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Brief Profiles Of Characters In Steinberg Case With PM-Steinberg, Bjt

January 31, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Here are thumbnail sketches of people involved in the case of 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg: JOEL STEINBERG:

Disbarred attorney who illegally adopted 6-year-old Lisa when she was infant. Age 47.

New York University Law School said he attended from the summer of 1962 to the spring of 1964, then returned in the summer of 1968 and graduated in February 1970.

Joined Air Force in April 1965 and was discharged as a first lieutenant in March 1968.

Prosecuters have claimed he blackmailed law clients for drugs and appeared in court while high on cocaine. Assistant District Attorney John McCusker accused Steinberg of using cocaine on an almost daily since 1981 or ’82.

He also said Steinberg physically abused his common-law wife, Hedda, for nearly all of the 15 years they spent together.

Prosecutors said Steinberg had accumulated at least $2 million in assets, although his accountant said he saw no way Steinberg could have accumulated more than $600,000 in assets legally.

Held since his arrest in protective custody at Rikers Island, Steinberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter on Jan. 30, facing 8 1-3 to 15 years in prison.


Steinberg’s live-in companion. Age 46.

Nussbaum initially also was charged with Lisa’s death. Charges were dropped after prosecutors determined she was too physically and mentally incapacitated to be responsible.

Grew up in Manhattan, majored in English at Hunter College, and taught elementary school in the mid-1960s.

Began living with Steinberg in 1970. She wrote several children’s books and in 1974 joined Random House, rising to senior editor of the publisher’s juvenile books division.

Her behavior became increasingly erratic, she was frequently absent and often came to work with facial bruises. In 1982 she was fired.

Authorities said she was a cocaine user at the time of Lisa’s death.

After she was arrested, Nussbaum was hospitalized with a gangrenous right leg, broken ribs, a broken jaw and nose, cigarette burns, and bruises. Her face was flattened, she had a cauliflower ear, split lip and chunks of hair missing.

After her discharge, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she still lives.

She testified that Steinberg beat and brainwashed her and inflicted bizarre punishments on her for imagined wrongdoings.


Lisa, described as a mature, bright and outgoing girl, died at age 6 of a brain injury three days after she was removed unconscious from the apartment of Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum.

Lisa was obtained at birth from an unmarried teen-ager, but never legally adopted. Steinberg and Nussbaum reportedly kept Lisa after a couple refused to pay Steinberg $50,000 for her.

Investigators found reports of child abuse and neglect unsubstantiated, but witnesses allege Lisa had been a victim of abuse for years.


Lisa’s biological mother. Age 27, she was an unmarried teen-ager attended the trial regularly. Defense attorneys asked that she be barred because of her emotional reactions to testimony but the request was denied.

--- MITCHELL STEINBERG, renamed Travis Christian Smigiel:

Second child illegally adopted by Steinberg. Police found the 17-month-old boy tethered to a chair in Steinberg’s apartment the night Lisa was taken to the hospital. The boy, now 2, has since been returned to his biological mother, Nicole Smigiel, and was renamed Travis Christian Smigiel. His biological father, Mark Urban, has visitation rights.


Mitchell’s 20-year-old biological mother. Arranged with Peter Sarosi, a gynecologist, to have her illegitimate child adopted. She sued for custody of the boy after he was taken from the Steinberg home and placed in foster care.

Her mother, Graceann Smigiel, came to the trial regularly, sitting with Launders.

Sarosi has since pleaded guilty to illegally placing the child with Steinberg and Nussbaum, and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, fined $1,000, and put on probation for three years.

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