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NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/27/2008 7:58:08 PM ET 2008-06-27T23:58:08
TRANSCRIPT

This story originally aired Dateline NBC on June 27, 2008.

There’s the Florida Gold Coast -- and then there's nothing-quite-like-it Palm Beach where the houses are bigger, the boats sleeker and the bank accounts unmatched.

A person with a cynical eye might say that Palm Beach is the perfect hunting ground for gold diggers out to bag an aging but very wealthy million- or even billionaire.

And that did seem to be what one December-May romance here was all about, at least on the surface.

How else could you look at the unlikely union of a 23-year-old German beauty Rose Keil and the 57-year-old real estate tycoon Fred Keller?

We’ll tell you right up front that ultimately this love affair would wind up with three people shot and one of them dead, in a bloody whodunnit.

Dennis Murphy, NBC Correspondent: True that they were in gurneys side-by-side?

Bill Frasier: Side-by-side, looking right at each other.

Dennis Murphy: And waiting for the docs.

Bill Frasier: And both guys are pointing at each other saying', "That guy shot me."

Before the gunplay, there was just a beautiful young German girl full of promise.

Angie Bovi: She was very bright. She had a lot of aspirations. There were so many things, so many talents that she had.

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Rose and her sister Angie Bovi grew up in a family of six children in Frankfurt--a place that Rose wanted to escape, as her kid sister remembers it. Rose was fleeing their father.

Angie Bovi: He was a physically and emotionally abusive to all of us.  But I think he had it out for my sister, Rose, mostly. 

Rose was ambitious and left school at 15.

Angie Bovi: She designed clothes, actually for the boutique that my mother and her had in Wiesbaden, Germany. And she also modeled them.

The lovely Rose had no shortage of young boyfriends, but she had no interest in them either.

Angie Bovi: She was always attracted to older men and I think she was also probably looking for a father figure, because that's what she never had.

As one relationship after another sputtered out, someone in the family saw an ad in a Frankfurt paper and immediately thought of Rose. Essentially, it read:  "Florida millionaire looking for love." Rose had nothing to lose.  And so she answered the ad.

And just who was this rich lonely heart?

John Herring: Fred was a smart, obviously, a very smart person. 

John Herring was one of the many business associates with whom Fred Keller wheeled and dealed in the booming south Florida real estate market.

John Herring: When you met Fred, you liked him. He was a charming person to get you into what you needed. 

Fred Keller actually had a little bit of Rose in him. He’d come from humble roots too, and like the young German girl, he'd wanted out.

Larry Keller: This was the one thing above all others that motivated him in his life, was to escape the working class and make a lot of money. 

Palm Beach journalist Larry Keller (no relation) found in his research that Fred had been born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to strict German parents by the name of Bohlander.

Larry Keller: He wrote in his memoir that his father was a member of the S.S.  And when he was about three or four, the family moved back to Germany and he was there for part of World War II.

The Bohlanders returned to the U.S. after the war and Fred grew up in a modest home on Long Island.

He started his career as an engineer in Virginia, along the way changing his name to Keller. It was just one of the ways he would reinvent himself.

As a youngish man with money on the mind, the potential of south Florida drew him down to Palm Beach. At first he was an outsider with his nose pressed against the window, but real estate savvy--cutting down and dirty deals--was his ticket to the waterfront life.

Larry Keller: He made his money not building beautiful hotels, like Donald Trump, and resorts and golf courses, but commercial real estate.  Strip centers, warehouses, that sort of thing. Nothing glamorous at all about it, but very profitable. 

Palm Beach may like old money better than new money, but no one could sniff at Fred Keller’s wealth. At that time, we're talking tens of millions. Still, he wasn't one for the exclusive clubs, or charity balls that can define the Palm Beach pecking order for those keeping score.

Laurence Leamer, writer: Fred was too cheap to join one of the clubs to play tennis.  So he joined Seaview, which is the public courts, which is like $200 a year and he'd play regularly there. 

