In the throes of a contentious divorce battle, attorney Catherine Kassenoff turned to Facebook to chronicle her struggles against the Westchester County Family Court and her ex-husband, lawyer Allan Kassenoff.
She posted videos, court documents, and personal medical records. She painted a picture of her husband as an abuser, manipulating the legal system to wrench away their children and tarnish her reputation.
Gathering support, many of Catherine’s followers were mothers who faced similar custody battles.
Despite numerous setbacks, Catherine’s perseverance led to some legal triumphs, including the dismissal of a judge, a court-appointed attorney for their children, and a custody evaluator.
Nevertheless, Allan retained sole custody, with Catherine granted only supervised visits.
By April, Catherine gained occasional unsupervised visits and even purchased a nearby house, hopeful for a shared custody arrangement.
Goodbye on Facebook
On May 27, 2023 – almost four years into her divorce battle – Catherine Kassenoff, 54, shared her last Facebook post.
In her last post, Catherine revealed her intention to pursue assisted death in Switzerland. She expressed anguish over losing her children, property, home, pets, health, career, and dignity.
She suggested that the massive legal fees spent by her ex-husband, Allan Kassenoff, benefited court-appointed professionals at her expense.
Her final post began, “This is a story that ends with my own assisted death in Switzerland.”
She wrote that she was taking her life not only because of what Allan had allegedly done but because a recent diagnosis of a “virulent and life-ending cancer” gave her no other choice.
“I cannot survive this torment and the grief that comes from such a prolonged separation from my children. I am a 2-time breast cancer survivor with a new dire diagnosis that makes continuing this fight impossible…. Perhaps if I had not been re-diagnosed with cancer, I could have lasted in this fight longer. But I do not have the strength to go forward. More importantly, I do not want to traumatize my children any longer in this court system, where Allan… used them to continue their abuse.”
Hours after her Facebook declaration, Catherine died. A few days later, her post made national headlines.
In the wake of the publicity, Greenberg Traurig required Allan to resign from his $800,000-a-year position as a top patent lawyer.
Husband Claims Catherine Lied About Cancer
In September, Allan filed a defamation lawsuit against one of the prominent influencers in amplifying the story, TikTok celebrity Robbie Harvey, with 3 million plus followers and 39 million views of his videos on the Kassenoff divorce made dramatic by her suicide.
In his complaint against Harvey, Kassenoff claims Catherine lied about terminal cancer “to gain public sympathy.”
Oncologist Said Catherine Did Not Have Cancer
In the Harvey lawsuit, Kassenoff revealed a conversation with his late wife’s oncologist, Dr Dekiva Gajria of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She confirmed Catherine was cancer-free as of November 2022 – which was at the time of her last annual checkup.
Catherine successfully battled cancer in 2008 and 2017. Dr. Gajria successfully treated Catherine during her 2017 bout with cancer.
If not in November, when did Catherine develop terminal cancer, if at all? Did she consult a different oncologist?
Being insured under Allan’s plan, any oncologist visit would appear on their United Healthcare statement. If Catherine saw another specialist, it wasn’t through their insurance.
Most countries with legalized assisted dying mandate a terminal illness prognosis of six months or less. Some, slightly more lenient, consider “unbearable sorrow” from incurable pain.
Catherine, being Canadian, could access medically assisted suicide (MAS) if she was terminally ill in a number of provinces — or in nearby New Jersey, despite potential residency requirements.
She opted for Switzerland, which, uniquely allows MAS without requiring a terminal illness.
Catherine also chose the Pegasos Swiss Association, internationally famous as Switzerland’s most radical dying center.
Pegosos champions suicide rights for those of sound minds and healthy bodies to choose when to end their lives.
It costs $11,000.
To establish she had the required decision-making capacity, Catherine sought out Dr. Colin Brewer, a renowned advocate for the “right to die” for those without terminal illnesses.
Although he lost his UK medical license years earlier, Swiss law still recognizes him for qualifying patients for suicide, sparking controversy when he approved healthy individuals, including a healthy 35-year-old.
By teleconference, Dr. Brewer assessed Catherine. His April 9 report didn’t cite a cancer diagnosis.
He noted her primary reason for seeking assisted suicide was “the unlikelihood of any agreed access [with her husband] to her children”. He confirmed she didn’t suffer from psychiatric illness.
Interestingly, Brewer revealed Catherine considered assisted suicide for over six months. She scheduled a session in September 2022, two months before her cancer-free declaration from her oncologist. After postponing that and a subsequent January appointment, it’s clear her suicide plans preceded any potential terminal diagnosis.
She bought a House Cash
Financial records show Catherine paid $900,000 in cash on April 18, 2023, 39 days before her MAS, to purchase a home at 51 Myrtle Blvd in Larchmont – the village where her children lived with their father.
If she knew she had terminal cancer, why invest in a future she would not experience?
By the end of April, with her new house, Catherine had both supervised and unsupervised time with her daughters. She said nothing to the children about cancer. She said nothing to her husband to win sympathy for relaxed visitation.
