Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nancy Kissel: The Hong Kong Milkshake Murder

Pink Milkshakes

At Nancy Kissel's trial, the private investigator hired by Robert Kissel to spy on his wife in Vermont testified that he received a phone call from his client in late August 2003.  Frank Shea of Alpha Group Investigations said that Kissel was quite upset because he believed his wife was poisoning his single-malt scotch.  Robert Kissel had told Shea that recently his favorite drink didn't taste right and the effects of drinking it were "quite remarkable," making him feel "woozy and disoriented."  Shea advised Kissel to have a sample of the scotch analyzed and to have himself tested for traces of poisoning.  But, according to Shea, Kissel "felt guilty about his suspicions" and never took the investigator's advice.

Andrew Tanzer
Andrew Tanzer

On the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 2, 2003, Andrew Tanzer brought his 7-year-old daughter to the Kissels' apartment for a play date.  Tanzer and his family lived in the same apartment complex.  He chatted with Robert Kissel while the girls played.  After about 45 minutes, Tanzer said he had to go and asked if he could have a glass of water before he left.  Instead of water, his daughter and the Kissels' oldest daughter brought out two tall glasses filled with a homemade milkshake.  The girls offered one glass to Tanzer and the other to Robert Kissel.  On the stand, Tanzer described it as "reddish in color, probably from strawberry flavoring.... fairly heavy, sweet, thickened, tasting of bananas and crushed cookies." 

Nancy Kissel "popped her head out of the kitchen" and told Tanzer that it was "a secret recipe" and that the color was in the spirit of Halloween, which had just passed.  Like many of the expat mothers in Hong Kong, Nancy went out of her way to celebrate American holidays, and every fall she arranged to have a shipment of pumpkins flown in for the Hong Kong International School.  Tanzer was in a hurry to leave, so he "drained" his glass.  Robert Kissel drained his as well.

Hong Kong International School
Hong Kong International School

When Tanzer returned to his apartment, his wife noticed that his face was unusually red.  He said he was tired and fell into a deep sleep on the sofa.  Worried that he wasn't well, she tried to wake him, but even shouting in his face and slapping his cheeks didn't rouse him.  Later on a ringing telephone finally woke him.  He dozed on and off until dinner time, but by his own description he behaved like "a temperamental baby."  After eating the main course, Tanzer devoured his ice-cream dessert.  He then went to the kitchen for more.  He was insatiable and voraciously ate three full cartons of ice cream.  Afterward, again like a baby, he soiled the furniture.  The next morning when he woke from a night's sleep, he remembered little of what had happened after returning from the Kissels' apartment.  He felt that he had experienced "something like amnesia."

At Nancy Kissel's trial, senior assistant director of Public Prosecutions Peter Chapman presented Andrew Tanzer's testimony as proof that Nancy, 41, had drugged her husband in preparation for his murder.  The prosecution's contention was that her "secret recipe" had rendered her husband defenseless.  He passed out on their bed, and she bludgeoned him five times in the head with what the New York Times described as an "eight-pound figurine."  Government forensic experts testified that the blows produced "massive spillage of brain substance" and caused Robert Kissel's death.  The prosecution stated that the murder was carried out with the "tacit encouragement" of Nancy's lover, Michael Del Priore.  And according to the prosecution's timeline, Nancy Kissel kept her husband's bloodied body in their apartment for three days, from the time of death on Sunday evening, November 2, 2003, until maintenance men moved the heavy rolled rug on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 5.


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