Leamer was writing a book about Palm Beach, and in some audio tapes he made, Fred Keller explained why he kept the social glitz at barge-pole distance.

Not surprisingly, as Keller accumulated his fortune, he also accumulated quite a few girlfriends. And along the way, a few children and four ex-wives, each recruited in the classifieds. Fred’s cupid didn't shoot arrows so much as dollar signs.

Laurence Leamer: All his relationships, he put an ad.  And it didn't embarrass him to say, "I'm a millionaire," and why would people respond to the ad? Because it's a millionaire.

And so it was that in 1992, the personals column brought Fred and Rose together.

Angie Bovi: They started writing to each other.  They started talking' on the phone.  And-- then eventually, he asked if she wanted to come visit, to meet.  And I think she was supposed to be here for two weeks.  And-- she never came back to Germany

Dennis Murphy: Was it love? Or...let's make a deal?

Laurence Leamer: I think when there's 25 or 30 years

of difference, I think if you're going to call it love you better have quote marks around love.

Dennis Murphy: Do you think there was affection there?

John Herring: No.

Dennis Murphy: It was, "I need your youth and beauty, and I need your green cardness, your wealth.."--

John Herring: I need your lifestyle. 

Still, on those audio tapes you can hear Keller saying it was champagne and fireworks from the moment he saw Rose step off the plane.

She smiled and it was just like an instant bond the same desires, the same outlooks.

And Rose's sister agrees.  Strange as it may appear, she says it was the real thing.

Angie Bovi: She loved him, she wanted to, be happily married. And have a you know, a happy and secure family life. 

Her dream came true. The older Palm Beach moneybags and the German ingénue were married.

That is when the trouble began.

It appeared that the high school drop-out had hit the immigrant's jackpot: Marriage to a mogul and a big house on the desirable intracoastal waterway, but the reality wasn't all that gemutlicheit. Take the mansion. It was a dump.

Angie Bovi: There were holes in the ceiling. It certainly wasn't what people would imagine a mansion would look like.

And no gleaming Mercedes in the driveway either.     

Angie Bovi: She drove a 10-year-old minivan, you know?  And he always drove his--I don't know how old that car was, but it was a Cadillac.  It was old.

And as for the glittering party life? While the social x-rays rattled their jewelry at fancy balls, the Kellers kept to themselves. And that's the way Fred liked it.

Dennis Murphy: He wasn't one for the society pages, was he?  Because some people are.

John Herring: I think he lived here because he felt it was a value in the property.  He didn't live here for the social life.

At first, Rose went along with Fred’s austerity program.

Laurence Leamer: When she went into that house the first time, she didn't realize how poorly decorated it was-- she didn't realize the places she was going with him were not the premiere places in Palm Beach. 

And she had quickly learned that in Fred’s world, it was his way or the highway.

Angie Bovi: If he said, "Dinner at six," it didn't mean five minutes or even two minutes or three minutes before six, or after six.  It meant 6:00.  It was like walking on eggshells sometimes. 

He may have been a grumpy old man and tight as a tick, but Rose Keller never considered herself put upon. Fred seemed to be devoted to her, even tutoring his wife in the intracies of his real estate empire.

Angie Bovi: She was his partner, really.  When they first met, he was ready to sell everything and be done with it.  And she was actually the one that said, "No, let's just, keep buying properties and build on this and make this a family business."

Some people thought they'd already read this play: Pygmalion, with Rose as Eliza Doolittle.

John Herring: I actually watched Rose grow into being the protégé of Fred Keller.

Dennis Murphy: Savvy?

John Herring: Pretty savvy. Fred's way was her way.

But Keller never apparently regarded Rose as his successor, the captain of his empire. In his 50s, he'd been diagnosed with leukemia, and he had other ideas about an heir apparent.

