A Mother's Poignant Note About Kidnapped Son Led Childhood Friends to Uncover Mob Murder Plot

Danny Goldman, 17, was kidnapped from his Surfside, Fla., home on March 28, 1966

Danny Goldman kidnapping
Joe Graubart (far right), Danny Goldman (center) and David Graubart in 1961.

The disappearance of 17-year-old Danny Goldman made national headlines in 1966. While the teen was sleeping in his family's Surfside, Fla., home, an armed intruder entered through an unlocked door, tied up Danny's parents and demanded $10,000 in cash from them.

When they said they didn't have it on hand, the intruder said he would hold Danny for security. He then doubled his demand to $25,000, saying he'd call at 6 p.m. with further instructions.

Then, the kidnapper tied Danny up with cords and tape, forcing Danny into his own car. After that, the man drove off with Danny inside.

Danny was never seen again. His car was found abandoned a few days later.

At the time, there was some speculation that Danny's disappearance had been a stunt to dodge the Vietnam War. He was supposed to register for the draft when he turned 18 on March 29 — the day after he was kidnapped.

But the truth was far more sinister: Danny, it turned out, was kidnapped and killed by the mafia.

Years after the case went cold, Danny's childhood friends refused to give up on the case, gathering up enough information that authorities ultimately joined the investigation. What started the friends down that path was a letter from Danny's mother, Sally Goldman.

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

Not long after Sally died in 2012, Joe Graubart, a childhood friend of Danny's, visited his friend, Paul Novack, with a collection of papers he'd received from one of Danny's cousins. Among the package's contents: a carbon copy of an open letter from Sally asking the world not to forget her only child.

"The letter expresses her hope that Danny will never be forgotten," says Novack, an attorney and former longtime mayor of Surfside. "It says that she hopes that if people keep the memory alive, that hopefully one day somebody will hear something or see something and will have some answers."

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

Not long after, Novack enlisted Joe, Joe's older brother David, and fellow Surfside friends Anthony Blate and Harvey Lisker to help research everything they could find about Danny's disappearance. They had long suspected that Sally couldn't possibly have been mixed up in her son's disappearance, and this was further evidence.

"Danny was her only child, her true love," says Joe. "I don't think she was ever the same after he was gone."

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

So the group of friends — who referred to themselves as "the posse" — became amateur detectives. 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," says Novack, who used his own money to conduct the investigation. "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."

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The posse spent almost a decade chasing down leads. Last year, the group announced its 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.)

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

Crime Was Retribution

The Surfside men discovered that the mob had wanted to get back at Danny's father, Aaron Goldman, who in the weeks before Danny's disappearance had spoken to federal authorities about questionable loans and possible 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 notorious mobster Santo Trafficante had used the bank as a money-laundering front.

It was Novack who linked Defeis, who was closely associated with the Trafficante organization, to the kidnapping. The most important piece of evidence was a rubber glove fragment that was left at the Goldman home. 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."

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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.

Joe, a former vice mayor of Surfside, who recalls swimming in the Goldmans' pool with Danny and his brother, tells PEOPLE he feels good about bringing closure.

"But," he adds, "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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