The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 5

(The Standard)  Murder trial told of husband's broken knuckle.  Albert Wong.  June 11, 2005.

As the sensational Milkshake Murder trial entered its fourth day in the High Court, the defense for Nancy Kissel made the first move to introduce evidence that her husband had twice broken a knuckle of his right hand, probably as a result of punching a hard object.

Prosecutors presented evidence from a private investigator hired by Robert Kissel to spy on his wife because he suspected her of infidelity.

Nancy Kissel, 40, who has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail, is alleged to have given her banker husband a spiked milkshake that left him unconscious as she bludgeoned him to death with a metal ornament November 2, 2003, before wrapping his body in a carpet and stashing it in a storeroom.

She told police officers at the time that he had hit her while prosecutors say she plotted his murder for personal gain. On Friday Daniel Wu, an orthopedic surgeon and sports injury specialist, testified that although he had prescribed a number of drugs for Robert Kissel to alleviate back pain, he did not supply the drugs allegedly used by the defendant in the milkshake.

Under cross-examination, defending counsel Gary Plowman SC, observed that Wu had also treated the victim for injuries to his right hand.  In September 1999, he diagnosed Kissel with a fracture to the fifth knuckle of his right hand above his little finger.  The injury is "usually caused by a punching movement or action against whatever object,'' he said.  Treated at Adventist Hospital for the injury, the banker's admittance sheet said he had "punched the wall.''  The injury caused a deformity that required an operation and a month in a sling.  That operation revealed an old fracture that was again the probable result of a clenched fist striking an object.

Private detective Rocco Gatta, an employee of the Alpha Group that had spied on Nancy Kissel in Vermont in the United States while she and the couple's children were sheltering from the SARS epidemic, provided a running commentary for the court while his surveillance tapes were shown.

During two sessions of surveillance in June and July 2003, he noted that on four occasions a blue van was parked discreetly near the "multimillion dollar'' home.  On each occasion, the blue van would park either in a ditch or halfway up the long drive, out of sight from both the main road and the house.  The van would drive off in the middle of the night, without turning on its headlights until it reached the main road.  The registration of the number plates on the blue van revealed the owner to be Michael del Priore, Nancy Kissel's alleged lover.

The testimony of an investigative officer working for New York Life Insurance was also read to the court, confirming that Nancy Kissel was the primary beneficiary of life insurance policies worth US$5 million (HK$39 million).  On cross-examination a member of the defense team noted that Robert Kissel's brother and sister had refused to answer questions from insurance investigators in 2002. Outside sources are usually required to confirm details of the insured and the investigators had to inquire about his sports injuries and driving record.  Another question was "how often does he drink.'' Andrew Kissel and Jane Clayton, the deceased's sister, refused to provide that information.

Clayton was also recalled to the witness box to answer questions about e-mails she had previously been unable to access. She said she had forwarded a list of marriage counselors to her brother in January 2003 after she noticed her sister-in-law had been "distant'' during a skiing trip in Whistler, Canada, over Christmas 2002.  Defense counsel Plowman observed that "there is no mention anywhere in this [e-mail] of marriage guidance counselors as such.''  The e-mail listed qualified psychiatrists and clinical psychologists rather than marriage counselors.  Clayton replied that many marriage counselors have a background in psychiatry.  "Let me put it to you,'' said Plowman, that "you and Robert either in Whistler or thereafter had discussed the possibility that Nancy Kissel needed some form of help.''

The trial continues Monday and is expected to last for eight weeks before Justice Michael Lunn.

(SCMP; no link)  Court hears of man's midnight visits.  By Polly Hui.  June 11, 2005.

Robert Kissel's father and sister Jane Clayton

A van owned by the alleged lover of Nancy Ann Kissel was seen outside her house a few months before she allegedly murdered her husband, a private detective told the Court of First Instance yesterday.  Rocco Gatta, who formerly worked for New York detective agency the Alpha Group, played the jury two video recordings that showed Michael del Priore's van parked outside the Kissel family's house in Stratton, Vermont. The van was spotted four times during his two surveillance missions, which lasted for 11 days in June and July 2003.  Mr Gatta, who now works for the Trump Group, said he was instructed in June 2003 by his superior at the Alpha Group, Frank Shea, to carry out surveillance on Kissel at the request of her husband, Robert Peter Kissel. The two detectives have been called to Hong Kong as prosecution witnesses.

