Sex, Murder and the Kissel Brothers
Merrill Lynch investment banker Robert Kissel and his brother, Andrew, a real estate developer, were part of what friends called a model family. After Robert was murdered by his wife in Hong Kong, a sordid side to their lives emerged.
William Kissel says that when each of his two sons turned 16, he gave them a credit card and told them to go out and buy whatever they wanted. “Andrew came back with a fur jacket,” Kissel, 77, says of his eldest son, who now faces a 10- count indictment for grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business records in New York state court for allegedly pilfer- ing $3.9 million from a Manhattan co-op. He’s also charged with federal bank fraud for allegedly swindling mortgage lenders of $11 million in loans.
Robert, four years younger than Andrew, was more careful with his father’s money. “When it was Robert’s turn, he came back with a pair of plastic-topped shoes from Sears, Roebuck,” Kissel says of his younger son, who rose to become a star in- vestment banker in charge of distressed debt at Merrill Lynch & Co. in Hong Kong, before being bludgeoned to death by his wife, Nancy, 41, after she fed him a drug-laced milkshake.
Until Robert’s murder, the Kissel brothers, born in Man- hattan and raised in the New Jersey suburbs, seemed to em- body success. Robert, who was 40 when he died, was an expatriate banker living in a $20,000-a-month, 3,270-square- foot (304-square-meter) apartment with a view of Hong Kong’s skyline and the South China Sea; driving a silver Porsche Carrera; and employing two live-in Filipina maids. He amassed a $20 million fortune. Andrew, 45, lived in a four- bedroom, four-bath house in Greenwich, Connecticut; bought a $2.85 million, 75-foot (23-meter) Hatteras yacht named Five Keys; and had access to a private jet.
The brothers did some business together, with Robert in- vesting $500,000 in one of Andrew’s real estate companies. They sometimes vacationed together at nearby multimillion- dollar homes in Stratton, Vermont, a resort in the Green Mountains about four hours north of New York, where they had skied as children. “This was a blessed, model family,” says Jill Endres, 41, an Orange County, California–based surgeon who dated Robert Kissel for two years while they were under- graduates at the University of Rochester in New York. “They had everything. It was not supposed to turn out this way.”
Robert’s death revealed a sordid underside to the Kissels’ lives. Robert’s wife of 14 years, Nancy, admitted killing him while she was carrying on an affair with a stereo repairman who lived in a trailer park outside Stratton. Nancy, a former waitress who claimed to disdain Robert’s wealth and the life of an expatriate wife, said in her defense that her husband beat her, abused her sexually, used cocaine and drank heavily—claims that Rob- ert’s family, colleagues and friends all vigorously deny.
Andrew, who was released on $1 million bail in July on the condition he wear an electronic surveillance device on his ankle, has pleaded not guilty to the state charges. He hasn’t yet entered a plea in the federal bank fraud case. He’s also being sued by lenders, business partners, a title insurance company and a yacht dealership. His wife, Hayley Kissel, a former ana- lyst at Merrill Lynch, filed for divorce in March 2005.
Robert’s children are now the object of a custody dispute be- tween Hayley Kissel and Robert’s sister, Jane Kissel Clayton, 38, who lives with her husband, Richard, a Microsoft Corp. engi- neer, and their two children outside Seattle. “It’s an astonishing story,” says Randy Mastro of New York law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who’s representing Clayton in her custody bid. “Their father was murdered by their mother, and now they are temporarily residing in the midst of lawsuits and an acrimoni- ous divorce. It is a tragedy compounding a tragedy.” Hayley Kissel referred all queries about the children to her lawyer, Joseph Martini of Pepe & Hazard in Southport, Con- necticut, who didn’t return phone calls.
There was little hint of tragedy to come when the brothers were youths living in Saddle River, New Jersey, where their neighbors included former U.S. President Richard Nixon. Wil- liam Kissel, a chemist, had risen to become a manager of Fort Lee, New Jersey–based Sun Chemical Corp., the world’s largest producer of inks and pigments, before setting up his own company, Synfax Manufacturing, which made toner for copi- ers, in 1972, also in New Jersey.
As Kissel's career prospered, the family moved from a small apartment on lrving Place in Manhattan to a modest house in Woodeliff Lake, New Jersey, to a ranch-style home in Saddle River, built on two acres with a pool, a semicircular driveway and a three-car garage that held William’s Cadillac Seville and his wife Elaine’s Mercedes- Benz convertible. All three children became expert skiers, spending holidays at the family’s vacation home in Stratton. Even as teens, the boys showed starkly different personal- ities, their father says. “Rob was a great sportsman—the all- American boy,” William Kissel says. “He also had an intuitive facility with numbers.”
