams at Novel and
iHeart Podcasts, this is the girlfriends Our Lost Sister, Episode
one a double mitzvah.

Speaker 4 (07:10):
Okay, where are we?

Speaker 5 (07:11):
Statton Island Fairy?

Speaker 1 (07:15):
I think you going? This is free, that's free, truth
be told.

Speaker 2 (07:21):
I don't know how you're meant to open up a
cold case, but in all my years working in hospice care,
one thing I've learned is that there's a reason we
often lean on ceremony and ritual when remembering the dead.
It brings order to what we can't understand. Which is
why myself, Mindy, and producer Anna are heading to Staten Island.

Speaker 1 (07:43):
We're on a pilgrimage back.

Speaker 2 (07:45):
To the place where our lost sister first appeared before
she got irreversibly tangled up with the story of Gailcats
and our lives. We get ushered onto the ferry and
grab a seat downstairs, leaving the other tourists shivering on deck.

Speaker 1 (08:01):
It ish. I'm really lucky it's not raining.

Speaker 2 (08:03):
M h.

Speaker 1 (08:04):
Even if it's a little cold.

Speaker 2 (08:06):
It's a little cold is an understated I'm.

Speaker 1 (08:10):
Happy to know I got it, but I will give
New York it stews. Despite the cold, it's a beautiful day.

Speaker 2 (08:16):
There isn't a cloud in the sky, and the water
is shimmering, reflecting the Manhattan Skyline back onto its own
high rise windows. Just for a moment, we feel like
we're on vacation, with Mindy Shapiro in the role of
tour guide.

Speaker 5 (08:32):
Statue of Liberty, Hey Hey, New York, New Yoick.

Speaker 2 (08:39):
As we move past Brooklyn and then through the industrial
parts of the Bay, I wonder if we're retracing a
journey our Jane Doe could have taken through the water
before her torso washed up on the shore on May
twenty one, nineteen eighty nine. It gives me a kind
of spooky feeling to imagine we're following in her footsteps,
so to speak.

Speaker 5 (09:01):
Everybody seems to be going out our boat docks at
Saint George's Terminal in Staten Island.

Speaker 2 (09:10):
We follow the crowd into a building which has the
vibe of a small town strip mall, and after an
embarrassing amount of time spent trying to find the exit,
we eventually make it out.

Speaker 1 (09:24):
Okay Street.

Speaker 5 (09:26):
We're on the street Okay.

Speaker 2 (09:32):
After a short drive, we arrive at Front Street, the
location where the torso first washed ashore. When we get
out of the car, we emerge into a new industrial landscape.
There's apartment buildings, offices, and construction sites, and in front of.

Speaker 1 (09:52):
Us, well, here are the piers.

Speaker 2 (09:55):
Most of the piers are fenced off due to building works,
and we can't spot an entry point, so I get
creative joy wirecutters. As we're looking for a spot to
enter totally legally, we notice that none of these piers
are matching the location we had in our minds. We

always imagined that she was found on the water's edge,
but there's no beaches here. It's just water right up
to the ocean wall. So we walk a little further
out and that's when we see it.

Speaker 4 (10:32):
I'm just looking at a little beach head right over there. Yeah, like,
this kind of beach area looks more like what I imagined.
And I swear I heard that it washed washed.

Speaker 1 (10:45):
Sure, I remember those words.

Speaker 4 (10:48):
Yeah, this feels way more like it.

Speaker 5 (10:51):
Yeah, this seems right.

Speaker 2 (10:58):
We arrived at some rail lanes fencing off a shingle
beach with some old wooden posts jutting out of the water.
It's a remarkably peaceful scene with the waves crashing gently
onto the pebbles, and probably for the first time in
our goddamn lives, all three of us shut up.

Speaker 1 (11:39):
The whole thing is so horrific.

Speaker 6 (11:41):
But standing here, this is actually quite a beautiful scene
beneath the bridge and the New York skyline and the
sound of the water. So as violent and horrific as
her death would have been, you know, maybe there is

some karma, that there's some calmness and beauty.

Speaker 1 (12:08):
To where her her heart was found. You know, it
also makes me really think.

Speaker 2 (12:17):
About Gail and how she was just discarded into the water,
Bob Beerenbaum, my ex boyfriend and Gail Kats's husband, threw
Gail's body out of a plane into the Atlantic Ocean.
It's unlikely that Gail's body will ever be found, which

only makes our investigation into our Jane Doo's identity all
the more meaningful. To think of someone's life taken not
only way too short, but then disposed of the way
it was, and then the torso washes up here. I
just find it incredibly sad. It's almost like it's become

the moral obligation to find her. Now that we're here,
in this spot where it all began, we feel like
it's important to mark the occasion with the ceremony of sorts.

