The Nancy Kissel Case - Part 47(Forward) Murder Trial Rivets Hong Kong's Expat Community. By Seamus McGraw. August 19, 2005.
For years, Nancy Kissel, a 41-year-old socialite and expatriate American, had been living the high life as a leading light in Hong Kong's small but thriving Jewish community. Then she killed her investment banker husband, Robert Kissel. She bludgeoned him to death in their fashionable apartment in the ritzy Tai Tam neighborhood with a heavy metal statue.
About that, there is no dispute.
In fact, last week, Kissel shocked a Hong Kong courtroom when she admitted as much.
But what does remain an open question as Kissel's trial enters its eighth week is whether the slaying was, as prosecutors allege, a brutal and calculated murder, plotted in advance by an unfaithful woman who knocked out her husband with a drug-laced strawberry milkshake before killing him. Or was it, as Kissel told the court during her testimony last week, a desperate act by a woman who was brutalized by a domineering and abusive husband, an ambitious man who she claimed abused her and forcibly sodomized her as a demonstration of his power over her?
The case, which has riveted the attention of Hong Kong's affluent expatriate community, began in early November 2003. That's when Robert Kissel's battered body was found, wrapped in a carpet and stuffed in a storage room not far from the couple's apartment. He had been hit at least five times in the head with a blunt object. He left an estate estimated at $18 million, all of it to his wife.
Prosecutors quickly concluded that the slaying was the final act in a stormy marriage. They charged that four days before Robert Kissel's body was discovered, his wife, reportedly distraught over their failing marriage and her husband's decision to seek a divorce, laced a strawberry milkshake with a cocktail of six powerful drugs — including the potent "date rape" drug, Rohypnol — and then used her 6-year-old daughter, the youngest of the couple's three children, to serve the drink to her husband. A neighbor, who also sampled the pink concoction, told the court that he too had become woozy after drinking it. Once Robert Kissel was incapacitated, prosecutors allege, his wife beat him to death.
To bolster their case, prosecutors produced testimony from several witnesses, including a close friend of the couple. In statements provided to the court and confirmed to the Forward, friend and confidante Bryna O'Shea wrote that as early as April 2003, it was becoming evident that what had appeared at first to be a perfect marriage was on the verge of collapse.
O'Shea declined to elaborate on her testimony. However, she confirmed published reports that months before he was found dead, Robert Kissel had indicated to O'Shea that he knew that his wife was having an affair — a romance with a Vermont man she had met after leaving Hong Kong for a time to escape the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. Before his death, Robert Kissel had become suspicious enough about his wife's behavior to wonder aloud to O'Shea whether Nancy Kissel might be plotting to kill him.
By August 2003, Robert Kissel's suspicions had become full-blown fears, prosecutors allege. According to testimony in the case, months earlier Robert Kissel hired a Long Island investigator, Frank Shea of Alpha Group Investigations, who confirmed that his wife was having an affair with a well-built and much younger television repairman whom she had met in Vermont. Shea declined to be interviewed for this story.
But according to published reports, he told the court that he maintained contact with Robert Kissel after completing his assignment, and that as early as August — three months before his death — Robert Kissel had confided to Shea that he feared his wife was trying to poison him.
But on the stand last week, Nancy Kissel, who has pleaded not guilty to murder charges, told a rapt courtroom a very different story. According to her testimony, her marriage had been deteriorating, but she claimed that it was the result of a dramatic change in her husband's personality — a change, she said, borne out of ambition and fueled by what she said was a growing dependency on cocaine and good scotch. As he became more successful in business, Kissel maintained, he became more physically and emotionally abusive.
Kissel testified that the abuse came to a head November 2, 2003, when Robert Kissel told her that he had filed for divorce. When she questioned her husband, Kissel testified, he became enraged and threatened her with a baseball bat. The two struggled furiously, and it was then, she told the court, that she struck the man on the head with the metal statue.