“Andrew was a very different cat,” his father says. “He has incredibly good taste and sense of design. He always wanted to be in real estate, and he made a lot of money, too, but he thought he had figured out a way of being able to spend more than he made.” William Kissel says he’s estranged from Andrew.
When Andrew was 19, he went into business, opening a shop selling accessories for four-wheel-drive vehicles and trucks on Route 17 in Mahwah, New Jersey, says Danny Williams, 42, who worked with An- drew at the shop. “Rob was more in- quisitive; Andy was the know-it-all,” says Williams, who now lives in Flor- ida and recently worked in the swim- ming pool business. “Rob liked to help people. Andy was a little bit more self-centered.”
Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Boston University in 1983. On his Website résumé, Andrew Kissel says that from 1988 to ’91 he was a vice president in the real estate group at Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc., where he was responsible for the management, acquisition and disposal of a $350 million real estate portfolio. Tasha Pelio, a spokeswoman for Lehman, said the company doesn’t have re- cords going back that far.
Robert, meanwhile, attended the University of Rochester and worked in his father’s toner business after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in optical engineering in 1986. That same year, he took a vacation to a Club Med resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where he met a slender, 22- year-old waitress named Nancy Keeshin.
Robert was smitten, his father recalls. “She was vivacious, attractive, sexy,” he says. Nancy, who’d been born in Michigan and had then moved to Oakland, California, with her mother after her parents divorced, was studying art at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and working in restaurants, including EJ’s Luncheonette. About a year later, the couple moved in together, and they were married in 1989.
The following year, Robert enrolled at New York University’s Leonard L. Stern School of Business, graduating in 1991 with a master of business administration. Kissel studied under Ed- ward Altman, a professor of finance who invented the Z-score, a mathematical formula that measures whether a company is at risk of bankruptcy. Altman made Robert a teaching assistant. “He was a very bright, ambitious and pleasant student who re- ally blossomed after his graduation,” says Altman, 64, who kept in touch with Kissel and last saw him in Taiwan in 2002. “He was very focused and intense in his work.”
Nancy Kissel testified that had she stopped attending art school and supported Robert while he was at NYU.
Robert began working in 1991 for Ladenburg Thalmann & Co., a Wall Street investment firm, where he specialized in dis- tressed debt. A year later, he joined Lazard Frères & Co., where he became a vice president in the high-yield group.
In 1997, he was hired by Gold- man Sachs Group Inc., which sent him to Hong Kong as a managing director in its Asian Special Situations Group. Goldman Sachs, Lazard and Merrill Lynch declined to comment. Ladenburg didn’t respond to requests for comment.
At about the same time, Andrew set up Hanrock Group LLC, the real estate company through which he would later funnel some of the money he’s accused of stealing from the co-op.
Nancy Kissel testified at her trial that Robert was involved in the founding of Hanrock, which she said was chosen as a name because the first four letters stood for the initials of the brothers and their wives, Hay- ley and Andrew and Nancy and Robert. Andrew was president at Stamford-based Hanrock, which buys, sells and manages com- mercial and residential real estate. He owned the company with partner David Parisier.
Andrew’s full-time job was running Hanrock Group, and Robert received checks from his brother, Nancy told the court. She said Robert had also sometimes discussed returning to the U.S. and setting up his own fund in Connecticut with Andrew.
According to Michael Collesano, an attorney appointed by the New York Surrogate’s Court to protect the Kissel chil- dren’s interests, Robert invested $500,000 in one of An- drew’s real estate ventures.
As Robert Kissel arrived in Asia, the region was in an economic crisis following the collapse of the Thai baht and other currencies. Foreign investors had dumped shares in Asian companies that could no longer repay dollar-denominated loans. That created lots of distressed debt. “It was very lucra- tive and very cutthroat between firms such as Goldman and Merrill,” says Glenn Henricksen, 46, a former risk manager in Asia for Bear, Stearns & Co., who now runs his own Hong Kong–based consulting firm, CIF Consultants. “You could buy up debts for 15 or 20 cents on the dollar and make a huge profit. But it’s very hard work. It involves very long hours.”
One of the biggest deals the Goldman team worked on took place in December 1998, when it teamed up with Gen- eral Electric Capital Corp. to pay $560 million—21 percent of face value—for assets the Thai government had seized from bankrupt auto finance companies. They then recouped the investment and turned a profit by selling the cars back to their owners for as much as 50 cents on the dollar.