It can often be hard to know what to say
when you're dealing with death, especially death as tragic and
brutal as these two.

Speaker 1 (13:31):
So I thought i'd read something.

Speaker 2 (13:34):
There's this beautiful poem that people often read at funerals
called remember Me, And if you listen to the words,
I think you'll agree that it's fitting. To the living,
I am gone to the sorrowful, I will never return
to the angry I was cheated, But to the happy,
I am at peace and.

Speaker 1 (13:55):
To the faithful.

Speaker 2 (13:56):
I have never left. I cannot speak, but I can listen.
I cannot be seen, but.

Speaker 1 (14:03):
I can be heard.

Speaker 2 (14:05):
So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a
beautiful sea, as you look upon a flower and admire
its simplicity, remember me, Remember me in your heart, your thoughts,
and your memories of the times we loved, the times
we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never

have gone. That's really pretty.

Speaker 6 (14:36):
I think this was very perfect and Elaine would be pleased.

Speaker 4 (14:42):
Yeah, well, we didn't do this for Gail.

Speaker 1 (14:44):
Well, because we didn't have closure for Gail.

Speaker 6 (14:48):
No, you know, And so this is just a double mitzvah.

Speaker 2 (14:57):
A mitzvah is a good deed, and we hope that
this whole series will be a mitzvah, a chance for
us to not only identify this missing woman, but to
honor her, to honor Gail Katz, and in doing so,
to honor all women who are missing or unidentified. I'm

sure this won't be a seamless journey. We're taking a
leap into the unknown here, and anything could happen. But
I can promise you one thing it's going to be
fueled by a whole lot of love and a bunch of.

Speaker 1 (15:36):
Food and good wine.

Speaker 2 (15:39):
Which brings me to the next step in our investigation.
We're going back to Elaine's home for food and of
course some wine, but also because she's managed to dig
out a stash of files that may hold the key
to identifying our lost sister.

Speaker 3 (16:14):
Be sure, you guys, I'm hungry.

Speaker 6 (16:15):
I'm gonna I have food myself.

Speaker 2 (16:22):
Into a stupid When you arrive in any Jewish mother's house,
she will always have more than you need on the table.
We can't help it, and a lain Cat is no exception.
So yes, I cry. I'll take your many bottles of wine,
your cheese, your chocolates and crackers, even if I'm not
actually hungry, because there's no better way of showing your

love to a Jewish mother than consuming whatever she puts
in front of you. And they're nestled in among the
appetizers is just what we came for. The Holy Grail
a two inch thick folder of documents.

Speaker 3 (16:57):
By the way, I am made a second at all
of my documents from the Medical Examiner, which are quite extensive.

Speaker 2 (17:05):
I believe it's all of Elaine's files from our sister
Gail's case.

Speaker 5 (17:09):
You know there's a lot there.

Speaker 3 (17:11):
Look at all these now, yeah, the posts.

Speaker 2 (17:15):
As we start flicking through them, it takes me and
Mindy back to the nineties when a group of us
girlfriends were investigating Gail's disappearance and drinking wine. And now
thirty years on, we're round another table with more wine.
But our club has grown, our sisterhood is stronger. This
time we're joined by Anna Elaine, and we're all here

to do something momentous in honor of the women who
can't be here.

Speaker 3 (17:40):
I need to always feel like I'm doing something in
memory of and in honor of my sister in order
to live with the sadness of all of it.

Speaker 1 (17:55):
Does it come in way?

Speaker 3 (17:56):
Sor said Constan, I had to tell you, it's constant
as always.

Speaker 2 (18:02):
It's this constant pain that's driving Elane to help us
identify this Jane Doe. After all, her torso spent nearly
a decade in her sister Gail's grave and Elaine doesn't
even know her name. But that's not the only reason
she wants to help. Elaine knows what it's like to
have a loved one disappear and to be left so

long without any answers.

Speaker 3 (18:25):
That was something that was really important to me, reuniting
the family with the torso, giving another family closure.

Speaker 2 (18:40):
As another glass of wine is poured, we turn our
attention back to the files. We want to find out
how our Jane Doe was ever misidentified as Gail.

Speaker 1 (18:50):
In the first place.

