Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nancy Kissel: The Hong Kong Milkshake Murder

Diminished Responsibility

Every day a pale and gaunt Nancy Kissel appeared in court wearing the same outfit—a simple black dress and oval metal-rimmed glasses.  Her dark, dead-straight hair hung loose below her shoulders.  Constantly by her side was her mother, Jean McGlothlin, their fingers often interlaced in a tight grip.

Nancy Kissel  and Jean McGlothlin
Nancy Kissel and Jean McGlothlin

By the end of July 2005, the prosecution had presented its case, portraying Nancy Kissel as a duplicitous, cheating wife who meticulously planned the murder of her husband so that she could run off with her lover.  Though there were no eye witnesses to the crime, the circumstantial evidence presented was overwhelming.  The same prescription drugs she had obtained from doctors for herself were found in her dead husband's body.  Andrew Tanzer, the family friend, who shared the pink milkshake with the victim, testified to feeling nearly comatose and acting bizarrely after drinking Nancy's "secret recipe."  Maintenance men at her apartment complex testified that she had ordered them to move the rug containing Robert Kissel's body to a storage bin.  Bloody clothes and linens found in the storage compartment and in the apartment indicated that the victim withstood a brutal beating from a heavy blunt object, and that the beating had happened on the couple's bed.  The prosecution claimed that the murder weapon was a "heavy figurine" that the Kissels had kept in their kitchen.

Nancy Kissel could have pleaded insanity in the murder of her husband, but that would have guaranteed her indefinite incarceration in a psychiatric facility.  Instead she and her barrister chose another gambit, diminished responsibility.  The legal system in Hong Kong, which is based on the British system, allows defendants to plead guilty to a crime committed under extraordinary circumstances that reduce the defendant's culpability.  Nancy Kissel would get on the stand and describe the hell that her marriage had become.  She would tell the court that behind closed doors her husband was a monster, and that he drove her to commit murder.  But it was a risky move on the defense's part.  By entering a plea of diminished responsibility, the burden of proof shifts from the prosecution to the defense.  The prosecution would only have to poke holes in her version of events to win the case.

On August 1, 2005, Nancy Kissel took the stand and presented a very different portrait of her husband.  To the expat community, Robert Kissel was successful, respected, and admired by his colleagues and friends.  But to his wife, he was a cocaine addict and a brutal control freak who beat her regularly and forced her to have rough anal and oral sex nearly every night.

According to Nancy, her husband's use of cocaine started when he was studying for his MBA in New York and she was working three waitressing jobs to support them.  They would argue about it, and she would vehemently protest that he was wasting her hard earned money on drugs.   He eventually got his degree, and their marriage persevered. 

Serious trouble started, she testified, after the birth of her first child.  She had gained weight and her body had changed.  Robert no longer found her attractive.  He hounded her to lose weight.  According to Nancy, his sexual preference had turned toward anal sex.  She believed that he didn't want to see her face anymore.  He was rough with her in bed, pulling her hair to get her to do what he wanted.  These assaults became more and more frequent.  With tears in her eyes, Nancy Kissel told the court that she soon learned to accept his unwanted penetration because when she resisted, the result would be anal bleeding.  On one occasion, he was so aggressive she heard something "pop" in her torso.  After going to the hospital, she learned that he had broken one of her ribs.

She claimed that his high-pressure job and the transfer to Hong Kong triggered his worst impulses.  In 1999 when she was five months pregnant with her youngest child, Robert had a fit when he realized that her due date coincided with an important business trip to Korea.  He had planned on her accompanying him, so he asked her to have her doctor induce labor early so that she could go with him.  She refused, and he threw a tantrum, pounding the walls with his fists and threatening to hit her.  Two months later he brought up the issue again.  She stood her ground and refused to even consider it, and this time he did hit her.

The SARS epidemic came as a blessing for her and got her away from her husband's physical tyranny, though he continued to keep close tabs on her spending.  While staying at their Vermont vacation home, she met Michael Del Priore and found someone she could talk to.  They enjoyed each other's company and became lovers, but at no time, she testified, did she ever consider leaving her marriage.  Her life was in Hong Kong, she said, with her husband and children.


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