In June 2000, Kissel was hired away by Merrill Lynch, the largest U.S. securities firm by number of brokers, to head its Asian distressed debt business. He took his close friend and colleague, David Noh, who’s now 33, with him from Goldman. Over the next two years, Merrill bought at least $500 million of bad debts in Korea and about $200 million worth in Tai- wan, according to company announcements at the time.
“Rob was absolutely one of the best-respected investors in Asia after the crisis,” says Joseph Draper, 41, a Hong Kong– based managing director at Citigroup Inc., the world’s biggest financial services company by market value. Draper had worked with Kissel when their employers teamed up to buy bad debts in Taiwan, and the two men had been preparing competing bids for $1.8 billion of distressed debt being sold by Bank of China when Robert was murdered. Draper scoffs at Nancy Kissel’s accusations during her trial that Robert used cocaine and searched the Internet for male and female sex partners in Taiwan and Paris. “We worked long hours together, and after we finished, Rob was the first to go to bed and the first to get back to his family,” Draper says. “What Nancy said was total fiction.” The prosecution said that there was no evidence he made the computer searches and that a pornography dialer found on his computer could have been installed without his knowledge.
Merrill Lynch rewarded Kissel with a salary of $175,000 plus bonuses that averaged $2 million a year, Antony Hung, Merrill’s head of Asia–Pacific Rim debt markets, told the court. The company also covered most of the family’s rent at Parkview, a self-contained, resort- style development of 18 high-rise towers with its own super- market, three restaurants and three swimming pools. “It’s an unashamedly elitist lifestyle,” says Gor-
don Oldham, 53, a British attorney who has lived in Parkview for eight years. “The car parks are so full of Mercedeses, Jaguars and Rolls-Royces that they resemble luxu- ry car showrooms.”
For Nancy Kissel, who by 2000 had two small children and an infant, Robert’s long hours were a burden. “Moving to Hong Kong was a lot more pressure for both of us and the family,” she told the court at her trial. “It was difficult to adjust—so foreign—and being on my own so much because he traveled.” Rob- ert’s colleagues testified that he was devoted to his children, while Nancy Kissel said he was so busy and traveling so often that he was a “five-minute father.”
With no skiing in Hong Kong, Robert still found time for sports, participating in Trail- walker, a grueling 60-mile (96.6-kilometer) mountain trek that competitors take 12–48 hours to finish. Nancy threw herself into volunteer work, helping out at the Hong Kong International School, a $15,000-a-year private school her two oldest children attended, and in the United Jewish Congregation. She held an annual Halloween party for all of the residents of their 20-story tower at Parkview.
When the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic broke out in March 2003, Nancy and the children, along with one of their maids, fled to the family’s home in Stratton. When Nancy needed someone to repair the house’s sound system, she called Lance Del Priore, 41, who had installed a home entertainment system in Andrew Kissel’s Stratton house and had been recommended to Robert by his brother. Del Priore sent his own brother, Michael, 42, to do the work.
Nancy began an affair with Michael, who lived in a trailer park outside Stratton. At her trial, Nancy denied that Del Priore was interested in her wealth. “He had an understanding of what my life was about—struggling to be accepted for who I am as a person, not where I live or what I drove or my jewelry,” she told the court. Still, says Lance Del Priore, who fired his brother over the affair and no longer speaks to him, “Nancy was spending thousands of money on this idiot.” Lance Del Priore told Bloomberg News that he knew of the affair but agreed not to tell Robert or Andrew about it. Michael Del Priore, who now runs Amity Security & Alarm, in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, didn’t return repeated phone calls.
Robert Kissel became suspicious of his wife and, on June 6, hired Alpha Group Investigations, a Farmingdale, New York, private investigation firm, according to Frank Shea, the firm’s president. Shea, 57, a former New York Police Department detective whose firm was paid a total of $25,000, sent investigator Rocco Gatta to Strat- ton to spy on Nancy. Gatta saw Michael Del Priore drive up to the house and called Shea, who hap- pened to be on the phone with Robert, Shea says. Robert called Nancy immediately and confronted her, Shea says. Del Priore left the house minutes later, Gatta told Shea. On other occasions, Del Priore stayed at the house until late at night, he said.
Robert Kissel had installed spyware on his wife’s computer. On her return from the U.S., he found she had made Internet searches using key phrases such as “overdose of sleeping pills” and “medications causing heart attack,” prosecutor Peter Chapman told the Hong Kong court during Nancy Kissel’s trial.
