Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nancy Kissel: The Hong Kong Milkshake Murder

Shelter from the Storm

Starbucks coffee shop
Starbucks coffee shop

Of Hong Kong's 6.9 million residents, about 30,000 are American expatriates, but in the winter of 2003 the Americans started to leave in droves. The Starbucks coffee shops, McDonald's fast-food restaurants, and other business favored by the Americans started losing business by the day. The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic had struck the city, and American women and children fled to the United States in fear while their workaholic husbands stayed on for their jobs. The Kissels decided that Nancy would take their three children to the family's vacation home near Stratton Mountain, Vermont.

As the epidemic worsened, there was no telling when it would be safe for the expat families to return to Hong Kong. The Kissels ordered an expensive home-theater system for their vacation house, figuring that Nancy and the children would be staying there for an indefinite period. The man who sold the equipment to the Kissels sent his brother, Michael Del Priore, to install it.

Described by The Standard as "ruggedly handsome," Del Priore and Nancy Kissel got to know one another while he worked at her house. One day he confided to her that his alcoholic father used to beat his mother. He revealed this to Nancy because he noticed that she often wore the same downtrodden look that his mother always had. Nancy would later testify at her trial that she found a shoulder to cry on in the twice-married Del Priore who lived in a nearby trailer park. They talked at length, Nancy pouring out her troubles to him. Their friendship soon became a love affair, and Nancy later admitted to having sex with him three times in her Vermont home. She also bought him a $5,000 wristwatch. In July 2003, he took her to a tattoo parlor where she had her children's names in Chinese characters tattooed on her shoulder. She'd always wanted a tattoo, but her husband forbade it.

By the end of the summer, the SARS epidemic had abated, and Nancy returned to Hong Kong with her children. She stayed in touch with Del Priore, calling him frequently. Though she loved Del Priore, she told the court that she had never considered getting a divorce. Her lover was just a temporary shelter from her stormy marriage. Her home was Hong Kong, she said.

Her husband suspected that she was cheating on him, so he hired a private investigator in the United States. The investigator uncovered evidence of her relationship with Del Priore but was unable to get photos or video of the lovers together. Robert Kissel had told the investigator that he feared his wife would leave him for Del Priore and take their children away from him.

Robert Kissel
Robert Kissel

Nancy claimed that her husband became increasingly violent and erratic, throwing temper tantrums over relatively insignificant matters such as not finding any orange juice in the refrigerator. He also badgered her for sex, and with him it was always rough sex. Her husband seemed to think that sex would patch up whatever was wrong with their relationship, she believed. She also came to believe that her husband had been engaging in gay sex while on business trips throughout Asia, and she claimed that he searched the Internet for gay pornography specifically related to anal sex.

Fearing that he was inspecting the telephone bills, Nancy ordered a new cell phone for herself and had the bills sent to the Hong Kong International School where she did extensive volunteer work. What she didn't know was that her husband had hired private investigators in Hong Kong to install a spyware program called E-Blaster on the family computers in order to monitor her e-mail and Internet use. The spyware uncovered search-engine entries for the terms "sleeping pills, drug overdose, medication causing heart attack." She testified that she was so desperate at one point she had actually considered suicide, but she didn't want her children to know that she had killed herself so she tried to find a method that would look like a heart attack.

With the information she had obtained from her internet searches, she consulted several doctors in Hong Kong and managed to get five prescriptions that she felt would accomplish her goal: the "date rape drug" Rohypnol; the painkiller Dextropropoxythene; the sedative Lorivan; the antidepressant Amitryptaline; and the sleeping pill Stilnox. She was ready to do something drastic.


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