Kissel was not injured in the struggle. And in the days after the death, she allegedly told friends only that she and her husband had a fight and that she had stormed out of the apartment. She later reported him missing to police.
Though an autopsy found traces of all six drugs in Robert Kissel's stomach, Kissel insists that she did not drug her husband on the day of his death. She did admit, however, that on two previous occasions she had laced her husband's scotch with a sedative, but also insisted that she did it only after he became abusive, in attempts to calm him down.
Kissel also insisted to the court that she has no memory of the events that followed the slaying, though a surveillance camera at her apartment building captured an image of her carrying out of the building a large object wrapped in a carpet after her husband's death.
Prosecutors contend that Kissel is feigning memory loss.
The trial is expected to continue until the end of the month. If convicted, Kissel faces life in prison.
(The Standard) Kissel 'very kind, pleasant and always helpful to kids'. By Albert Wong. August 19, 2005.
Friends said they had seen Nancy Kissel with a black eye on a number of occasions. Nancy Kissel was a kind and loving woman with a special affinity for children, defense witnesses at her murder trial told the High Court Thursday. They also told the court they had seen Nancy Kissel, who is accused of murdering her husband, with a black eye on a number of occasions prior to November 2, 2003 - the day Robert Kissel was murdered.
Mary Lamb, whose daughter is a friend of the Kissels' eldest daughter, testified she saw the defendant with a black eye when she came to pick up her daughter one day in late October, 2003. When Nancy rolled down the car window to speak with Lamb, her attention immediately focused on her black eye. Lamb said Nancy had sunglasses sitting low on her nose and the bruising was "evident'' above her right eye.
"Assuming she had a bump with her child,'' Lamb said she was about to joke and ask whether she had had an argument with her husband. But she thought twice and realised she did not know the accused well enough to make the joke.
Nancy Kissel, 41, is accused of serving her husband a drug-laced pink milkshake which left him unconscious as she bludgeoned him to death with a heavy metal ornament on November 2, 2003 in their Parkview apartment. Robert Kissel's decomposing body was found wrapped in a rug and locked in a storeroom in the luxury Parkview residential complex at Tai Tam in the early hours of November 7.
Kissel has testified there was a furious fight that fatal night during which she feared for her life as her wealthy banker husband attacked her with a baseball bat. She admits to killing him but says she cannot recall how she came to inflict five fatal wounds to the side of his head. She denies the charge of murder and is out on bail. The accused has also testified that she was subjected to routine sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a husband who was obsessed with power, money and success.
The prosecution alleges premeditation as she had shopped for drugs in the week before the alleged murder. Kissel testified that she was seeking help for sleeping problems, which resulted from the nightly abuse she had been subjected to.
Earlier Thursday, prosecutor Peter Chapman completed his cross-examination of Geertruida Samra, who had testified that she and Nancy became close friends when they worked closely for many years at Hong Kong International School (HKIS). She had noticed injuries on the accused around 2002 and also guaranteed Kissel's bail application.
Under questioning, Samra said she was not aware of Nancy's alleged suicide attempts or her adulterous relationship with a TV repairman in the United States. She said she did not know Kissel had been seeing marriage counsellors nor that she saw a doctor and a psychiatrist who prescribed her anti-depressants and sedatives. However, she was aware that Kissel "had sleeping problems.''
Chapman asked why despite their "close and enduring friendship,'' the accused had never mentioned to her the "violence and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of Robert Kissel.'' Samra said she did not want to pry into what went on "behind closed doors'' and Nancy must have known "the expat community in Parkview is very gossipy.'' She may have wanted to protect herself and her family.
Samra noted an occasion when Nancy had a black eye on a day when she walked into her apartment to pick up her children. She said she saw Kissel the next morning waiting for the HKIS bus wearing sunglasses. However, she could not recall any other injuries apart from three she testified to on Wednesday.