During a visit to New York in August 2003, Robert told Shea he suspected that he was being drugged, saying he felt woozy and disoriented. Shea traveled to Hong Kong on other business and met Robert for drinks at the China Club the week of Sept. 6. “I think she’s trying to kill you,” Shea says he told Robert. “He just couldn’t believe that she would do it,” he says.
In late September, Robert found bills for a mobile phone that Nancy Kissel had acquired secretly, giving her address as the Hong Kong International School, according to David Noh’s testimony. It was the final straw for Robert, said Noh, in whom Robert had confided about his marital problems.
Still, the couple appeared in public together. On Oct. 8, Nancy and Robert attended a banquet hosted by Internation- al Bank of Asia, a Hong Kong–based lender, at which former U.S. President George H.W. Bush was the guest of honor. The pair had had a terrible argument, Nancy said in her testimony, and so arrived too late for cocktails with Bush. During the dinner, Nancy approached Bush’s table, tapped him on the shoulder and asked to introduce him to her husband. The ex- president then posed for photographs with them.
A few weeks later, in the last week of October, Noh told the court, Robert told him he was going to seek a divorce and was going to tell Nancy the coming Sunday night. Noh testified that Kissel said he was prepared to fly Michael Del Priore to Hong Kong so that Nancy would stay there and he could remain close to his children.
That week, Nancy Kissel made appointments with two doctors and obtained pre- scriptions for hypnotic and sedative drugs, Chapman told the court. The drugs prescribed for her—in- cluding rohypnol, the so-called date rape drug, and three types of sedatives—were later found in Robert Kissel’s stomach.
That Sunday, Nov. 2, Robert Kissel and an acquaintance, An- drew Tanzer, returned to the Kissel apartment from the Jewish center so two of their children could play together. Nancy Kissel made two pink milkshakes and asked the children to give them to their fathers. When Tanzer asked what it contained, she replied it was “a secret recipe,” Tanzer told the court. He returned to his apartment, where he fell asleep and then started behaving strangely, at one stage eating three tubs of ice cream, Tanzer’s wife, Kazuko Ouchi, testified.
At 5 p.m. that day, Noh phoned Kissel and found him “vague and incoherent, tired and sleepy.” Later that same night, police say, Nancy Kissel bludgeoned her husband to death using an 8.3-pound (3.8-kilogram) lead statue—a Keeshin family heirloom topped with two female figurines. She killed him in their bedroom with five blows to the head and slept with his body for at least two nights, the court was told.
Kissel missed a conference call that night, said Noh, who be- came concerned when he failed to show up for an important meeting the following day to prepare the bid for Bank of China’s distressed debt.
That same day, Nancy sent her maids out to buy packing tape and rope. She went shopping for a carpet. And she ordered pack- ing boxes to be delivered, which she filled with bloodied items and the ornament she had used to kill her husband. She packed Robert’s body in the carpet and, on Nov. 5, hired workmen to carry it down to the storeroom. One of the workmen recalled in court that the carpet gave off a strong smell, like salted fish.
Before and after the murder, Nancy Kissel and Del Priore made frequent calls to each other, according to the prosecutor, who read out in court the numbers she’d dialed from her cell phone. On. Nov. 4, she spoke with a woman friend and confirmed that she’d be flying to San Francisco on Nov. 17 for cosmetic surgery on her breasts.
After the murder, Nancy Kissel also visited a doctor, claiming to have been assaulted by her husband. She told her father, Ira Keeshin, 61, the same story, and he flew out to Hong Kong to be with her. On Nov. 6, Nancy made a police report alleging assault. The same day, Noh reported Robert missing. Police investigating his re- port went to the Kissel residence and, after talking to Parkview staff, asked Nancy for the keys to the storage room. They found Robert’s body there and arrested Nancy. Back in Stratton, Lance Del Priore learned of the murder when he got a phone call from Andrew Kissel. “Your brother killed my brother,” he says Andrew told him.
At the time, Andrew was already embroiled in financial troubles. Earlier that year, the finance committee of his Upper East Side co-op had noticed irregularities in its finan- cial statements and confronted Andrew, who’d been the co- op’s treasurer since 1995. That October, Andrew paid the co-op more than $4 million to cover the discrepancies. The parties signed papers releasing him from liability, Kissel’s lawyer said. Andrew then sold his three units in the co-op for $3 million. In November, the New York district attorney’s office began investigating Andrew’s activities at the co-op.