Larry Keller: He initially brought her two brothers, Wolfgang and Claus, over.  And he was very generous.  He put them up in a house in Palm Beach, he paid for college education for the two of them.  And he wanted to mentor them and have them become a part of his business. 

According to some, brother-in-law Wolfgang was being groomed to head the company. but others weren't so sure Keller was really serious about that.

Fred Keller was turning out to be no one's idea of Prince Charming. But while some still saw Rose and Fred’s match as a marriage of convenience, her family wasn't quite so cynical. Rose, they say, loved him: Warts and all.

Angie Bovi: She responded to his behavior as, you know, a loving wife. "Hey, you know what?  I love him, I want to be with him. With all his quirks."

And they both wanted a child.  So Rose gave birth to a son, Fredchen, in 1995. But just as Fred controlled dinner time, Rose's sister says he began to micromanage his son and the boy's mother.

Angie Bovi: He tried to tell her when to breastfeed, when not to breastfeed.  She wasn't allowed to go in the baby's room at night when he was crying.  Because he would say, "Just let him cry."

John Herring: He only had German nannies.  Only could eat certain food. Very, very regimented.

Rose came to resent her husband ordering her about. It was one thing to tell her how to live. And quite another to boss around their son.

Angie Bovi: As soon as you bring another human being into a relationship like this and that person treats your child like that, then you realize what's going on for sure.

It seemed to some observers that when Rose started defying Keller over Fredchen's upbringing, things began to spin out of control.

Keller maintains the rift came about not because he was a martinet, but because his unsophisticated bride was turning into a social climber.

She became more socially conscious of what a Palm Beacher should be. She said "Why don't we belong to a country club?" And she was going in that direction and I was going in the direction of how false this whole stuff was.

Finally, by 1999, seven years into the marriage, Rose had had enough. She would file for divorce. And it would turn out to be the fight of her life, one that would end up with three bloody bodies on an office floor.

"Ruthless" isn't a nice adjective, but it's one that people who knew Fred Keller used comfortably and, they thought, accurately.

His much younger wife, Rose, had filed for divorce and now she would understand what it was like to be across the table from Keller.

John Herring: Fred was driving back from Palm Beach one day.  He says "I only lost one lawsuit in my life. And I don't know why I ever let it happen, but it will never happen again.  And if anybody does win, they will never collect."

But Rose did want to collect. There’d been years of her quietly suffering his iron fisted control and steely rage when crossed. She’d even said she'd feared for her life sometimes.

From the outset, though, it looked like Rose Keller didn't stand a chance because Fred had built a firewall between his marriage and his finances.  

Larry Keller: He had been involved with many other, much younger women.  He had her sign a pre-nup before they got married.

Laurence Leamer: When I read the prenuptial the first time I thought something was wrong. It was 16 pages, where was the section where it's what she gets.  But she was to get nothing.

So the pre-nup may have been quite clear about being valued at goose egg, but Rose had a stronger card to play in the divorce proceedings. She claimed she was more than just a wife in the marriage, she was a business partner as well. A business partner whose skill and drive had increased the Keller fortune.

And she wanted her fair share of that pile.

Angie Bovi: The assets have quadrupled, pretty much, since they met.

Now there were some, like Keller’s sometimes partner, John Herring, who never really regarded Rose as much more than a trophy wife playing at work when it came to actually rolling up her sleeves in the business.

John Herring: I think she was more in the position to just be with him to maintain the business, versus going out and finding a deal.

But Rose's divorce lawyer thought this case had the potential for enormous ka-ching ka-ching.

It seems before things turned sour, Rose had begun insisting that she deserved an equal share in her husband's business empire. She said that's how they would have done it back in their mutual old country.

But Rose would not be denied in this negotiation. She wanted half.

Larry Keller: He finally signed some documents that he knew were not legally binding, really an attempt to defraud his own wife, and keep her with just a 10 percent interest.

Defraud his own wife? Would Fred Keller do such a thing? Why, yes.

