How a Group of Friends in Florida Cracked the 55-Year-Old Kidnapping Case of a Childhood Buddy

Danny Goldman, 17, was kidnapped from his Surfside, Florida, home in 1966, and was never seen again

At around 4:30 a.m. on March 28, 1966, a husky man who walked with a limp broke into the Goldman family's Surfside, Florida, home through the unlocked, sliding glass doors. The entire family — parents Aaron and Sally and their 17-year-old son, Danny — were startled awake.

The intruder, who wore a cap but no mask and carried a gun, demanded $10,000 in cash from Sally and Aaron — ominously, he called them by their first names. The Goldmans explained that they didn't have that kind of money (almost $90,000 in 2022 dollars) on hand.

The armed intruder replied that he would take a hostage instead.

"I'm going to hold Danny for security," he said, then doubled his demand to $25,000, saying he'd call at 6 p.m. with further instructions.

The ransom call never came. No one ever saw Danny again.

"The days became weeks, and the weeks became months," says childhood friend David Graubart in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "We thought he'd be back in two or three days somehow, with this crazy story to tell."

Danny Goldman kinapped from his home iin Surfside, FL on March 28, 1966
Courtesy Paul Novack

Instead, the story became unbearably sad. Aaron Goldman died in 2010 and Sally followed two years later without ever knowing what happened to their son, whose case had long grown cold.

Today, there is a story to tell about what happened to Danny Goldman, thanks to David Graubart and his younger brother, Joe, along with friends Anthony Blate, Harvey Lisker and Paul Novack.

David Graubart, Danny Goldman Both 13-13 yrs old), Joe Graubart (10 yrs old)
Courtesy Joe Graubart

Letter from Grieving Mom: Don't Forget Danny

It started with a letter. "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," Novack, an attorney and six-term Mayor of Surfside, tells PEOPLE.

Among the package's contents: a carbon copy of an open letter from Sally asking the world not to forget her only child.

Paul Novack looks through boxes of files he has compiled in researching the 47-year-old kidnapping case of Danny Goldman
Paul Novack. Michelle Kanaar/Miami Herald/AP

"When you pick up this oily copy in her own handwriting, a public plea all those years ago, it hit home," says Novack.

Led by Novack, the group of friends — who referred to themselves as "the posse" — 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," says 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."

Joe and David Graubart,
Joe and David Graubart. Scott McIntyre

The posse spent almost a decade chasing down leads. Novack "decided he was going to solve this thing come hell or high water," says David. "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, the posse announced their findings in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Police Department: that 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 have since died.)

The mob had wanted to get back at Aaron Goldman, who in the weeks before Danny'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. Aaron probably didn't know that associates of union boss Jimmy Hoffa and mobster Santo Trafficante had used the bank as a money-laundering front.

A Glove Fragment, Traced to a Brooklyn Clinic

It was Novack who linked Defeis, who was closely associated with the Trafficante organization, to the kidnapping. He did so using a rubber glove fragment that was left at the scene. The fragment was traced to a Brooklyn clinic where Defeis had been a patient — the only place in the country that used the gloves, which were made in Canada.

"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," says Novack. "He had access to the one type of unique glove that was found on the floor in the Goldman house."

Miami Herald clipping about the Surfside Kidnapping
The Miami Herald

For more on the kidnapping and murder of Danny Goldman, subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands now.

"Paul spent a tremendous amount of hours researching and obtaining information," Miami-Dade police detective Jonathan Grossman tells PEOPLE. "We had a great working relationship with him."

Grossman says he 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 says.

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Meanwhile, David, who remembers Danny as an easygoing, friendly kid who loved tinkering with TVs and radios, is happy they have a resolution. "We did it for Danny and I wish his mother would [have been] alive to know that we did it for him," he says.

Adds Joe, a former Vice Mayor of Surfside, who recalls swimming in the Goldman's pool with Danny and his brother, "I feel good."

He adds, "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."

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