Andrew and Hayley and their two children moved to Greenwich, Connecticut. Hayley, a former ski coach who’d met her husband through his sister, Jane, was working as a stock analyst at Merrill Lynch, following compa- nies in the leisure and toy sectors such as Mattel Inc. and Six Flags Inc.
In December 2003, Andrew and Hayley, who quit work- ing at Merrill in 2002, sought temporary custody of Rob- ert’s three children. The court granted it in January 2004. At about the same time, Andrew began a series of real estate borrowings by using two properties in Greenwich, one on Quaker Lane and one on Tuttle Road, and the Stratton vacation home as collateral.
Nancy murdered Robert in their bedroom and then slept with his body for at least two nights. A fourth property be- came the subject of the federal bank fraud charge. On July 26, 2004, according to a criminal complaint filed by FBI Spe- cial Agent Catherine McPadden, Andrew got a mortgage loan of $1.6 million from Washington Mutual Bank to buy a four- bedroom, five-bath Colonial-style home at 43 Burning Tree Road in Greenwich.
The following February, Andrew filed an allegedly phony release from the mortgage with the Greenwich town clerk. This release led a second lender, Hudson Valley Bank of Yonkers, New York, to believe the property was unencumbered by debt. Hudson Valley gave Kissel a $4.5 million construction line of credit using the property as collateral. He repeated the process twice more, with Independence Community Bank of Brooklyn and Connecticut-based Ridgefield Bank, borrowing a total of $11 million before the scheme was uncovered.
Andrew’s alleged misdeeds at Burning Tree drew attention to his other real estate transactions. On June 22, Stewart Title Guaranty Co., a title insurer, alerted all of its associates not to close real estate deals involving Kissel, Hanrock or its proper- ties without written approval from headquarters in Houston.
On July 13, a magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest. Fi- delity National Title Insurance Co. sued him on July 19, alleging he had run the same scam using other properties. The FBI picked him up on July 26 at his Stratton home.
Two days later, Cathy Seibel, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a bail hearing in White Plains, New York, that Andrew is under investigation by the FBI for frauds that could, in all, total $50 million.
Andrew also has been sued by his principal partner in Hanrock, David Parisier, who has seized $10 million of his assets by legal writ. Parisier didn’t return calls seeking comment.
At the same time, Andrew’s marriage to Hayley was unraveling. The couple continues to live together with their two children and Robert and Nancy’s three. A court-appointed attorney who represented Nancy’s children, Michael Collesano, describes Andrew as a re- covering alcoholic. Nancy Kissel said in her testimony that Andrew had received medical treatment for cocaine abuse.
Philip Russell, Andrew’s lawyer, wouldn’t comment on his client’s drug abuse. “Andrew’s life has been an emotional struggle on a num- ber of fronts,” he says.
In October, New York Surrogate’s Court awarded Clayton temporary guardianship of Robert’s children. The case was heard in New York because that’s where Robert’s will—which left everything to his wife—was recorded. Under New York law, Nancy is considered as dead because of the mur- der, and the children will inherit their father’s estate.
Hayley Kissel had wanted to keep custody, which is differ- ent from legal guardianship and which is scheduled to be de- cided in a Connecticut court. “The children are happy and safe in my house,” she told Judge Eve Preminger. Clayton says she and her husband, Richard, want to help Robert’s children overcome the horrors of the past. “It’s something they are going to have to work on for the rest of their lives,” she says. “But they are loving, sweet and beautiful children, and in the right place, they can make it through.”
The judge said Nancy Kissel also should be consulted about her children, though she will not be able to take care of them herself. In August, the Hong Kong court found her guilty of murder and gave her a life sentence, which she’s appealing. She’s incarcerated in a 7 foot–by–7 foot cell in the top-security Tai Lam Institution for women, near the Chinese border. A sign on the door, in English and Chinese, says “Lifer.” If her appeal fails, she could apply to serve the rest of her sentence in a U.S. prison. In either case, it’s a far cry from her cosseted life at Parkview, where Robert Kissel’s silver Porsche Carrera still sits, unclaimed, in the parking lot.
As for Andrew, he pleaded not guilty in October to charg- es of grand larceny in the co-op case, for which he faces a prison term of as much as 25 years. He hasn’t yet entered a plea in the federal fraud case. He remains under house arrest in Connecticut. Russell says Andrew wants to make good on his debts. “It’s been a very trying time for Andrew in part be- cause of the disaster which befell his brother and in part be- cause of troubles he has visited upon himself,” the lawyer says. With prosecutors and dozens of creditors and claim- ants—including his wife—dogging his steps, his trials are only just beginning