Lynbrook man sentenced to 22 years to life in prison for murder of Long Beach woman

Theresa Kiel was principal in Malverne schools


A Lynbrook man was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years to life in prison for a 2016 attack on his girlfriend’s mother in Long Beach that led to the woman’s death in 2018.

Ralph Keppler, 30, pleaded guilty on Dec. 30, 2019, before Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn to charges of second-degree murder, second-degree conspiracy and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

According to authorities, Keppler beat Theresa Kiel, the mother of his girlfriend, Francesca Kiel, with a metal barbell outside her New York Avenue apartment in Long Beach on Dec. 4, 2016, at about 10:30 p.m. Theresa was a teacher and principal in the Malverne School District for 30 years. Her daughter previously pleaded guilty to murder for her involvement in orchestrating the attack.

“Ralph Keppler is a cold, calculating killer, who ambushed Theresa Kiel and savagely beat the beloved teacher with a barbell outside her Long Beach home in December 2016,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said. “Remarkably, Theresa survived the attack, but endured nearly two years in a vegetative state before dying from her injuries. Ralph Keppler deserves every day of his 22 years to life in prison and we hope that today’s sentence helps Theresa’s family and friends in the mourning process.”

According to Singas, Theresa Kiel and Keppler were involved in a business dispute at the time of the attack. The victim was inside the entrance corridor to the apartment complex when she was attacked by Keppler and struck several times on the head and face with a metal barbell.

Kiel suffered severe brain damage, a shattered skull, a depressed right eye and lost teeth. She was transported to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside at the time and was in a vegetative state until she died on Nov. 10, 2018, at 56.

Theresa Kiel’s attorney, Thomas Liotti, said in January 2018 that Keppler had invested $350,000 with her to develop an app for college students. Keppler was attempting to get his money back, which Liotti claimed was a motive for the attack. He had sent threatening emails and texts to Kiel before the assault, Liotti added.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Liotti called it the worst case he had seen in the 43 years he has practiced law, and that he hoped Keppler is never released from prison.

“I don’t believe justice was served,” he said. “No way you can recompense her family and there’s no amount time … not enough for the family. No way you can bring back somebody like that, that was a fabulous person and a great teacher — just wonderful in all respects.” 

Senior Assistant District Attorney Stefanie Palma of Singas’ Major Offense Bureau is prosecuting the case, while Keppler was represented by Marc Gann, Esq. and Francesca Kiel is represented by Geoffrey Prime, Esq.

“I knew it was going to be highly emotional,” Gann said. Kiel family members made emotional pleas for a lengthy sentence and called Keppler “an animal,” Gann added, noting that he advised Keppler not to speak in court.

After the attack, Keppler left the scene and returned to his Lynbrook home that he shared with Francesca. Leading up to the incident, Francesca allegedly purchased a GPS tracking device that was placed on her mother’s car. Francesca allegedly set up email alerts that notified her when Theresa’s car was in the vicinity of her mother’s home or work. She also allegedly called a Long Beach taxi company on the night of the murder, the same taxi company that allegedly picked up Keppler in the vicinity of the murder scene.

Keppler, who worked as a New York City correction officer, was arrested at Rikers Island by members of the Long Beach Police Department on Jan. 24, 2018, on attempted murder charges. Those charges were upgraded when Theresa died and Keppler was fired from the department.

After the initial arrest of Keppler, the District Attorney’s office and the Long Beach Police Department continued the investigation and it revealed the alleged involvement of Francesca. She was arrested on Nov. 11, 2018, and is due back in court on July 14.


Darwin Yanes contributed to this story