The prosecution alleges that Kissel had an affair with del Priore, a TV repair man, during the few months she stayed in Vermont with her three children and a maid to escape Hong Kong's Sars outbreak.  Mr Gatta said he twice saw the van parked halfway down the driveway of Kissel's house about midnight so "it was not visible to the roadway". The van, with a New Hampshire number plate, was also shown in the videos parked at the house during the day.  Near midnight on July 24, 2003, Mr Gatta saw the van arriving with its headlights off, he said. He later saw the van leave with no headlights until it got to the main road.  He said he learned from Mr Shea earlier that day that Kissel would leave for New York City the next day and he thought it likely del Priore would visit her that night.

Kissel, 40, is accused of murdering her husband on or about November 2, 2003, in their luxury Parkview flat in Tai Tam. The deceased, whose body was found rolled up in a carpet in a storeroom rented by the defendant at Parkview, was the Asia-Pacific managing director of global principal products for Merrill Lynch.

Evidence was also given yesterday that Robert Kissel was admitted to the Adventist Hospital in Stubbs Road in September 1999 with "boxer's fracture" of his right little finger. Daniel Wu, his orthopaedic surgeon, told the court the problem was so named because it was usually the outcome of punching a hard object.  Dr Wu said an X-ray indicated his patient had the same injury previously in the same area of his finger. When asked by Gary Plowman SC, for the defence, if he had asked Robert Kissel what caused the fracture, he said patients tended to be embarrassed by such a question. "They are usually reluctant to say why," he said.

Mr Plowman also pointed out the list of experts Jane Clayton, the deceased's sister, sent to her brother in early 2003 in response to the Kissels' marriage problems, included clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. He asked Ms Clayton whether they were connected to her brother's needs. She said she was seeking marriage counsellors. "All we talked about was getting help for the marriage," she said.

Records of a New York life insurance company, with which the deceased held three life insurance policies worth US$5 million, suggested the defendant knew about the policies.

The case continues on Monday.

(Telegraph)  Top banker's wife is accused of drugging and beating him to death.  By Simon Parry.  June 12, 2005.

The wife of a multi-millionaire banker is facing a life jail term in Hong Kong for allegedly murdering her husband after drugging him with a laced strawberry milkshake when he tried to divorce her for adultery.

In a trial that has captivated the former British colony and horrified its wealthy expatriates, Nancy Kissel, 40, is accused of killing her husband, Robert, after he hired private detectives to expose her affair with a television repair man.

Dressed in black, her blonde hair dyed dark brown, the petite mother-of-three, a former investment banker, sat impassively through four days of lurid testimony last week.

Prosecutors say that she gave her husband, a senior executive with Merrill Lynch, a milkshake laced with sleeping pills as he watched an American football game in their 5,000-a-month flat in Repulse Bay.  Mr Kissel, 40, was then bludgeoned with a metal statuette in an attack so frenzied that the base of the ornament snapped off, the high court in Hong Kong heard.  Mrs Kissel wrapped his body in a sleeping bag and plastic film before rolling it up in a carpet. Later, she hired four Chinese workmen to carry the carpet to a basement storeroom, ignoring their complaints that it "smelled of fish".

When Mr Kissel failed to turn up for work, a colleague telephoned his wife to find out why. He felt that Mrs Kissel was evasive and reported his suspicions to the police, who found the body after being tipped off by the workmen.

Mrs Kissel denies murder and is expected to claim that her husband was drunk, not drugged, on the day he died. She told police that she killed him when he tried to force her to have sex and threatened her with a baseball bat.

Hong Kong is enthralled by the saga of "White Mischief" in the expatriate compounds where wealthy foreigners are pampered by Filipina maids and Chinese staff.  Robert Kissel was worth an estimated 10 million and his wife was the sole beneficiary of insurance policies worth 3.7 million. Their children attended the Hong Kong International School, where fees are 10,000 a year and Mrs Kissel was a volunteer.

In an e-mail to a friend, however, Mrs Kissel said that she was living a sham masquerading as "the best marriage in the universe.''  A private investigator hired by Mr Kissel's family after the murder told The Sunday Telegraph: "Robert came from an extremely wealthy New York Jewish family and they never entirely approved of the marriage. Nancy came from a relatively humble background."

On the day of the murder in November 2003, Mr Kissel - who earned 100,000 a year but made 3.25 million in bonuses after being poached by Goldman Sachs - was about to be promoted to a top job in Tokyo.

The couple's 14-year marriage crumbled during the Sars crisis in 2003 when Mrs Kissel took her two daughters, aged six and nine, and her three-year-old son, home to Vermont and struck up an affair with the repair man, Michael del Priore.  Her husband hired private detectives who video-recorded Mr del Priore parking his van outside on midnight visits. A letter from Mr del Priore was found in Mrs Kissel's drawer after the murder. "I love you when you call my name. It makes me melt," it read.

