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‘Milkshake murder’ trial transfixes Hong Kong

Nancy Kissel is accused of drugging husband Robert, a U.S. banker in Hong Kong, with a milkshake mixed with a cocktail of sedatives, including the date-rape drug Rohypnol.
American Nancy Ann Kissel is accused of murdering her husband, a wealthy American banker, in Hong Kong.
American Nancy Ann Kissel is accused of murdering her husband, a wealthy American banker, in Hong Kong.Vincent Yu / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

He was a trim, athletic-looking investment banker for Merrill Lynch. She was a housewife raising three children in a luxury apartment with two maids. He’s now dead, and she’s accused of beating him to death in what’s been dubbed the “milkshake murder.”

The ongoing trial has riveted Hong Kong with a stream of sensational — sometimes bizarre — testimony about the sex, drugs and money that plagued the deeply troubled marriage in the wealthy world of Hong Kong expats.

Two months into the trial, Nancy Ann Kissel admitted on Thursday she killed her husband, Robert, but she’s still challenging the murder charge. Testimony continues Monday.

Nancy Kissel, 41, is accused of drugging Robert with a milkshake mixed with a cocktail of sedatives, including the date-rape drug Rohypnol. After giving him the drink, she allegedly bashed him on the head five times with a heavy metal ornament on Nov. 2, 2003.

A marriage gone bad
The prosecution has described her as a cold, scheming woman from Minnesota who surfed the Internet for information about sleeping pills and sedatives months before the alleged murder. The prosecutor said Robert, 40, had told friends he suspected his wife had tried to drug him.

Robert, a New York native, installed spyware on Nancy’s computer and hired a private detective to check whether she was having an affair. She later admitted to having a blue-collar boyfriend in America — an electrician who worked on the couple’s Vermont vacation home in 2003.

The prosecutor said Robert was infuriated about the affair and had given up on the deteriorating marriage. He had decided to tell Nancy he’d filed for divorce the day she killed him in the bedroom of their exclusive apartment complex on a mountain that looks out over the city, the prosecution said.

The next day, Nancy Kissel went on a shopping spree, buying sheets, cushions and a carpet, and she told her Filipino maids not to clean the master bedroom, the prosecution said.

Three days after the killing, Nancy asked maintenance workers to haul away a bulky roll of carpet to a storage locker in the apartment complex, the prosecution said. A maid noted the roll seemed unusually thick, but Nancy said it contained pillows and blankets, the prosecutor said. The workers complained of a strong fishy smell.

Nancy would have been a wealthy widow. Robert’s younger sister, Jane Clayton, testified her brother’s estate — including life insurance, stocks and properties — was worth about $18 million and that his wife was the primary beneficiary of his will.

A contrasting portrait
The defense has painted a different picture of Robert. Nancy’s lawyer has argued he was a workaholic who beat his wife up and frequently tried to ease his job stress with alcohol and cocaine. Nancy said he was hot-tempered with the kids, and that she once spiked his whisky with sedatives to calm him down.

She also complained that he was rough in bed, sometimes demanding anal sex that would cause bleeding. She said he once broke her ribs.

Nancy called herself a “desperate” housewife, and said she tried to kill herself in the final months of her miserable marriage. She said she researched drugs on the Internet because she was considering suicide with sleeping pills.

By early 2003, she said the couple barely spoke, and they communicated by notes and e-mail.

On the day her husband died, she said she prepared a milkshake for her children, who served a glass to Robert. She said she would never harm the children. Shortly after, her husband told her he was seeking a divorce and would take the children with him, she said.

They argued and began hitting each other, she said. Robert used a baseball bat, while Nancy used a heavy metal ornament with figurines. Under questioning from her lawyer, she testified that her husband’s head was bloody but she couldn’t remember what else happened. She said she remembered thinking Robert was about to kill her.

Nancy also said the next two months were a blur, and she couldn’t remember anything about hauling away the rug, cleaning up the bloodied items in the bedroom or reporting to police that Robert beat her up then disappeared.

When the prosecutor began questioning her for the first time Thursday, he opened by asking whether she killed her husband. Nancy said “yes” in a firm voice. But she didn’t change her plea of innocence to the murder charge.