|| What Lisa Knew: The Truth and Lies of the Steinberg Case
|| Joyce Johnson
|| G. P. Putnam's Sons, © 1990
G.P. Putnam's Sons
200 Madison Avenue
New York, New York
This is the true account of the Steinberg case of child abuse
and murder in which the charges against the adoptive mother were dropped, even
though she was originally charged with second-degree murder. She later testified
at the trial of Joel Steinberg, her lover and the adoptive father. The author
believes the adoptive mother, Hedda Nussbaum, was a co-conspirator in the death
of six-year-old Lisa. Instead, Hedda Nussbaum replaced her dead adoptive daughter
as the victim society would honor. The book is divided into four sections:
factors leading up to the murder, the two accused parents' personalities and
relationship, Lisa's sexual abuse, and the trial.
This book is loaded with shocking information that was not
brought out at the trial and will upset many feminists, who overidentified with
the adoptive mother and believe that she allowed the murder in order to save
herself. Various persons, including several professionals and a ticket booth
attendant, claimed that they did not see any form of physical abuse on Lisa,
which adds confusion to the situation and destroys many of the myths in child
The trial section of the book is the most interesting. There is much criticism of the court since the author believes that both the
defense and the prosecution lied to make their case. Joel Steinberg, charged
with murder, was a criminal lawyer who practiced none of the traditional
defenses in his own case. He betrayed his own lawyers and had a long history of
suicidal and other self-defeating behaviors.
The book raises questions that it cannot answer. Hedda
Nussbaum is viewed by the author as a coconspirator to the murder, but she was
never tried for this. Her lawyer, Barry Scheck, controlled the trial through the
media. Hedda Nussbaum appeared on talk shows and finally sold her story (before
the trial) to People Magazine for $30,000. Some 18 law students from Cardoza Law
School were hired to go over a plastic sack of the couple's belongings for the
prosecutor who played cards with the press on his lunch hour.
The author states that several feminist groups, including
"Steps to End Family Violence," manipulated Hedda Nussbaum to testify
against her lover to save herself. Hedda was treated like a rape victim, was
excused from the murder, and told to turn state's evidence against her lover.
She did and was set free while Joel Steinberg was sentenced to 8.5 to 25 years
in prison. The woman's movement was set back 20 years through having the court
validate women as weak victim-like children.
This book is worth buying by every professional who is
concerned about human rights.
Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, professor of social work at West Virginia University.