Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nancy Kissel: The Hong Kong Milkshake Murder

'An American Soap Opera'

Nancy Kissel
Nancy Kissel

Nancy Kissel's arrest and trial sent shock waves through Hong Kong's American expat community.  The Kissels were a typical expat couple.  Robert coped with his high-paying, high-pressure job while Nancy maintained a luxurious household complete with a Filipino servant and an amah (nanny) for her children.  Nancy Kissel was a familiar face in the community because of her volunteer work and well-known among the other Hong Kong "soccer moms."  Perhaps what rattled the expats most was how similar the Kissels were to them.  Many of them shared the same marital problems as the Kissels—lots of money, too much stress, not enough time together.  The only difference was that Nancy Kissel acted on her frustrations and did what many other women in the expat community might have fantasized at their darkest moments: she murdered her spouse.

Many of the expats condemned her from the start.  In their privileged enclave hermetically sealed with layers of money and prestige, that sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen.  But Nancy had shown that it could happen there.  Several of her friends ignored the raised eyebrows and tongue-clucking and ran to her aid, some of them offering to raise money for her defense. 

For the ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong, the Kissel affair provided a rare glimpse into the privileged world of the gwailo (their derogatory term for "foreigner," literally "ghost person"), and they followed the trial closely with a mix of fascination and disapproval.  The trial stretched through the summer of 2005 with the local tabloids giving it the same kind of sensational coverage that the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials received in America.  Because of the victim's status in the business community, journalists from business publications and news wires also reported on the progress of the trial.  Everyday the court was packed with spectators—almost all of them from the expat community—eager to see the next installment of the "American soap opera," as reporter Doug Crets called it.

The entire jury was ethnic Chinese—seven men and five women.  "Juries here are stoic, stone-faced, pragmatic and with their feet on the ground," barrister Kevin Egan told The Standard.  Money is very important to the Chinese, particularly to the men.  A woman accused of killing her wealthy husband allegedly to take over his estate would be viewed dimly by Hong Kong locals.  Presenting Nancy Kissel as a battered housewife and a victim herself would be risky for the defense.  That kind of strategy, so common in criminal cases in the United States, was almost unheard of in Hong Kong.  In barrister Egan's opinion, the defense would need a jury of "cuckoos from Connecticut and neurotics from New York" to get an acquittal.   

But Nancy Kissel's barrister Alexander King must have felt otherwise.  He chose to appeal to the jury's sympathies for an abused wife who claimed to have suffered under her husband's tyranny for years.  King made the ultimate legal gamble and put his client on the stand.  He would let Nancy Kissel tell her own story.


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