Transcript: 20/20's Interview With Hans Reiser

Jim Avila's 2007 interview with accused murderer Hans Reiser.

ByABC News
March 4, 2008, 4:43 PM

— -- Hans Reiser, who is accused of murdering his missing wife Nina, gave an exclusive jailhouse interview to "20/20."

The following is an edited transcript of ABC News Senior Law and Justice Correspondent Jim Avila's Aug. 31, 2007 interview with Reiser.

HANS REISER:Song for Rory. Where did you go. Are you trudging through the snow? Do you think of me, do you cry in the night? Did the kiss of the snowflake break you into tears? I'm making less every month through these years.

Does your heart grow colder as spring comes to [ ? ]. Internet fans, tell my lawyer this song is hidden away, it's been so long. We hold only memories with [ ? ]. Where did you go? Are you trudging through the snow? Do you think of me, do you cry in the night?

You are the boy with [ ? ] playing with dragons and late for school. I love you. Where did you go? Are you trudging through the snow? Do you think of me and do you cry in the night? Are you somewhere with a radio? I'm locked away but this song [ ? ] just to tell you that someone loves you.

REISER:[A]nd here's a song for my daughter.

Where did your smile go? Is it lost in the Russian snow? More than freedom, I love you so. Do you dream of my hand holding yours? Of singing with me late into the night. Then rushing out the door for breakfast in the car. Sing along my girl, let's sing.

Sing the bathtub blues, sing for me. Sing with tears, sing until sleep makes the sun shine and smile. For I love you, you love me. And when you smile, no fairy princess is as pretty. Smile for the sunshine, smile for the trees to see.

You are the rise of dawn, you are the prettiest smile [ ? ].

JIM AVILA: Why did you want, why did you want to do that so badly, Hans?

REISER:'Cause I miss them. I I miss them so much. It's been so long and so much worse than being in jail is being away from them. I miss them snuggling up next to me. I miss them so very much.

AVILA: How important was your family to you?

REISER:Well, I found out it was all that really mattered to me.

AVILA: You were a success outside the family. Did that matter?

REISER:It was yes, it was, it was nice but when when it came down to it, all that really mattered was looking into my daughter's eyes and seeing her smile at me and my son and the trust that they had in me. And I care so much about them.

It turns out that, you know, somebody really loves you. File systems are just abstractions, you know, they're just you work on them for 20 years and turns out they're not worth as much as a smile from a daughter.

AVILA:Your kids have been through a lot. Their father is in jail now, waiting trial. Their mother is missing, if not dead. They must be having a terrible time and they're in a different they're in a foreign country.

REISER:And it's been made terrible for them. It's been made terrible and there's nothing special about what's happened to me. The, the system makes things terrible for children and in these situations always, for everybody. And it would just be nice if someone would care enough to care about the kids and and what our system does to them.

I never got to explain to my children that their mother is missing, that I'm a suspect. And they cut out, cut off communications entirely right when they need me the most. I would have liked to have sat them on my knee and hugged them and cried with them, you know.

AVILA: How do you know that they are suffering?

REISER:I know. And and I get to listen to the police interviews of them and I know, I know how much they love me and it comes through in the police interviews. And and I saw really you know, oh I, I just know that they love me. I know how much they love me. You just know

[T]o Rory, I was the one who really believed in him and he knew me as the one person who most believed in him in all the world and he loved me.

And I told him that he was special as he was and he could talk to me. He could talk to me about what's going on at school. And we would spend time together and I would teach him and he knew that I loved him and he knew he knew that I thought that he could be somebody really wonderful, and you know, children need that so much.

The most important thing any parent can do is look into their child and see some something in them that's wonderful and tell them about it. And, and tell them that you are confident that they will some day really make something out of that, something wonderful.

JIM AVILA: [E]xplain why you went to Russia if you could, and, and why you went to seek a bride there.

HANS REISER:Well, I went to Russia for two reasons. One is, the women are beautiful. And the other is that I read a story in a newspaper and in the newspaper, it described how these Russian programmers and this was back in '93 how these Russian programmers are having to live on $100 a month.

[T]here are people who just desperately needed an opportunity. And I was completely unqualified to pursue the dream that I wanted to pursue. When you're completely unqualified, you can't you can't get a large corporation to fund it. I tried. I tried to I gave a talk about what I wanted to do and somebody actually fell asleep during the talk.

And I was just completely unqualified. I had never managed a team of anybody. I wasn't qualified as a programmer. I was young. All I had was a dream. But by going to Russia, I could triple people's salaries and managed to pay triple salaries for a team of five people of an, of an ordinary working man's salary doing contract work here in Silicon Valley.

But I have to tell you, that was the hard way to do it. Because I found that I had no time for anything. Because I would work a 40-hour week, usually for a company that really wished that I was working 50 hours or 60 hours. I'd work a 40-hour week and then weekends and evenings, I'd be arguing over algorithms by email, and that's hard.

And if I was to advise anybody else doing such a thing, I would advise that they first save up their money and then go over there. Of course with our crazy tax system, there's actually strong tax advantages to spending the money in the year that you earn it.

Things were good. Things were very busy. I had so little time and that created tremendous stress. And it's easy to forget, you know, if you're an entrepreneur and you're working these long hours, it's easy to forget that sometimes that's hard on other people who aren't accustomed to postponing gratification for a long, long time and working long, long hours just because it's the only way you can get your dream.

