Death of a “Jewish American Princess”

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At midnight on the sultry evening of May 27, 1981, petite, pretty Elana Steinberg was savagely stabbed to death in the bedroom of her elegant and immaculate Scottsdale, Arizona, home. Within hours it became clear that her handsome husband’s story of two bushy-haired intruders could not be true and that Steven Steinberg himself had murdered his wife. To the Scottsdale police and prosecuting attorney, it was an open-and-shut case. The facts were clear and irrefutable. The police, though inexperienced in investigation of violent crimes, had meticulously done their job. There could be no question: This crime was premeditated and would result in an easily won conviction of first-degree murder.

Yet, on February 18, 1982, Steven Steinberg walked out of the courtroom a free man, acquitted of a crime he had eventually confessed to committing. Steinberg’s attorneys persuaded the jury that he was the victim of a nagging, spendthrift, insufferable wife who brought about her own death by her unremitting emotional abuse of her husband. Instead of the murderer being on trial, the victim was on trial. With no defense mounted on her behalf, Elana Steinberg lost not only her life, but also her reputation, and her murderer was set free.

In this painstakingly researched book, Shirley Frondorf first acquaints the reader with the social and cultural context in which the crime occurred and with the key players in the criminal investigation. Then, she analyzes from a trial lawyer’s perspective both the defense and prosecution approaches to what should have been a simple and straightforward case. The basic question she asks throughout the book is how such an appalling miscarriage of justice could have occurred. Whether or not the reader finds her answer convincing, Frondorf succeeds in giving Elana Steinberg the compassionate defense she should have had during her husband’s trial.