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Man charged in brutal attack on Malverne teacher

Woman still comatose after December 2016 beating

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A man accused of brutally beating Theresa Kiel, a Malverne middle school teacher, at her Long Beach apartment building in 2016 was arrested on Jan. 25 and charged with attempted murder.

Long Beach police said that 27-year-old Ralph Keppler, of Lynbrook, attacked the 54-year-old woman from behind on Dec. 4, 2016, at 5 New York Ave. and repeatedly struck her in the head with the handle of a metal barbell, causing head and brain injuries.

Tenants in the building, adjacent to what is now Danny Mac’s Ocean Bar & Grill, told the Herald after the attack that they heard yelling in the courtyard and rushed outside. Long Beach police responded to a frantic 911 call at the garden apartment complex, near the west end of the boardwalk, just before 10:30 p.m., and discovered the critically injured woman in the courtyard. She was rushed to a nearby hospital.

An attorney for the victim, Tom Liotti, said on Jan. 25 that Kiel, now 55, has been in a coma and vegetative state since the attack. Kiel was a principal and teacher in the Malverne School District for more than 30 years.

“This is one of the saddest cases I have ever seen,” Liotti said in a statement. “My client, whose husband, a prominent dentist from Glen Cove, died 12 years ago, had everything to live for. I have to commend the Long Beach and Nassau police departments for a job well done.”

Liotti said that Keppler, a New York City corrections officer, had invested $350,000 with Kiel to develop an app for college students. Keppler wanted to get his money back, which Liotti claimed was a motive for the attack. Kiel and her son, Vincent, are named in a civil suit brought by Keppler in Nassau County State Supreme Court, Liotti said.

Long Beach police said that Keppler lurked in the area of Kiel’s home, and when she arrived, he attacked her.

Police launched a massive search for the attacker, which involved Nassau County Police Department aviation and K-9 units. On the night of the attack, West End residents said they could hear helicopters circling above.

Long Beach police detectives, in conjunction with the Nassau County D.A.’s Major Offense Bureau, conducted an extensive investigation that resulted in Keppler’s arrest, police officials said. He was charged with second-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault, and arraigned in Long Beach City Court, where he pleaded not guilty. He was remanded without bail to the custody of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department by City Court Judge Frank Dikranis.

Keppler’s next appearance in court was scheduled for Tuesday, after the Herald went to press. He was suspended as a corrections officer pending the outcome of the case, according to Liotti.

Keppler’s attorney, James Druker, said his client was innocent and strongly disputed Liotti’s claims about an alleged motive for the attack. “Once she got incapacitated, that pretty much negated the chances of ever recovering any money, since she was the more culpable of the two defendants,” Druker said, referring to Kiel and her son. Keppler, he added, “would have had to have been nuts to do that.”

Druker said that the lawsuit, filed by Keppler and three others who claimed they were the victims of a scam, was filed months before the attack.

“I don’t usually go out on a limb for too many clients, but … I just don’t believe he had anything to do with it,” Druker said of Keppler. “The police had somebody come out to his house the morning right after the incident. The person — a supposed witness — couldn’t identify Ralph. He’s a pretty distinctive guy, six feet, 250 [pounds]. They tested the hood of his car, which was cold. And his whole family said that he was home all day wrapping presents and having dinner with them.”

Confirming what Kiel’s neighbors told the Herald shortly after the attack, both Liotti and Druker said that Keppler was dating Kiel’s daughter, Francesca. Liotti said the couple were living together in Rockville Centre. “He commandeered my client’s daughter,” Liotti said of Keppler.

In a motion to dismiss the civil suit filed in October 2016, Vincent Kiel claimed that his sister Francesca was “being held as an emotional hostage” and that Keppler was “using her as a pawn against my mother and myself.” Vincent claimed that Keppler was upset because he and his mother did not approve of his relationship with Francesca.

According to court documents, Francesca allegedly told her mother that Keppler wanted to put nails in the tires of Theresa’s vehicle and throw a brick through her front window. Additionally, she allegedly told her mother that Keppler said he “would stage a fabricated beating and hide his laptop and blame Vincent for the incidents.”

According to the Kiels’ motion to dismiss, Keppler “ha[d] also advised Francesca that he intend[ed] to cause physical injury to Vincent and Theresa. Francesca expresse[d] her belief that Ralph is a ‘pathological liar and sociopath.’”

“They filed claims throughout, saying that Ralph Keppler was responsible for the assault, and the judge pretty much disregarded them,” Druker told the Herald. “My guess is they figure [the charges] will either get us to drop the lawsuit or that this will be a good way to impeach Ralph when he testifies. But we’ll see how it goes on Tuesday.”