Fred Keller: My purpose was not to convey it to her, but to placate her and hopefully that things would be OK at the home front. Did I mislead her? Absolutely.

Martin Haines was Rose's divorce lawyer.

Martin Haines: She gave everything she had to that man.  And, ultimately Fred recognized her contributions.

Dennis Murphy: Which came back to bite him?

Martin Haines: Which came back to bite him. 

Lawyers haggled now over whether Fred’s "gift" to Rose was legally binding. It turned out it was, and no 10 percent deal, either. If the divorce judge followed the logic of that finding, then Fred Keller would have to turn over to Rose up to half of his estate, nearly $50 million.  It was money he'd never intended to put in anyone's pocket but his own.

But it was no quickie divorce. While their A-list neighbors climbed the Palm Beach social ladder, the Kellers spent day after day in a decidedly unglamorous courtroom, where a judge presided over an autopsy of their marriage. The Fred and Rose show dragged on for three years.

Angie Bovi: It was really killing her. I always told her, "Why can't you just, you know, settle with him?" You know, take what he wants to give you and run.  And she wasn't able to do that. 

But, how strange is this? All through Rose's knife-fight of a divorce, she kept on dating Keller.

Martin Haines: Sometimes it happens.  But in this instance I was somewhat surprised that it happened.  

Ultimately, the $100-million question--the divvying up of the money pie--was put before the judge to decide.

Fred Keller was convinced, as always, that he couldn't lose. His former colleague saw him just days before the final decree was handed down.

John Herring: I said, "So, what's going on with the divorce?"  I said, "I'm surprised to hear you're not winning." And he goes, "Oh, she's not going to get anything.  She's not going to get anything."          

On Oct. 30, 2003, the judgment was delivered

The judge bought Rose's understanding of what these agreements were.  That she was indeed the 50 percent partner of a $100 million business.

Martin Haines: Correctly so.

Dennis Murphy: It was an astonishing and sweet victory by proxy for all those who'd danced with Keller and been stomped.

Dennis Murphy:  Big round numbers.  If it's $100 million, she's going to get $50 million in this thing.

John Herring: Fifty, yeah.           

Fred Keller’s young bride had bested her cagey older husband. It meant that for a second time, Rose Keller was going to start a new life

Martin Haines: She and her brothers were going to work together and build an empire.

But dividing up the real estate empire of a self-made man who answered to no one wasn't going to be an easy matter.

A meeting was called for a Monday morning, 10 days after the divorce became final. Fred, Rose and her brother, Wolfgang Kyle, sat down in the conference room at Fred’s office to try to figure out where to go in this court-ordered 50-50 relationship.

Then, within minutes, 911 had received a frantic call.

911 Operator: Emergency.

Wolfgang Kiel: Yeah, I've been shot.

911 Operator: Who shot you, sir?

Wolfgang Kiel:   Fred Keller just shot me.

Bill Frasier: Wolfgang Keil initially stated that Fred had shot him, and that he, Wolfgang Keil, stated, "I shot Fred, and I've got the gun."

The wounded brother had called 911.

911 Operator: Okay now, Mr. Keller shot you?..right?

Wolfgang Kiel:  Yes. He shot my sister too.

911 Operator: He shot who too?

Wolfgang Kiel: He shot my sister. I got the weapon from him..

Bill Fraser is an investigator with the prosecutor's office. It was a difficult crime scene to figure out.

Bill Frasier: Wolfgang Keil had been shot twice, once in the chest, and once in the back, and he had a gun.  Fred, who had also been shot.  He sustained a superficial gunshot wound to the face.  And they transported those guys up to the trauma unit at St. Mary's Hospital.

Wolfgang and Rose's sister, Angie, rushed to the hospital. Her brother was in critical condition. Rose was beyond that. Angie begged a detective for details.

Angie Bovie: All she said was there was a female that didn't make it.  And then I described what my sister looked like.  I said, "She has really long red hair."  And the detective, she just shook her head.  And then I just freaked out.