After the alleged murder, on November 4, 2003, Samra spoke to Kissel on the telephone and was told "something terrible has happened to Rob,'' and that her father was coming, Samra said. She wanted to rush to Kissel's apartment but was told "no, not now, we need to solve things as a family,'' according to Samra.
On November 5 and 6, Samra phoned Kissel but on both days, the maid said Nancy was out.
"Would you describe Nancy Kissel as a reasonably public sort of person - out and about getting involved?'' asked Chapman. Samra agreed.
Gabriel Ip, the transport director for HKIS, told the court he often saw the accused and that she was always friendly when she saw him. She was "very kind, pleasant, always helpful to kids,'' Ip said.
Marcia Barham, the head music teacher at HKIS, said Kissel was "one of the most outstanding parents that I had dealings with in my entire career.'' She said the accused always wore yellow or blue-tinted glasses indoors, but that did not surprise her since she had an artistic personality. She said she did not see any injury on the accused in the five years they knew each other.
The trial continues today before Justice Michael Lunn.
(SCMP; no link) Witness tells of Kissel's 'gossipy' estate. By Polly Hui. August 19, 2005.
Nancy Kissel did not tell her best friends in her luxury Parkview estate about alleged physical and sexual assaults by her husband because the expatriate community there was "very gossipy", the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.
As the defence case entered its third week, Kissel's friends testified one by one, describing her as a devoted mother of three who spent a lot of time doing volunteer work for the Hong Kong International School to be near her children.
Kissel, 41, has pleaded not guilty to murdering top Merrill Lynch banker Robert Peter Kissel in their Parkview flat on November 2, 2003. But she has admitted killing her husband, whose body was found in a storeroom at their estate.
In cross-examination yesterday, Geertruida Samra, one of Kissel's best friends and also a Parkview resident, told prosecutor Peter Chapman that Kissel had never told her she was seeing a doctor, Annabelle Dytham, and psychiatrist, Desmond Fung, between August and October 2003. Nor did she know Kissel was prescribed hypnotics and painkillers - Rohypnol, Lorivan, amitriptyline and Stilnox - during those visits.
"I know she had sleeping problems, but didn't know she went to see any doctor," she said, adding later that she saw her often looking tired when sending her children to the school bus.
Ms Samra said Kissel never told her she had attempted suicide and had developed a sexual relationship with TV repairman Michael Del Priore during her stay in Vermont in the summer of 2003.
The witness, who had worked with Kissel - as president and vice-president respectively of the Parent Faculty Organisation (PFO) in Hong Kong International School - for two years, was also not aware that she had obtained a second mobile phone to call her lover and had the bills sent to the PFO office.
Mr Chapman asked why she was not told of Kissel's assaults despite her close and enduring relationship with Kissel.
"I never pry about people's business. You never know what goes on behind closed doors," Ms Samra said. "I wish she had told me. But the expatriate community in Parkview was very gossipy. I think Nancy kept it within herself to protect herself and her family."
Asked if she was concerned for Kissel's mental wellbeing when she was released on bail in November last year, Ms Samra - who with a few friends took turns staying with Kissel for some time after her release - said Kissel had calmed down considerably with the help of medication. She said the accused had lost a lot of weight.
Another witness, Mary Lamb, told defence counsel Alexander King SC she saw Kissel with a black eye in late October 2003 when she picked up her daughter after a play date with the witness' daughter. "I assumed she did have an argument with her husband but I decided I had not known her long enough to ask."
Marcia Barhan, who has taught music at Hong Kong International School for 11 years, said Kissel served on most committees in the school and was the school photographer. "She's one of the most outstanding parents in my entire career," she said. She also showed jurors a T-shirt, bag and CD-album Kissel helped design for the school.
Mr Chapman asked Ms Barhan how Kissel dressed. She said Kissel was conservative in her selection of clothes and wore tinted or black sunglasses indoors almost all the time. "I didn't think it was strange, though, being an artistic person that she is," she said.
The case continues today.
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