Speaker 2 (18:52):
In the box of files we find a document that
talks about a number of complaints from the Cat's family
to the Manhattan Medical Examiner. It seems like in nineteen ninety,
the year after the torso was identified as Gail Cats,
that communication had really broken down between the Cat's family
and the office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The family,

who were in deep grief at the time, wanted absolute
proof that the torso belonged to Gail, which meant DNA testing,
and they weren't the only ones with doubts. The police
had them too, So with growing pressure from all sides,
in nineteen ninety, the medical examiners decided to proceed with

DNA testing.

Speaker 1 (19:38):
They first asked.

Speaker 2 (19:39):
The Catses if they could exhume the body, but then
they go back on themselves and they say that actually
they may not need to exhume the torso because they
kept some bone fragments.

Speaker 3 (19:50):
Without my knowing, they kept a piece of her for
further testing without our permission. I had a little enough
piece to start with, and you took a piece. You
kept a peace.

Speaker 2 (20:00):
Yes, the DNA testing was inconclusive. The science just wasn't
there yet. We find a handwritten note in the box
of files that says, if DNA cannot be done, we'll
stand by ID. And so that's how our lost sister
continued to be known as gael Cats for eight more years.

So what evidence did they have to make such a
big call.

Speaker 1 (20:29):
Will it all? Seems pretty thin to me.

Speaker 2 (20:34):
Both women were light skinned and slim, and each of
them was around thirty years old. They also both had
similar back injuries, which the medical examiner highlighted by comparing
an X ray of the torso with an old X
ray of Gales.

Speaker 1 (20:49):
According to the medical examiner, this.

Speaker 2 (20:52):
Was the most persuasive piece of evidence they had to
suggest that this torso belonged to Galecats, But even the
radiologists at the time said that definite idea is not possible,
but that it was probably the same patient. Probably really,
But there's one major fact that they seem to have

totally overlooked in all this. In nineteen eighty nine, Gale
had been presumed dead for four years, yet according to
the Medical Examiner's own autopsy report, the tourists who had
only been in the water for about two to three months.
We could spend a lifetime trying to understand why these

decisions were made. We already spent the whole first series
scratching our.

Speaker 1 (21:38):
Heads about it. We'll have to add this.

Speaker 2 (21:40):
To our long list of questions for the medical examiner.
But it's getting late, and that's a job for another day.
In the taxi home, Mindy and Anna are chatting away,
excited to see what more they can learn from the files.
But I just keep hearing that phrase go around in

my head. Probably the same patient that Probably it didn't
just mess up Gail's case, it also stopped any further
investigation into our lost sister's true identity for years. There
could be a family out there looking for her and
a killer getting away with it. These mistakes have real

life consequences, and if you can't rely on the authorities
to get it right, then you should probably.

Speaker 7 (22:31):
Do it yourself.

Speaker 2 (22:52):
It's the morning after Elaine gave us the files. Anna
and Mindy are riding on the New York Subway, each
of them nursing a slight red wine hangover, So what
better time to read an autopsy report. These documents obviously
don't make for easy reading, not least because doctor Mindy's
getting a taste of her own medicine.

Speaker 5 (23:14):
This is not fair making me read another doctor's writing.

Speaker 6 (23:20):

Speaker 5 (23:20):

Speaker 2 (23:21):
Eventually, Mindy manages to decipher the reports. They're from June
nineteen eighty nine, one month after the torso washed up
on Staten Island and was first investigated by the medical examiners.

Speaker 5 (23:33):
I'm reading that autopsy report.

Speaker 4 (23:36):
It was pretty future, was it.

Speaker 2 (23:41):
Yeah. We're not going to share the more sensitive details
about her remains, because our girl has already had so
much taken from her. But there's one important detail we
can share with you.

Speaker 1 (23:54):
Just a heads up.

Speaker 2 (23:55):
The next section contains some details that might be hard
to listen to.

Speaker 1 (24:02):
It was clear that both.

Speaker 2 (24:03):
Her limbs and head had been deliberately cut off, meaning
the end of her life was a violent, horrible act.
She didn't just fall off some boat into shark infested waters.

Speaker 1 (24:15):
And there's more.

Speaker 5 (24:17):
So we're looking at the toxicology report from the New
York City Medical Examiner's data.

Speaker 2 (24:23):
It's important to note that her torso has been in
the water for a while, so not everything will show up,
but they do detect something something that showed that our
Jane Doe had recently taken cocaine. But it's New York
in the eighties, so a bit of cocaine in the
system frankly doesn't really narrow down our list of potential victims.

