'How does a 17-year-old get taken out of his family home at 5 in the morning, and then years later it's just almost like it didn't happen?'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 18, 2022. It has since been updated.
Danny Goldman and his parents, Aaron and Sally, were asleep at their Surfside, Florida, home when at around 4:30 a.m. on March 28, 1966, a husky man with a limp broke in through an unlocked, sliding glass door. The intruder—who wore a cap but no mask and carried a gun—demanded that Sally and Aaron (who he called by their first names) pay him $10,000 in cash. When the Goldmans explained that they didn't have that kind of money on hand (equivalent to about $90,000 today), he replied that he would take a hostage instead.
"I'm going to hold Danny for security," he told them, and then doubled his demand to $25,000. Before leaving, the man said he'd call at 6 p.m. with further instructions. The ransom call never came and no one ever saw Danny again. "The days became weeks, and the weeks became months," Danny's childhood friend David Graubart told PEOPLE. "We thought he'd be back in two or three days somehow, with this crazy story to tell." Aaron and Sally passed away in 2010 and 2012, respectively, without ever knowing what happened to their son. However, Graubart and his younger brother, Joe, along with friends Anthony Blate, Harvey Lisker and Paul Novack, were determined not to let Danny's disappearance be forgotten.
"One day Joe knocks on my door and tells me he's got this package of material from Sally Goldman, and he thinks I should have a look at it," said Novack, an attorney and six-term mayor of Surfside. The package contained a carbon copy of an open letter from Sally asking the world not to forget her only child. "When you pick up this oily copy in her own handwriting, a public plea all those years ago, it hit home," Novack added. Moved by the heartbroken mother's words, the group of friends set out to solve the case. They reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, tracked down and interviewed dozens of people and searched multiple archives and vaults.
"Basically, our decision was that it would be completely wrong for Danny to be forgotten," shared Novack, who used his own money to chase down leads. "How does a 17-year-old get taken out of his family home at 5 in the morning, and then years later it's just almost like it didn't happen and he didn't happen? Danny didn't have brothers or sisters and his parents were gone. We decided it wasn't going to go down like that." They spent almost a decade of their lives chasing down leads. Novack "decided he was going to solve this thing come hell or high water," said David Graubart. "Every day, email after email. Paul started getting all sorts of stuff from the FBI, and didn't take 'no' from them when legally he had a right to information."
Last year, their efforts finally shed some light on what happened to their friend. The group announced its findings in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Police Department: Danny was kidnapped by mobster George Defeis, killed, taken on a boat and then dumped in the Atlantic Ocean with the help of fellow crook Joe "Chicken" Cacciatore. Both Defeis and Cacciatore had passed away by the time the case was solved. The investigation determined that Danny's disappearance was the mob's retaliation against Aaron Goldman, who in the weeks before his son's disappearance had spoken to federal authorities about questionable loans and possibly illegal activities at the Miami's Five Points Bank, where he was a board member.
How a Group of Friends in Florida Cracked the 55-Year-Old Kidnapping Case of a Childhood Buddy https://t.co/cnSyCQ3h9p— People (@people) April 15, 2022
Aaron Goldman is believed to have been unaware that associates of union boss Jimmy Hoffa and mobster Santo Trafficante Jr. had used the bank as a money-laundering front. Novack linked Defeis—who was closely associated with the Trafficante organization—to the kidnapping using a rubber glove fragment that was left at the scene. The fragment was traced to a Brooklyn clinic—the only place in the country that used the gloves, which were made in Canada—where Defeis had been a patient. "I was able to find out that this particular man who was the kidnapper lived in New York at the time, and was a patient at these community clinics at the time," Novack explained. "He had access to the one type of unique glove that was found on the floor in the Goldman house."
MURDER CASE SOLVED - Segment 6— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) December 29, 2021
Detectives from our Homicide Bureau have identified George Defeis as the person responsible for the abduction and murder of 17-year-old Daniel Goldman. Thank you investigators for helping us bring justice to the family. pic.twitter.com/aGjcSoIAXu
"Paul spent a tremendous amount of hours researching and obtaining information," said Miami-Dade police detective Jonathan Grossman. "We had a great working relationship with him." Grossman now hopes that one day Danny's remains will be found. "Despite the fact that the criminal investigation has come to a close, part of it still remains open with us and will remain open until we can, hopefully, one day find him and bring that chapter to a close," he shared. For Joe, a former vice mayor of Surfside, the resolution of his friend's cold case is bittersweet. "I feel good," he said. "But I feel sad, that two lives were lost. Sally's life and Danny's. Danny was kidnapped and murdered, and Sally Goldman's life was kidnapped and somewhat murdered along with him."