Catherine saw her daughters for the last time in the week leading up to May 2. On that date, custody evaluator Kathleen McKay filed a report with Judge Susan Capeci.
The report concluded:
- Catherine posed a danger to Mr. Kassenoff and their children.
- She prioritized her needs over the children’s.
- Supervision was essential when she was around the children.
- She aimed to “annihilate” Mr. Kassenoff.
- Catherine held a skewed perception of reality.
“With McKay’s report,” Catherine wrote, “I went from having at least some minimal visitation with the girls, eventually unsupervised, to the indefinite suspension of all visitation.”
On May 4, 2023, just two days after Dr. McKay’s forensic report submission, Judge Capeci decreed, “[a]ll visitation between the parties’ children… and the defendant mother is suspended until further Order of the Court.”
This was three weeks before her suicide.
In a hearing on May 6, Judge Capeci clarified that she was merely suspending Catherine’s access to her children until the parties could agree on a new visitation supervisor. They left the court without an agreement. They never did agree.
Her Psychiatrist Says Nothing About Cancer
On May 9, just three weeks before Catherine’s MAS, her New York psychiatrist, Dr. Stephanie Brandt wrote a long and comprehensive letter to Judge Susan Capeci about her patient Catherine’s mental health and mentioned nothing about her terminal diagnosis of cancer.
Dr. Brandt, who is a medical doctor, wrote the letter to the court at Catherine’s behest. Why bother to write a letter disputing the findings of Dr. McKay by arguing Catherine is healthy and fit to raise her children if Catherine is about to die?
Despite having no agreed upon supervisor, Catherine requested a visit with her children. She did not mention she had cancer – a strong argument and one hard to deny.
On May 12, 2023, Judge Capeci ordered that Catherine could see her children on Mother’s Day, May 14, in the company of their maternal grandmother. Catherine didn’t appear. Her children never saw her again.
Throughout May, Catherine vigorously fought legal battles despite her alleged cancer.
On May 6, she appeared in court seeking a restraining order against Allan.
By May 12, she submitted a detailed 20-page brief challenging Allan’s motion to dismiss one of her lawsuits against him.
On May 17, just ten days before her MAS, she filed a grievance against Allan with the New York bar, her second effort to have him disbarred. If she knew she was dying, why would she seek to ruin his career and chances of earning money when he would soon be the sole support of her children?
Did she want her children to grow up destitute with their father unemployed?
No Mention of Cancer Before on Facebook
Catherine’s public Facebook posts revealed plenty about her and her children’s health information, including otherwise confidential medical records. There is no mention of her terminal cancer until her last post.
Her Friends and Lawyers Did Not Know
Frank Report spoke to several friends and four of her lawyers, including the executor of her estate. All of them said they were unaware of her terminal cancer until her Facebook announcement on the day of her death.
Attorney Harold Burke stated in a court document, “Prior to May 27, 2023, I was not aware of my former client’s then medical status, what she was apparently contemplating, let alone the steps she had undertaken to initiate the publication of her evidence memorializing Mr. Kassenoff’s actions towards her.”
Dueling Stories About Her Earlier Cancer
While Catherine may be telling the truth about her last terminal cancer, it appears she lied about the cause of her earlier bouts with cancer.
She informed the 9-11 Victims Compensation Fund that her cancer stemmed from her proximity to Ground Zero post-2001 attacks, leading to a $300,000 award in 2022.
However, in court filings, we learn she attributed her cancer to complications from an early 2000s abortion before marrying Allan and subsequent intensive in vitro treatments after marriage.
How She Announced Her Death
Dr. Brewer told Frank Report, “She told me she had devoted much thought to the least traumatic method and timing of informing her children, and I think it was done through a trusted third party in NY.”.
Such a person never existed.
According to her death certificate, Catherine Kassenoff died at 6:51 pm [Swiss time] in a Pegasos’ apartment in Liestal.
Her children learned about her suicide and supposed cancer through friends who told them about her Facebook post.
They went online and saw it for themselves. They came to their father, who sat them down and explained it.
There was no farewell message to her children. No advanced warning.
Lie About a Terminal Illness?
Would someone fabricate a terminal illness? If she did, it could be to protect her legacy and shield herself from the stigma of abandoning her children when she was healthy enough to continue the fight.
Of could it be to annihilate her husband.
Framing her suicide story as due to a battle against her husband might not evoke enough compassion. Yet, introducing a sudden terminal cancer diagnosis tilts the scales toward sympathy.
She could then quit the field having taken her best shot at destroying her husband without regard to the future prospects of her children.
Dying declarations are a recognized exception to the general prohibition against hearsay in court. There’s fundamental trust in the notion that a person facing death will speak truthfully, as deceit serves no purpose in one’s final moments. Catherine’s dying proclamation was her terminal cancer diagnosis.
Why would a mother fabricate such a claim?
Dr. McKay asserted, “Ms. Kassenoff has a distorted sense of reality” and aimed to “annihilate” Mr. Kassenoff.
It worked. Her Facebook post cost him his job and their children’s security.
And while there are undeniable shortcomings in the family court system, Catherine, if dishonest, isn’t the right champion for its reform.