I wrote this post on June 23, 2017. I am posting it again because I’m not inspired this morning… at least not yet. Also, I just posted about “Dear Mr. Jesus” in a Facebook group I’m in and am now revolted anew by that song. So here it is… a rehashed, as/is post. Maybe later, I’ll write something fresh.
For some strange reason, I was reminded of a song from my youth yesterday. I’ve already blogged about “Dear Mr. Jesus” on my music blog, but that was a pretty short entry. I think it was short because besides being associated with very depressing case of horrific child abuse, “Dear Mr. Jesus” is an overtly religious song that kind of gives me the creeps.
Anyway, “Dear Mr. Jesus” was popular in 1987 or 88, although it was originally recorded in 1985. I used to hear it on morning radio right around Christmas 1987. It was constantly played around the time that six year old Elizabeth “Lisa” Steinberg was in the news. Her illegally adoptive father, disbarred former criminal defense attorney, Joel Steinberg, had beaten her on November 1, 1987. Steinberg was under the influence of crack cocaine when he struck the little girl. For hours, Lisa was left in the care of Steinberg’s live in partner, Hedda Nussbaum, who finally sought medical help for the girl when Joel Steinberg went out to party with some friends.
Lisa spent days languishing in Saint Vincent’s Hospital before she died of her injuries on November 5, 1987. Officials noticed that both Nussbaum and another illegally adopted child, Mitchell, both had signs of physical abuse. Nussbaum was not prosecuted for the events leading to Lisa’s death because she agreed to testify against Joel Steinberg, who was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. He spent about sixteen years in New York’s Southport Correctional Facility, a “supermax” prison, because it was presumed he was at risk of other inmates attacking him.
Joel Steinberg was paroled in June 2004. His illegally adopted son, Mitchell, was returned to his biological mother. In 2007, a judge upheld an order for Steinberg to pay Michele Launders, Lisa’s birth mother, $15 million. Launders had initially hired Steinberg to find an adoptive family for Lisa, but he chose to keep the girl and raise her as his own. He never filed paperwork to adopt Lisa or Mitchell, so he was not legally their father. As of 2006, Steinberg had moved to Harlem and was working in construction. He still claims his innocence.
I was a teenager when this case was in the news; and it was in the news every day for weeks. The tragic child abuse case made “Dear Mr. Jesus” an especially timely entry to popular music. Americans seem to have a high tolerance for schlock, especially if there are religious overtones. That song was very syrupy and it struck people right in the heartstrings. I cringe when I hear it now, although it does force me to remember this very tragic and high profile case.
Hedda Nussbaum was a former book editor who was well-educated. She and Steinberg were considered upper-middle class. And yet, she took his abuse, which was so severe that she needed extensive plastic surgery to repair damage to her nose. When she called for medical help, she initially claimed that Lisa had choked on food and her bruises had come from falling while skating. It was later determined that the child had been lying on the bathroom floor for at least ten hours before Nussbaum called for an ambulance.
It’s hard to believe that this fall, Lisa Steinberg will have been dead for thirty years (ETA: 34 years in 2021– we just passed the anniversary). I remember when this case was news, seeing Hedda Nussbaum’s tired, defeated face in magazines and on television. Nussbaum’s plight brought new attention to “battered women’s syndrome” and domestic violence. I also remember seeing Lisa’s picture. She was tiny, unkempt, and looked so scared and traumatized. How awful it is that her short life was filled with so much trauma.
The details of this case are shocking and depressing. It’s hard to believe this couple was so easily hidden behind the veneer of respectability. And yet the two innocent kids illegally adopted by them were living in filth and regularly being subjected to Steinberg’s monstrous abuse. I really think it’s too bad Steinberg was released from prison. At least Mitchell, now known by a different name, was able to escape Lisa’s fate. I read that in 2004, around the time Mr. Steinberg was released from prison, he was headed for college.