Investigators descended on the crime scene, retrieving bullets from the walls and carpet, finding blood splatter throughout.  Soon, two wildly different accounts of the carnage emerged.  As Rose's brother Wolfgang recovered from his wounds, he told police the meeting had started calmly enough, with Fred near his office chair and he and Rose at the conference table.

Bill Frasier: Wolfgang sits down, and as he sits down, his cell phone kind of hits him in the gut a little bit, you know, like that'll happen sometimes.  And he takes the cell phone, and places it on the table.

Fred Keller, in his account, told police that's when the trouble started, mistaking Wolfgang’s cell phone for something else.

Bill Frasier: Now, according to Fred, Fred sees this, and says, "Wolfgang just pulled a gun."

Dennis Murphy: "He just drew on me."

Bill Frasier: "Just drew on me." 

Fred Keller then turned and walked over to his briefcase.

Dennis Murphy: He goes into his bag he's brought with him and comes up with his gun.

Bill Frasier: So You have to think about that.  Wolfgang's sitting in the chair.  He sees Fred point a gun at him, and he shoots him right in the chest. 

Now he sees Fred Keller in what is commonly referred to as a combat stance, holding the firearm in his hands, and he's pointing the firearm right at Rose Marie Keller.  Wolfgang, shot in the chest, gets up, and advances on Fred. Now Wolfgang hears a second shot. As he approaches Fred, he reaches up, put your hands up, and he grabs Fred, and the gun goes off again. 

And Wolfgang is shot again. And he gets in a struggle with Fred.  And he gets the gun away from Fred. 

Dennis Murphy: Like something out of the movies?

Bill Frasier: He's saying, "I shot this guy because he just shot me."

Dennis Murphy: "I took the gun."

Bill Frasier: Readily admits that he shot Fred Keller.

Fred has shot Wolfgang. Wolfgang wrestling for the gun shoots Fred. And where was Rose during all this? She, it turned out, was the second of the three shots fired.

Bill Frasier: Wolfgang sees Rose laying there, and she's spurting blood, and he realizes right away there's nothing he can do to help her. She's dead.

One gun among three people and it belonged to Fred Keller. The fact of the wounded brother and the dead ex-wife made it look like a cold-blooded execution.

Keller would claim immediately that it was all a terrible misunderstanding, just a matter of self-defense. In fact he said, the only reason he was carrying a gun in the first place was to protect himself from a threat -- not from Wolfgang, but from Rose.  A telephone threat he said he'd reported to the police the week before.

"She said they don't respect me," and she just said "I'm going to shoot everyone in the office. "The very next morning, I thought about it all night, I said "Is she serious?"

Keller had even faxed a letter to nearby Rivera Beach police telling them of the supposed threat.

But this police investigator wasn't buying Keller’s story.

Bill Frasier: I think that it's a set up.

Dennis Murphy: Setting up his play.

Bill Frasier: He's establishing the threat, and on Nov. 10, 2003, the play is going to go into play. 

Keller denied intending to hurt anyone. In fact his lawyer, Doug Duncan, says Keller’s briefcase containing the gun wasn't even within reach at the start of the meeting.

Doug Duncan, defense lawyer: He doesn't have the gun on him, suggesting that someone that has a plan.  But when he sees the black object, which he testified he honestly believed was a gun, he went to get his gun and he fired one shot at Mr. Keil.  Mr. Keil got control of the gun and in the process of Mr. Keil trying to shoot and kill Mr. Keller, that the shot fired and hit Rose and she tragically died.

Keller, by this account, was also insisting that in the horrible mishap, it was Wolfgang who had accidentally killed his own sister.

Keller said he would never have harmed Rose.

Dennis Murphy: One woman dead, the only two other people in the room, both wounded. Who’s to blame?

