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“White Mischief” tale of US banker’s murder captivates Hong Kong

(DPA) / 13 June 2005

HONG KONG - “It’s better than a Hollywood movie,” enthused Polly Hui, one of the reporters covering the sensational Hong Kong murder trial involving a millionaire US banker, his unfaithful wife and a laced strawberry milkshake.

Another Chinese reporter said: “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 case captivating Hong Kong is the trial of a American investment banker’s wife facing a life jail term if found guilty of murdering her husband after drugging him with a laced strawberry milkshake when he tried to divorce her for adultery.

The plot…

In a trial revealing the decadent lifestyles of some of Hong Kong’s wealthiest expatriates, Nancy Kissel, 40, is accused of murdering husband Robert after he hired private detectives to expose her affair with a lowly TV repair man.

Dressed in black and with her blonde hair dyed black, the petite mother-of-three - a prominent member of Hong Kong’s Jewish community - has sat expressionless in the dock since her trial began on June 7.

Prosecutors say as divorce from her husband, who has a personal fortune of 18 million US dollars, drew close she gave him a milkshake laced with sleeping pills as he watched an American football game in their luxury Repulse Bay apartment.

Robert Kissel, 40 - a senior executive with Merrill Lynch investment bank - was then bludgeoned repeatedly with a metal statuette in an attack so frenzied that the base of the statuette snapped off, Hong Kong’s High Court heard.

His wife wrapped his body in a sleeping bag and plastic film and rolled it up in a carpet. Three days later she hired four Chinese workmen to carry the carpet to a storeroom, coolly ignoring them when they complained it “smelled of fish”.

Drugged to death

The murder trial has fascinated Hong Kong readers who are enthralled by the saga of “White Mischief” in the luxury expatriate compounds where wealthy foreigners live a pampered existence waited on by Filipino maids and Chinese staff.

Prosecutors say the wife - sole beneficiary of 6.7 million dollars in insurance policies - plotted to poison then kill her husband as the reality of her divorce and the revelation of her low-life affair hit home.

A private investigator hired by the banker’s family after the murder said: “Robert’s family was an extremely wealthy New York Jewish family with extensive property interests and they never entirely approved of the marriage.

“Even though she herself was an investment banker when she met Robert, as far as the family was concerned, she was simply not in their league.”

On the day of the murder in November 2003, Robert - who earned 180,000 US dollars a year but amassed nearly 6 million US dollars in bonuses since being poached from Goldman Sachs by Merrill Lynch was about to promoted to a top job in Tokyo.  The couple’s 14-year marriage crumbled during the SARS crisis in Hong Kong in 2003 when Nancy returned to the family’s multi-million dollar home in Vermont with her children and allegedly struck up an affair with TV repair man Michael del Priore.

Her husband hired private detectives who video-recorded del Priore parking his blue van outside the Vermont home on midnight visits, prosecutors say.

A handwritten love note from del Priore was found in Nancy’s drawer after the murder saying: “I love you when you call my name. It makes me melt.”

As he prepared for a costly divorce battle, Robert installed spyware on his wife’s laptop which showed how she did Internet searches for sleeping pills and “overdose medicine causing heart attack”, the court heard.

Two months before his death, the banker told a private detective he suspected his wife might have been drugging him but changed his mind about telling police because he felt “guilty about his suspicion”, according to government prosecutor Peter Chapman.

The trial…

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

A team of lawyers arguing her case in a hearing estimato last eight weeks are expected to paint a picture of a womanising, hard-drinking and sometimes violent husband whose behaviour drove Kissel to seek comfort in the arms of a “commoner” who loved her.

Wealthy women friends have rallied round Kissel after her arrest, providing an address for her to stay in Hong Kong and helping raise legal fees and the 1.3 million US dollars needed to secure bail for her throughout the court proceedings.

A friend of Kissel, 41-year-old children’s entertainer Scott Ligertwood, described her as organised and efficient in her volunteer work at the Hong Kong International School where her children received a 18,000 US dollars a year education.

Ligertwood was due to meet with Kissel on November 4 but received an email from her “My husband is not well”. In fact, the prosecution allege, she murdered him the day before.

As reporters queued up for the second week of the hearing, Hui said: “For Chinese reporters this is a very rare glimpse at what goes on in these very wealthy expatriate communities. That’s why everyone is so fascinated by it.”

The trial in Hong Kong’s High Court is expected to last for eight weeks.

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