As Mr Kissel prepared for a divorce battle, he installed spyware on his wife's laptop which revealed that she searched the internet for sleeping pills and "overdose medicine causing heart attack", the court heard.  Two months before his death, the banker told a private detective that he suspected his wife might have been drugging him. He did not tell the police because he felt "guilty about his suspicion", said Peter Chapman, for the prosecution.  Mrs Kissel's lawyers are expected to portray her husband as a womanising, hard-drinking and sometimes violent man who drove his wife to seek comfort in the arms of a "commoner" who loved her.

Wealthy female friends have rallied round, providing accommodation and helping to meet Mrs Kissel's legal fees and 700,000 bail.

Mrs Kissel was due to meet a British friend of the couple, Scott Ligertwood, on November 4 but sent an e-mail saying, "My husband is not well." The prosecution alleges that she killed him the day before.

A Chinese reporter covering the trial said last week: "For us, this case is a throwback to the colonial era. It has all the ingredients our readers are most interested in. Sex, murder, gweilos [Cantonese slang for white foreigners] - and lots and lots of money."

The trial is expected to last eight weeks.

(News 24)  Milkshake murder case in court.  Edited by Tisha Steyn.  June 12, 2005.

The trial of an American woman accused of bludgeoning her wealthy banker husband to death is gripping Hong Kong with its heady brew of sex, power, greed, betrayal, jealousy and, above all in this cash-obsessed town, money.  Nancy Ann Kissel is accused of spiking her husband Robert Kissel's strawberry milkshake with sedatives before beating him repeatedly about the head with a metal ornament and then hiding the body in a rolled-up carpet.

The trial has shone a tantalising light into the usually closed world of Hong Kong's wealthy expats.  From day one prosecutors portrayed Nancy Kissel, now 40, as a philandering schemer who stood to gain more than $5m in insurance pay-outs from the death of her husband.  The US couple had arrived in Hong Kong with their three children six years ago and set up home in the exclusive Parkview community favoured by US expats.

The body of Robert Kissel, 40, senior investment banker with Merrill Lynch, was found in the rug in a storeroom at the housing complex in November 2003.  Prosecuting barrister Peter Chapman said removal men were alerted to the corpse by a stench they described as being "similar to salted fish".

The seven-person jury was told that prior to his death, Kissel had hired private detectives to spy on his wife because he had discovered she had been having an affair with a TV repairman back home in the US.  The court heard he had also gathered evidence from spyware software he'd placed on his wife's computers, which had yielded erotic e-mail exchanges between her and a man named Michael del Priore.  Prosecutors claimed the accused had regular trysts with her lover during a four-month spell when she had moved the children back to Vermont to escape the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the spring of 2003.

The day Robert Kissel was murdered, prosecutors said he had resolved to confront his wife about the deterioration of their marriage. He had spoken to divorce lawyers months earlier, the court heard.  According to the prosecution, he had also told hired surveillance men that he feared for his life as he thought his wife was slowly poisoning him.

On November 2, Nancy Kissel served her husband and neighbour Andrew Tanzer two large glasses of pink milkshake. Tanzer asked what was in it, to which the accused replied: "A secret recipe."  Later, the court was told, Tanzer's wife said her husband looked red-faced and tired. A colleague who had spoken to Kissel later in the day said the banker sounded incoherent and tired.

That night Nancy Kissel murdered her husband, the court was told, and hatched a plan to cover it up by buying two new carpets and hiding the body in an old rug.  Kissel's body was found by removal men hired by Nancy Kissel to dump the old rug.  Government labs discovered four types of hypnotics and an anti-depressant in the stomach of the deceased, the court heard.

Nancy Kissel, who is free on bail, denies the charge.

From Sing Pao:

The court heard a written testimony from the New York Life Insurance Company.  The company stated that the deceased Robert Kissel had purchased three insurance policies to the amount of US$5 million, with the beneficiary being the defendant Nancy Kissel.  The insurance company wrote that under normal circumstances, it will not disclose to the beneficiary that she is a beneficiarcy.  If there should be an instance in which the insured should be killed by the beneficiary, the insurance will notify the estate executor and then act according to American law.

From Sing Tao (print edition):

Private detective Rocco Gatta testified in court and showed surveillance video tapes.  He said that during the surveillance period, he observed a van arriving at Nancy Kissel's house more than once.  The myterious visitor stayed until midnight and then drove off with the headlights off.  The identity of the visitor is unknown.  He said that he looked up the license plate and determined that it belonged to the video repair shop where Michael del Priore worked.

The key point of this last report is that "the identity of the visitor is unknown" and it will be up to the jury to infer that it was Michael del Priore.

(photos: Rocco Gatta; Jane Kissel Clayton and dad.  Credit: Sing Pao)