Bill Frasier: I think the most important piece of evidence was the 911 call. You listen to Wolfgang's voice, and you have to ask yourself, "Is this a guy who's responsible for this event the way he's talking?"  I mean, would he call up if was the guy that's responsible for this killing'?

Some common sense things of the narrative didn't add up either.

Dennis Murphy: A) There aren't many cell phones that look like a gun.  And "I've go to go now turn my back to this group, go retrieve my gun out of my bag and I'm now going to turn around and shoot you," It just doesn't make sense, the scenario.

Doug Duncan: Well, the cell phone, all he sees is the black barrel.

He keeps his back to them, because "If they're shooting me, I want everyone to know they shot me in my back." 

And, in his defense, why would a man who spent his life calculating all the angles, deliberately commit a murder which would almost surely be blamed on him.

Fred Keller: I've been called a lot of things in my life, but no ones every called me stupid.  For me to kill someone, for me to kill Rose, lose my money, would gain nothing by her death. Lose my freedom, lose my son, that is stupid.

Though there were no outside witnesses to the wife's death and the brother's wounding, within a matter of hours, it was Fred Keller who was arrested. The canny tycoon would face a prosecutor who was convinced that Keller had actually thought everything out and had plenty of motive, motive enough to get him convicted of first-degree murder.

Andy Slater: This case is about a man who was consumed with his desire to keep his accumulated wealth.  Even if it meant that he was going to get arrested and even if it meant that he was going to go to jail.

January. Palm Beach. The heart of what locals call "the season," when ritzy Worth Avenue is the center of a very rarefied world. But in January of 2003, attention was drawn across the intercoastal. In decidedly less upscale West Palm Beach, real estate mogul Fred Keller was standing trial for killing his beautiful ex-wife Rose and wounding her brother Wolfgang in an O.K. Corral-style shoot-out.

Laurence Leamer: Palm Beach was fascinated by this.  But just like any other murder in Palm Beach, when this happens the Palm Beachers say, "Well gee, that's not a real Palm Beacher, that's not us."

The timing of the incident was certainly suspicious. The slaying occurred just days after a judge had awarded Rose half of Keller’s $100 million fortune in a divorce settlement. Keller was a man who didn't like to lose.

Prosecutor Andy Slater called that the motive for murder.

Andy Slater: He became enraged.  And was bound and determined that Rose Keller and her family members were not going to benefit one red cent from that final judgment--of dissolution of marriage.

But the defense would argue that Keller still had plenty of money left.  He said as much in those taped interviews.

Fred Keller: What we have is worth over a hundred million dollars net. I'm ending up with $50 million. My lifestyle's not changing.

And his attorney Doug Duncan maintains that Keller was too smart to plan a murder that would fool no one.

Doug Duncan: Fred Keller never made a decision without thinking about it, planning.  And this was a very poor plan, because what was the exit?  What was the exit strategy?  Rose is dead.  Wolfgang is shot dead.  And there's one gun.  Fred Keller wasn't about to hinge his life on, you know, that weak of a self-defense claim.

So the trial began and the jury was riveted as they heard Wolfgang recall in graphic detail how Fred Keller had calmly shot him point blank.

Wolfgang: I heard a loud bang and I felt a pain right away in my chest. He was standing like this and moved forward, something like this.

And then, he said, Keller methodically turned his sights on Rose.

Wolfgang: He was shooting at my sister, he just had this mean look on his face. I don't know how to describe it but it's a look that I never forget.

Even though he'd been severely wounded, Wolfgang recounted trying to save his sister.

Wolfgang Keil: I put both of my hands around her neck and tried to push on where blood was coming out.

Wolfgang said he'd struggled with Keller over the gun, and that's when Keller had been shot.

The prosecution also said Keller’s allegation about Rose threatening the people in his office was all hooey.

Andy Slater: Number one, he doesn't tell any of his employees that Rose has threatened them. He doesn't put extra security on the business.  He doesn't change the locks of the business. He does none of the things that a person who's legitimately been threatened would normally do.

