The little home at 526 Willow Way in the upper Merion area of Philadelphia’s Main Line was home to a successful young couple and their beautiful infant daughter. With it’s big picture windows that overlooked a peaceful tree lined street, no one could image the secrets it contained.
During the sultry predawn hours of April 29, 1997, Pandora’s box would be opened by a husband desperate to hide his secrets of financial woes and extramarital affairs.
Craig Rabinowitz would take one last risk, and lose everything.
Every single thing he’d ever loved.
A Midnight Bath. A Call for Help.
Craig Rabinowitz was frantic when he reached the 911 dispatcher. He was breathing heavy and spoke in screams as he told the emergency operator he had found his wife unconscious in the bathtub.
When police and emergency medical technicians arrived, they found Craig straddling his wife Stefanie Rabinowitz in the tub, frantically performing CPR; although it was having no effect.
Shiva is a Hebrew word literally meaning “seven” and is the Jewish tradition of week-long mourning. Traditional Jews strictly observe this occasion by covering mirrors so mourners can devote themselves without worry of appearance and avoid all sources of media.
Although they were raised differently, Craig and Stefanie weren’t practicing (for lack of a better term) Jews, but friends and family were shocked nonetheless when Craig, on the morning following Stefanie’s death, grabbed a newspaper and left his home behind, filled with guests observing Shiva.
Although Stefanie’s family and friends were not yet aware, Craig knew medical examiners had determined Stefanie had not died of an accident, as first suspected, but had been strangled to death.
Craig had already stated he and baby Haley were the only other two people in the house and all the doors and windows were locked, even telling the 911 operator he would have to unlock the front door for emergency personnel to enter. A cursory inspection of the home showed no tampering with windows and doors.
So Craig, who was only sixteen feet away according to his own statement, was the prime (the only) suspect. But for what reason would this seemingly wealthy, happily married couple who was preparing to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday, have going on that could end in murder?
The answers began adding up faster than singles in a Stripper’s g-string.
One of the first things investigators learned when they began digging into the background and financials of Craig Rabinowitz was that he was a frequent customer of a local gentleman’s club known as Delilah’s Den; a place where he spent an average of over $700 per day.
Even for upper Merion’s financial elite, that was a lot of money to be dropping on “dancers.” Then they learned that Craig was especially fond of Shannon Reinert, a stripper going by the stage name “Summer.” Although Shannon/Summer claimed that she and Craig had never had sexual intercourse in any form, she admitted that he frequently purchased gifts for her; including an $8,000 sofa set and assorted jewelry.
Police detectives also learned from bank and credit card statements that Craig was a frequent visitor to area five-star hotels, where it wasn’t uncommon him to drop almost $500 for a room which he only used for a few hours. Speaking with clerks, detectives learned that there was always two people in the rooms rented by Craig, but the identity of the second person was never confirmed, although they suspect it was Shannon despite her denials.
While sorting through the couples’ financials, investigators had learned that Stefanie worked only part time as an attorney and her yearly salary was a meager $30,000. Craig, however, despite his claims of being a sole proprietor in the import business, appeared to have no business nor a job of any sorts.
Where was the money coming from that Craig spent with wild abandon?
Friends and Money
During the execution of a search warrant at the Rabinowitz home, police had discovered a crudely written ledger in the attic and it’s meaning had baffled them for some time.
When they were finally able to decipher it, they were shocked to have uncovered a blueprint for making good with life insurance proceeds on what was, for all intents and purposes, a Ponzi scheme being run by Craig.
According to investigators, Craig would frequently borrow money from friends and family under the guise of an investment in his latex import business. With each “investment,” Craig would pay back some or all of the money, with interest, to a previous investor while keeping some of the money for his expenditures. And so the cycle went again and again. Craig had asked his “business partners” not to tell Stefanie about their transactions, as it was his wish for her to believe his business was succeeding from his own hard work.
Considering Stefanie’s work ethic and strong money management skills, police theorized that Mrs. Rabinowitz would have divorced her husband, taking their infant daughter with her, had she discovered what she was doing – and more so when she learned that he had taken money from their friends and family. They also knew that Craig was out of sources to keep the scheme going, so Stefanie was soon to learn the truth about the man she loved.
Time was running out for Craig. He needed money, and he needed it now!
There was only one source that remained untapped by Craig: life insurance.
He and Stefanie had recently had bouts of insomnia and obtained a prescription for the powerful sleep aid Ambien. On the evening of April 28th, after dining with Stefanie’s parents, Craig administered, most likely in her drinks, the dosage of three Ambien pills. And when she went into a sound sleep, Craig strangled her.
Police theorized that Craig was counting on several things: (1) his story of a bathtub accident would accepted at face value; (2) his reputation among friends and family as a doting, always obliging spouse would eliminate any suspicion, and (3) their Jewish beliefs against autopsies and quick burials would prevent discovery of the true cause of death.
Craig took a calculated risk, but never took into account a medical examiner who was adamant about autopsies in the death of any young person; regardless of religious preference or reputation.
Craig initially hired attorneys with an excellent reputation in criminal defense but when all the evidence was in, he knew the gig was up – as did his defense team.
On October 30, 1997, Craig stood sobbing before a judge and pleaded guilty to first degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Craig is currently serving his sentence at the SCI prison in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania, as inmate number DL1960.