The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 11

(The Standard)  Stressed banker 'beat wife'.  By Albert Wong.  June 21, 2005.

Murdered Merrill Lynch banker Robert Kissel was portrayed in the High Court as a cocaine-snorting wife beater suffering from huge job stress as the milkshake murder trial entered its second week Monday.

His wife, Nancy Kissel, 40, is alleged to have drugged him with a pink sedative-laced milkshake that left him unconscious at the foot of their bed and then bludgeoned him to death with a heavy metal ornament on November 2, 2003. She has pleaded not guilty to murder.  Several days later, his decomposing body was found packed in plastic and wrapped in a rug, hidden in a storeroom near their Parkview apartment.

On Monday, one of the Kissels' former domestic helpers, Conchita Pee Macaraeg, told the court what happened on November 4, 2003, a day and a half after Kissel was murdered.  Pee Macaraeg is the sister in-law of another Kissel domestic helper, Maximina Macaraeg, also a trial witness.

Pee Macaraeg said that on the day she had noticed Mrs Kissel was preoccupied and asked what was ailing her.  She said she was told that Mrs Kissel had had a fight with her husband on Sunday night during which he had assaulted her. Mrs Kissel claimed that her husband was drunk and under the influence of cocaine.

"Mr Kissel kicked her ribs and then left,'' Pee Macaraeg told the court.  When the domestic helper asked Mrs Kissel, "Why is he doing this to you?'' the accused was quoted as saying it was "because of his work. He is under a lot of stress. Because of power and money.''  The witness said she was shown bruises on Mrs Kissel's left knee and an injury to the right hand.

Pee Macaraeg said another injury to one of the accused's fingers was described by Mrs Kissel as being self-inflicted with a fork.  "She did not know why she did it,'' Pee Macaraeg said.

Robert and Nancy Kissel arrived in Hong Kong in 1997. Robert Kissel, aged 40 at the time of his death, was the Asia-Pacific managing director of Merrill Lynch's Global Principal Investment.  He was hired from the Goldman Sachs Group in 2000 to head the United States investment bank's distressed assets business in Asia outside Japan.  In 2003, his annual income was US$175,000 (HK$1.36 million) not including the US$5.9 million he had amassed in bonuses during his three years with Merrill Lynch.

Pee Macaraeg, who had worked for the Kissel family since 1998, described occasions when Mrs Kissel's alleged secret lover, Michael del Priore, visited the Kissel home in Vermont. She said del Priore visited the home on several occasions to fix cables and telephone lines, and that some of those visits were at night while the banker was working in Hong Kong.  According to Pee Macaraeg, the accused told her "[del Priore] is not available during the day, he can only come during the night'' and that he was doing them a "huge favor'' by turning up after hours to repair things.

One night, as Pee Macaraeg went to bed with the youngest son in the basement, she noticed del Priore was still in the house, she said.  About 11pm that same night, one of the Kissel daughters, who slept in the same room as her mother, woke her up to ask where her mother was.  "Is she not in the room?'' Macaraeg asked. And then she went with the daughter to look in the sitting room, she said.

She said she then heard voices from the area near the main door and the porch.  "I told [the daughter], go and look for your mother. She's in there,'' and then she went back to her bed.

She said she had known del Priore since 2002 "because at the time, we had just moved into the house [in Vermont] and this Mike would come and fix the cables.''  In 2003, when the accused and her children went to Vermont from Hong Kong to escape the SARS epidemic, del Priore visited them again to install a new sound system.

In June 2003, "one day, Mrs Kissel told me that Mike was coming to the house with his daughter, because his daughter would play with Mrs Kissel's children,'' Pee Macaraeg said.  "What happened when Michael came to visit with his daughter?'' asked senior assistant director of public prosecutions Peter Chapman.  She said they would come at 11am, have lunch and stay the whole day.  "Michael and Mrs Kissel would be somewhere. When they are together, she would tell me to go down and watch the children play,'' Pee Macaraeg said.

She said she did not know what time he would leave, but she saw him when she retired to bed around 10pm. She said Robert Kissel was a "thoughtful and loving [father] - who never shouts and was never hot tempered at all.''  She described him as being a social drinker, but "over the five years I worked there I never saw him really drunk,'' she said.

Mrs Kissel "treated me like a sister'' and was a very good mother, she said.  However, she said she noticed a gradual change in the accused and in the marriage after the birth of their third child.  Pee Macaraeg said, "she was so busy with other things [such as voluntary work at the school and photography] that she lacked the time to look after the children.''