Dennis Murphy: You're arguing a premeditated murder here.

Andy Slater: Absolutely a premeditated murder.

Then it was Keller’s turn. He took the stand and told the jury that he only carried the gun in self defense

Defense: The purpose of bringing that gun was to protect yourself and your employees from Rose, correct?

Fred Keller: And Wolfgang.

The ensuring melee, Keller said, was a horrible mistake.

Fred Keller: He had what was a gun to me in his hand.

Defense: Why don't you show us how he had.

Fred Keller: It was just like this I never intended to shoot at anyone.

Defense: You never intended to shoot..

Fred Keller: I never wanted to have a situation arise where one would have to shoot somebody.

But more crucial, Keller insisted it was Wolfgang, not he, that was responsible for Rose's death.

Fred Keller: My finger was not on the trigger that fired the shot that killed Rose.

Moreover, his lawyer says there was another reason Keller wouldn't have wanted his ex-wife dead.

Doug Duncan: Fred Keller loved his son, wanted the best for his son.  Fred Keller knew that he had a terminal illness.  Fred Keller would never have intentionally orphaned his child by killing his mom.

The defense reminded jurors the last thing Keller would do was destroy a future with his beloved young son over money.

Doug Duncan: Fred Keller did not have this fancy lifestyle, where he needed a lot of money. He had more money than he could possibly spend. That his lifestyle was spending time with his son.

Dennis Murphy: The jury was out for five days.  Turning it this way and that.  A homicide or a misbegotten self-defense? This juror said it was a hopeless deliberation:

Juror John Milend: We did realize again agonizing and agonizing over it, taking the weekend and you know, trying to regroup that we were not going to be able to do that as a group we could not reach a consensus.

Dennis Murphy: And in fact, they did not.

Larry Keller: It was a hung jury and a mistrial.

Angie Bovi: We were all devastated. 

Wolfgang Kiel: I thought it was very clear that he was guilty.

Angie Bovi: We were thinking, did the jury not hear what we heard?

Andy Slater: There was absolutely no question at all that this was going to be a retrial.

The state was determined to convict Fred Keller of murder.  But would Keller be allowed to walk free on bond while he waited for a second trial?  Rose’s family was still afraid of him.

Angie Bovi: It was too scary to think about it to be honest with you.

Dennis Murphy: With than more than enough cash for bail, there seemed nothing to keep Keller in jail, until one man walked out of the shadows of a tortured past to tell a courtroom an astonishing and terrible story about Fred Keller.

It involves this allegation of abducting--kidnapping--his own children.

Andy Slater: That's true.    

Andy Slater: We needed to do a bond hearing to keep him in custody.

Most bond hearings are routine affairs, but this one would be a shocker. The prosecution called to the stand Brian Bohlander, a son of Keller’s first wife whom Keller had adopted during the marriage.  He’d tell the court how far Fred Keller would go to have his way when the legal system didn't work for him.

Andy Slater: His wife filed for and received the divorce from him and it was the early 1960s at this point. The wife got custody of the children. And apparently Mr. Keller didn't like that very much. Mr. Keller had arranged for visitation with the wife and the children in a park in upstate New York.

What happened next would change Brian Bohlander's life forever.

Brian Bohlander: He told us boys to get in the car, I want to talk to your mother alone.  We got in the car, he did a 50-yard dash, jumped in the car and that's the last I saw of my mother.

Keller, still known as Fred Bohlander, drove the three young boys to Canada, then boarded a plane with them to Germany where they set off traveling throughout Europe for almost a year. along the way, Fred Bohlander changed his name to Fred Keller. And how did he explain to the children their mother's absence?

Andy Slater: All of this time, the young sons were asking of their father, " Where's Mom?" and Fred Keller told his sons "Your Mom is dead. She died in a automobile accident."

