Rabinowitz Tells Of The Road To Murder He Said He Didn't Want His Wife, Stefanie, To Learn The Truth About Him, So He Killed Her.

Posted: April 23, 1998

HOUTZDALE, Pa. — He couldn't tell her he had cold feet about their wedding. He couldn't tell her there were problems in their marriage.

He couldn't tell her they were in financial trouble, that he'd spent lavishly on another woman, that his business had failed, that he'd defrauded their friends and her parents.

Confessing these things to his summer-camp sweetheart - hurting her and probably losing her - was the most horrible scenario Craig Rabinowitz could imagine. So horrible, he said yesterday, that for a few fatal minutes one year ago, killing her seemed better than telling her.

``It isn't - I didn't ever think it was, and I don't now - but it happened,'' he said. ``And so, at that one moment, I guess in my head, I did think it was.''

Rabinowitz was trying to express how a Lower Merion High School graduate with typical middle-class problems - fear of disappointing his parents, fear of lagging behind his friends, fear of confronting problems in his love life - became one of the state's most famous murderers.

He has the rest of his life to figure it out, here at the state correctional institution in this one-stoplight town in the hills west of State College. Last October, as friends and family wept in court, Rabinowitz pleaded guilty to strangling his wife, Stefanie, 29, in their Merion Park home as their 1-year-old daughter, Haley, slept nearby.

``Irony of ironies,'' Rabinowitz said, the crime and the awful confession would have been avoided if he had had the strength to tell his loved ones of his earlier failings, even if it meant losing his wife and daughter: ``I wasn't man enough to do it - to swallow my pride and start over.''

Rabinowitz, 34, said he gave an interview for two reasons: to wake up others who are leading double lives and stop them from ``ruining their lives and their families' lives,'' and to dispute an article in yesterday's Philadelphia Weekly that quotes him complaining of his married sex life and yearning for Shannon Reinert, the stripper known as ``Summer,'' on whom Rabinowitz spent thousands of dollars in the months before the murder.

Rabinowitz contended that reporter Karen Abbott fabricated some statements and took others out of context.

In an interview yesterday, Abbott stood by everything in her story.

Rabinowitz said he hoped to get his sentence commuted someday, a process that would require input from his wife's family.

Rabinowitz is an engaging conversationalist. His eyes twinkle, his dimples deepen when he talks of Haley or of the wine and cigar dinners down the Shore.

Like the Thursday night sitcoms he used to watch with Steffie, his speech is laced with Generation X-isms: ``I won't go there,'' he says, refusing to reveal whether it was he who gave his wife the double dose of sleeping pills found in her blood. Asked about prison, he says, ``I'm so going to live a good life here.''

In prison routine he said he'd found the discipline he could never muster outside, where ``as much as it ended up hurting me, I did pretty much what I wanted.''

A lack of ``moral discipline'' sunk him, he said. No one stopped him from ``indiscretions'' such as cheating on tests or kiting checks.

``There's an arrogance involved: I'll find my way out of it, always have.''

On the eve of his wedding, he ignored problems on another level, too: Though Stefanie was his best friend, he eventually felt rejected by her sexually. But he held it in. He said he thought ``our relationship is 95 percent perfect; who am I to think I should have everything . . . and everyone was so excited for our wedding.''

He saw prostitutes before and after his marriage. In 1993 he had to testify against the owner of an escort service he used. ``That should have been a wake-up call for me,'' he said. ``But it wore off.'' He told Stefanie, but only because he thought she would find out through her law colleagues. They fought, then dropped the subject, he said.

In 1996, he began the fraud to keep from having to sell the couple's dream house when his business soured.

``I was trying to maintain that Main Line image. I had grown up with that. It would have been the admission of being a total failure, of not being successful like my friends. . . . Our neighbors made this big addition to their house. . . . Steffie said, `I can't wait until we do that one day.' ''

Things got worse when he met Reinert, who listened to the emotional problems he hid from Stefanie - at a steep hourly rate.

``It's not Steffie's fault, it's my fault for not telling I had these problems.'' He said they needed counseling but couldn't admit that their friends' image of them as a perfect couple wasn't true.

One thing was still great: his days with Haley when Stefanie worked. ``They were magic. They were our days. They were Daddy-Haley days.''

Finally, Stefanie began to suspect an affair (a word Rabinowitz would not use about Reinert) and financial problems. She questioned him about credit-card bills several times, the last time on the last day of her life.

``Everything was going to crumble, immediately,'' he said. ``My wife was a tough cookie, in a good sense.'' He knew she would take Haley if she discovered the extent of his misdeeds: ``In some sense, that led to what happened.''

He still can't say, I killed my wife.

``I'm not in denial,'' he said, ``but I can't say the words.'' He won't describe the sequence of events, but remembers them up to a point: ``I can play back everything up to those four minutes.''

Four minutes is how long prosecutors say it took him to strangle her. At first, he played the role of distraught husband. It took defense lawyers Frank DeSimone and Jeffrey Miller to make him face the truth: ``I couldn't con them.'' Even then, he couldn't confess to them in front of his family lawyer and old friend, Jeffrey Solomon.

All this, he says, isn't an excuse; it's his best try at an explanation. ``They're right,'' he says of the John Q. Publics he imagines vilifying him whenever he's mentioned in the news. ``I'm despicable.''

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