Earlier Monday, one of the men who removed the rug alleged to have been used to wrap the banker's decomposing body, also testified to the court.  Edwin Chow, a Parkview housekeeping department supervisor, described the rug as being eight feet long, rolled up, sealed with plastic film. Both ends were sealed with adhesive tape and cushions bound on top, he said.  "Because that roll of carpet was very heavy, we had to carry the carpet at both ends and had to use two trolleys,'' he said.  Also, "I smelled something like the salted fish Chinese people eat,'' he said.

"Where would you say the smell came from?'' asked Chapman.  "The roll of carpet,'' he replied. He was then handed keys which had the number 15112.

Once the carpet was delivered to the storeroom, he returned the keys to the Kissel apartment and collected his fee from a thin, blonde, medium-built "foreign lady'' who asked: "Everything all right?''  He said he replied: "Everything fine. But some smell came out from the carpet.''  "She acted as if nothing happened, then she said bye-bye and closed the door,'' Chow said.

The case continues today before Justice Michael Lunn.

(SCMP)  Court told of drug-fuelled assault on Kissel.  By Polly Hui.  June 21, 2005.

Nancy Kissel told one of her maids that cocaine, alcohol, power and money had driven her banker husband to assault her on the day she allegedly murdered him, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.

Conchita Macaraeg said Kissel showed her bruises and cuts on November 4, 2003, and told her she had had a fight with her husband two days earlier.  Kissel, 40, is accused of bludgeoning Robert Peter Kissel, a senior Merrill Lynch banker, to death after serving him a drugged milkshake in November 2, 2003.  She has pleaded not guilty to murder.

"Mrs Kissel said Mr Kissel assaulted her, was very drunk and he was under the drug cocaine," Ms Macaraeg, the second domestic helper to give evidence, said.  "She also said Mr Kissel kicked her ribs," said Ms Macaraeg, a Filipino who had worked for the family since 1998 and is sister-in-law to helper Maximina Macaraeg, who gave evidence last week.

When she asked Kissel why her husband would assault her, "she said it was because of his work. He had a lot of stress. She also said it was because of power and money".  Kissel also told her that her husband was probably staying in a hotel, the maid said.

The victim's body was found wrapped in a carpet in the storeroom at Parkview, the Tai Tam development where the Kissels lived.

Ms Macaraeg said that on the morning of November 5 she noticed the living room carpet was rolled up behind the couch. She asked Kissel: "How did you manage to roll it by yourself when you told me last night your ribs were very painful?" Kissel had replied that she had asked for help.

The helper said she told the deceased's colleague David Noh of the "unusual events" and asked him to report the matter to the police as a missing person case.

After the conversation with Kissel, Ms Macaraeg went as instructed to buy towels and a bed cover for the master bedroom. "She told me she used a new [bed cover] because the old one reminded her of Mr Kissel and it made her very lonely."

The head of a group of workmen called to the flat about 2pm that day, Chow Yiu-kwong, told the court of a smell "like salt fish" when they moved the carpet to a storeroom two blocks away. "When I squatted down to carry the carpet, I smelt something like what Chinese people eat - salt fish," Mr Chow said.  His three colleagues from the Parkview housekeeping office also noticed a "strange smell" as they moved the carpet on trolleys, along with the deceased's golf bag, a cabinet, a piece of white flimsy paper and a few cartons.

Mr Chow said his group was received by a Filipino maid. But when he returned after completing the task, a foreign woman of medium build and golden hair opened the door and asked him if everything was alright. "I told her a smell came from the carpet. But she acted as if nothing had happened and then she said goodbye and closed the door," he said.

Ms Macaraeg was asked by government prosecutor Peter Chapman about the alleged affair between Kissel and Michael del Priore, a TV repairman, when the family stayed in Vermont, United States, in the summer of 2003. The maid said Mr del Priore started visiting to fix their sound system in May when the victim was there.

In July, after the deceased returned to Hong Kong, Ms Macaraeg said Kissel told her Mr del Priore was bringing his daughter to play with her children. When "Michael and Mrs Kissel were together, she would tell me to go down and watch the children play", she said. The repairman was still with Kissel when Ms Macaraeg and the children retired to bed at about 10pm.

The maid also recalled another time in July when Mr del Priore visited at night to fix their telephone lines. She said she was woken about 11pm by Kissel's daughter, who slept with the accused, who said she could not find her mother.

The trial continues today.

Additional material from the Chinese-language media:

Conchita Pee Macaraeg (photo: Ming Pao)