Ultimately, Keller brought the boys back to Virginia, where an observant social worker happened to hear young Brian’s story.  She did a little research, uncovering the twisted truth and after nearly a decade the boys were reunited with their mother. While two of the sons maintained a relationship with Keller, Brian Bohlander never saw him again.

Doug Duncan: I think it's important that he was never prosecuted for any kidnapping or any child abuse charges.

Keller had never answered for the incident, but now the judge viewed Keller as a definite flight risk and denied bail.

Rose’s family, the Keils, would wait two years for the second trial. Her sister Angie was raising the boy, Fredchen. If Fred Keller was found not guilty in the makeover trial, they were certain he'd want to get his son back under his roof.

Angie Bovi: He certainly would have had enough money to fight everybody to get him back.  And that was just unthinkable.

In January of 2007, Fred Keller once again stood trial for his ex-wife's murder.  Prosecutors felt they'd learned something by talking to the previous jury after it had deadlocked.

Dennis Murphy: What was the wobbly part of the case for that foreperson in trial one?

Andy Slater: They were having some trouble understanding some of the aspects of the physical evidence and so whereas we relied upon diagram in the first trial, we had a scale model of the office, of the scene actually built.

Dennis Murphy: Now a new set of jurors heard accounts of that horrible morning.

Wolfgang’s story:

Wolfgang Keil: I was thinking I'm going to die. I'm dying today. I can't believe its happening.

The prosecutor's: 

Andy Slater: A person who's afraid does not do what defendant Fred Keller did on the morning of Nov. 10, 2003.  They do everything but.

The defense:

Doug Duncan: Fred Keller would not and did not as the evidence shows shoot Rose Keller leaving his son without a mother.

And so a second jury retired to deliberate.  Rose’s family didn't know what to expect.

Angie Bovi: It could be another mistrial. It could be a not guilty verdict. I mean it could be anything. And it's really scary.

After a scant five hours, the jury was coming back with a verdict.

Foreperson: "As to count one we find the defendant, yes, guilty of 1st degree murder."

Dennis Murphy: The jury hadn't believed Keller’s account of self-defense.

Wolfgang Keil: I'm so relieved that finally we got some justice. I'm sure Rose is watching from heaven.  She's happy.

Keller sat stoically through both trials, but at his sentencing the cork came out of his bottle.

Larry Keller: He proceeded to just light into Rose's family. He called them greedy opportunists.  He looked right at Wolfgang and said "You're responsible for your sister's death and  you've been lying about it. It was quite amazing.

Keller was sentenced to life in prison and most expected a control freak like Keller to have trouble doing time. But…

John Herring: My understanding was he pretty much controlled the prison. People were saying "Sir" to him.

Dennis Murphy: In those audio tapes, made from behind bars, Keller put an oddly positive spin on his incarceration.

Fred Keller: It has not been completely negative here. I have a lot of respect here.  I'm the only person here that they call "Mr Keller" and that includes the deputies.

Once upon a time in Germany, a pretty young girl answered a lonelyhearts ad -- and now the unhappy little fairy tale was over, promise turned to ruin.

Fred Keller said all along that Rose would never get a dime of his money and ultimately she didn't.

Dennis Murphy: Did he win in the end?

John Herring: In his mind, he did. In his mind this is the way it's going to be.

Fred Keller succumbed to leukemia and died in prison in August of 2007, leaving his son Fredchen, both a very rich young boy, and an orphan.

Angie Bovi: I try to tell him as much as I can that his Mom loved him more than anything in the world.

Rose Kiel and Fred Keller were hardly a blip on the Palm Beach radar, but the tiny island meant a great deal to both of them, each hungry for something they felt they'd found in this place.

Laurence Leamer: Illusion is fantasy on this island, but you peel it away and you find greed and money.

In the end, though, it would turn out nothing was found: Only a great deal lost.

While Fred Keller left his multi-million-dollar estate to his son with Rose, the legacy remains clouded by a swarm of lawsuits -- many of them begun by Keller himself in the years before he died.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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