Speaker 1 (24:46):
Our lost sister could still be anyone.

Speaker 2 (24:49):
But if she was killed by someone or she's been
registered as a missing person, then we might be able
to find her case online. And if there's one thing
Mindy's good act, it's going deep into dark corners of
the web.

Speaker 5 (25:06):
So I go to a site Unsolved Murders. Oh god, yeah,
but you didn't give me anything to go on, baby,
I have.

Speaker 1 (25:16):
Nothing nothing, I've got nothing. Okay, I got bupp gus.
I got bup gus here.

Speaker 2 (25:24):
So, unfortunately, there's no huge, flashing website that says Staten
Island Torso cold case solved. But Mindy's got a hunch
that a vital clue about our lost sister's identity could
be sitting somewhere in the archives of the New York
City Medical Examiners, and I think it's safe to say
she's been pestering them.

Speaker 5 (25:45):
I have written about eighteen emails to the office of
the Medical Examiner, and they basically say, unless you're the family,
you can't really get this information. I said, well, she's
an identified how could there be any family? And I

don't know that I'm not.

Speaker 1 (26:09):
I don't know that I'm not the family. What is
family really?

Speaker 2 (26:16):
Because calling this Jane Doe our lost sister is no accident.

Speaker 1 (26:21):
We've been thinking about her for a long time.

Speaker 2 (26:24):
And at one point Elaine Kat truly believed she was
her sister.

Speaker 1 (26:28):
She certainly feels like family to us.

Speaker 5 (26:31):
I told them about Gail and how he got there,
and they said, well, do you want to speak with media?
And I said no, I don't want to speak with media,
and you go, well, what are you going to do
with this information?

Speaker 2 (26:47):
Well, hopefully solve a thirty five year old cold case
and talk about it on this podcast, and they.

Speaker 5 (26:53):
Go, well, you need to speak with legal, Okay. So
I'm waiting to hear from Lee. If I don't hear
from legal, because I'm pushing in I'm a New Yorker
and I know where they live. I'll go and say
I want to speak to legal.

Speaker 2 (27:12):
Guess what we never heard from legal? So we turn
up the heat and file a Freedom of information access request,
but we're still waiting to hear back. It looks like
if we're going to get anywhere, we're going to need
to start knocking on some doors, whether people want us
to or not. Coming up next on The girlfriends Our

Lost Sister, Doctor Detective Mindy Shapiro takes to the streets.

Speaker 5 (27:39):
Hi, it's doctor Shapiro, and I'd like to speak with
the deputy medical Examiner. I'd like all information that I
can find about that torso.

Speaker 6 (27:48):
Could you say perpetrator for me?

Speaker 3 (27:50):

Speaker 4 (27:52):
We try to identify this torso, which is maybe a
fool serand I don't.

Speaker 2 (27:58):
Think it is. The girlfriends Our Last Sister is produced
by Novel for iHeart Podcasts. For more from novel, visit

novel dot Audio. The show is hosted by me, Carol Fisher,
and our chief investigator is Mindy Shapiro. To find me
on social media, search Carol A.

Speaker 1 (28:29):
Fisher. That's Carol with an E.

Speaker 2 (28:32):
The season is written and produced by Anna Sinfield and
Lee Meyer. Our assistant producer is Madeline Parr. The editor
is Joe Wheeler.

Speaker 1 (28:40):
Max O'Brien is.

Speaker 2 (28:41):
Our executive producer. Our fact checker is Dannia Suleiman. Production
management from Shurie Houston and Charlotte Woolf. Sound design, mixing
and scoring by Nicholas Alexander, Additional engineering by Daniel Kempson,
Music supervision by Anna Sinfield and Nicholas Alexander. Original music

composed and performed by Luisa Gerstein and produced by Luisa
Gerstine and Nicholas Alexander. The series artwork was designed by
Christina Limpol. Story development by Anna Sinfield. Willard Foxton is
creative director of development. Our executive producers at iHeart Podcasts
are Katrina Norvel and nicki Etour special thanks to Ali Canter,

Carrie Lieberman, and Will Pearson at iHeart podcast as well
as Carly Frankel and the whole.

Speaker 1 (29:31):
Team at w MEE and Especial.

Speaker 2 (29:34):
Shout out to Vince Hayward, who's my life partner in
True Crime, for taking on the role of girlfriend's confidante
and lead tech support

Speaker 1 (30:11):
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