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Kissels Of Death

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Starting out, Nancy and Rob had struggled together—Nancy had managed a Caliente Cab Co. in New York—but lately, Rob was so important. As with Andrew, money seemed a way for Nancy to assert herself, to make an impression. “It became like a tool that she could use to make herself more important,” the friend says.

Perhaps taking a lover served the same purpose. Nancy sometimes bragged about her sex life with Rob, but during a spring 2003 stay at their Vermont house—she’d gone with their children to avoid the Asian sars threat—she met a good-looking, middle-aged Vermonter. He’d shown up at the house to repair her TV. Soon, he was boasting about the expensive jewelry Nancy had given him and about the tattoo he’d taken her to get, something Rob hadn’t wanted her to do.

Rob quickly became suspicious, and, with the help of a private detective, uncovered the affair. Still, he seemed willing to reconcile. He considered bringing Nancy’s lover to Hong Kong, even paying for the move as a way to work things out. “It would have killed him, though,” says a close friend. “He was into justice in a big way. Nancy would make things bend to suit her, but Rob was very straight down the line.” Rob and Nancy visited Australian friends in early 2003. “Rob was really depressed. He still loved her very much,” says one of those friends, “but the marriage was over. You could just tell.”

In Hong Kong, in the early evening of November 2, 2003, just after Rob finished supervising a playdate for his three children and a neighbor’s kids, his daughter delivered him a pink milk shake. It tasted like ground-up cookies and strawberry ice cream and something else. The drink contained Rohypnol and three other sedatives, medications recently prescribed for Nancy. As he lay drugged in bed, Rob was struck five times in the head with an eight-pound lead statue that had belonged to Nancy’s grandmother.

Six days later, Nancy was arrested. Police said she’d slept in the room with Rob’s body for two days before buying a new carpet, rolling Rob’s body inside the old one, and then directing workmen to put it in storage.

Quickly, the many relatives flew to Hong Kong. Andrew, who just a few weeks earlier had settled with the co-op board, was devastated by the news. Jane, who adored Robbie, as she called him, came from Washington State. Bill flew in from Florida. Nancy’s father, Ira Keeshin, arrived from Chicago, and Nancy’s half-brother, Brooks, came from Cincinnati.

For the extended family, it was an impossible reunion. Bill was beside himself. He believed that Nancy had murdered his son. But almost worse, her defense—she pleaded not guilty—was that Rob was a drug user who had abused her. When Ira supported his daughter, Bill turned on him.

“Bill treats me as the enemy,” says Ira. “He treats me as if I don’t exist.” And yet, whatever Bill thought of Ira, or Nancy, Ira and Bill had to cooperate on the matter of the three grandchildren. “It was horrible,” says Bill.

Perhaps Bill would have felt better if he’d had some legal authority. But his relationship with Rob hadn’t always been easy. They’d reconciled, and had in recent years spent happy time together, but there’d been periods when Rob refused to allow his father’s name to be mentioned.

For Rob, Nancy’s father no doubt had been a less complicated presence. Plus Ira is relaxed, blunt, eager to laugh. “Rob and I were father-son, very close,” says Ira, who’s in the bakery business. In his will, drawn up in 1998, Rob named Ira his children’s guardian—in part, perhaps, to please Nancy.

Eventually, Bill and Ira sat down in Hong Kong. In a handwritten agreement on Marriott-hotel stationery, they said that Ira would take temporary custody; future decisions would be made by mutual consent.

Rob and Nancy’s kids needed all the help they could get. And yet circumstance pitted one family against another. Inevitably, the struggle over the kids became a proxy fight, a warm-up for the drama that would unfold in a Hong Kong courtroom. As if bitterness and anger weren’t fuel enough, there was a further cause for suspicion. Rob’s kids were rich. Court papers said each was worth $5 million (before taxes). When it came to the kids, someone always seemed to believe that the other person’s true motive was greed.

Immediately after the murder, the three children, ages 3 to 9, moved in with Ira, an arrangement that quickly fell apart. Ira, 62 at the time, reported that “the tragedy,” as he called it, had made Joanie, his third wife, ill. In December 2003, he wrote Andrew that, instead, he had found them “a loving, nurturing, and stable environment.” Ira sent the kids to live with his son, Brooks, Nancy’s half-brother, a 24-year-old medical student at the University of Cincinnati. (He added that it was his hope that “this decision will in on”—Ira had mistyped the word no—“way be a source of conflict.”)


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