AVILA: And in fact the long hours was what caused the division between you and Nina.

REISER:It contributed, it contributed. You know, if there are any women out there who are about to marry an entrepreneur, just understand that he doesn't have the time if he's to do the dream that will build both of you a beautiful future. And it's not that he doesn't love, it's just that it can't be done, the dream cannot be done unless you're working 60 hours a week. You just can't do it. It just won't happen.

Nobody gets to build a business without 70 hour weeks, 60 hours is an, is an understatement.

AVILA: What else do you think caused the division between you and Nina?

REISER:Well, she slept with my best friend. And we didn't have the same desire for a large family.

AVILA: So when she got here, did things get worse, when she was no longer in Russia but was here in the Bay area?

REISER:Well, you see something kind of crazy happened because in order for her to get her citizenship here in the United States, she had to spend half her time in the United States, but the business required that I live in Russia.

AVILA: So you switched places. You're in Russia, and she's here. You actually asked your best friend to watch over the family a little bit or no?


AVILA: What happened?

REISER:You know, I don't want to go into those negative things, okay? I just don't want to go into negative things.

AVILA: Okay. You don't want to talk about your relationship with Sean [Sturgeon] and, and his, and his relationship with Nina. It's pretty much public record at this point. The reason I'm asking is to get your take on it.

REISER:No, I don't want to talk about it. It will have to be discussed in the courtroom and I would rather talk about my children.

AVILA: [W]hat role does Sean play in you being here in, in jail and your, your ex-wife being missing?

REISER:I'd like to talk about the good things about my family, and I don't want to talk about bad things going on with my family, and with the press, and that's just not a desire that I have. And you know, some time the thing about hate and anger, you can't fight hate and anger with hate and anger. It doesn't work.

The only way you can fight hate and anger is to walk away from it. You can't run away from hate and anger. But a lot of the time you can walk away from it. And I'm trying ever so slowly to walk away somewhere I can find my kids.

And I don't think it's gonna help me get my kids back to talk about negative things about my family. In fact, there's no way that that can be helped by my saying bad things about my family. There's no way it can help my family to say bad things about my family.

AVILA: [D]o you think that Nina is alive or do you think she's dead?

REISER:I think I'm a person who doesn't know.

AVILA: You don't know if she's alive or dead?

REISER:Well (sighs) I think the children are in Russia. And I think we don't I don't want to speculate about[?] more. I don't want to speculate anymore. I, I'm just don't want to speculate.

AVILA: The reason I asked you, Hans is because your father and others who are your supporters who believe you're innocent, have said that they believe possibly Nina has taken money from you and has run away and is alive today.

REISER:Well, this is very reasonable.

AVILA: Do you believe that?

REISER:I don't know.

AVILA: What makes

REISER:I mean all I can do is guess, okay and I think Mr. DuBois and my father have very good guesses and very good reasons for what they're saying, or maybe guesses isn't the right term. But I think they have very good reasons and I'm going to let Mr. DuBois explain them in the trial. And I and I think [ ? ] to do that.

AVILA:One of the things we're trying to get at is, how you met Nina, okay. It was through a dating service, right?

REISER:That's correct.

AVILA: And what was it that attracted you to Nina?

REISER:Ah, her voice. She has the most beautiful voice. When I first heard it, it was you know, I called her on her telephone before I ever met her. And when I heard her voice, I thought this is someone special. And

AVILA: So she had that little bit of a Russian accent that

REISER:No, she had no accent at all. She had the best English of anyone I met in Russia.

AVILA: And she was well educated?

REISER:Well educated, very perceptive. We're very complementary in that she has all of the classically female aspects of intelligence to an extraordinary extent. Her people skills are extraordinary. And you know, then I'm the analytical scientist. And we each balanced each other and had just a completely different set of skills that

AVILA: So opposites did attract in this case?

REISER:Well, attracted me, yes.

AVILA: You don't think it attracted her?

REISER:Well, I hope it did, yes. And you know, when I first met her I brought a poem with me that I had written and I read it to her. And I was wearing this cowboy hat which I kind of enjoyed doing in Russia. And

AVILA: Kind of identifies you as the [ ? ] American guy.

REISER: As genuinely an American. And though, you know, when you give academic talks at a university and you wear a cowboy hat, some of the Russians can be a little uncomfortable with that.

AVILA: So your memories I mean you light up even today your memories of the beginning of the relationship with Nina are happy?


AVILA: You had no suspicions at that time? Frequently mail order brides, there's some concern about whether or not they're just trying to get to the United States, whether they're just in it for the money. You had no worries about that?

REISER:I had no well, everybody has that suspicion.

AVILA: Even you?

REISER:Yeah. Well, I mean I yeah.

AVILA: But you didn't think it was the case?

REISER:I didn't think it was the case. I thought that I

AVILA: You thought there was a genuine attraction?

REISER:And well I was a bit naive.

AVILA: You were naïve?


AVILA: So you thought your memories of that time were very happy and you thought things were good. But now you're concerned that that wasn't the case, that she wasn't truly in love with you?

REISER:Well, the objective evidence doesn't support what I believed at that time.

AVILA: And what does that objective evidence show?

REISER:She divorced me the day she became a citizen. Well, actually she moved me out when she the same well, I don't know whether it was the exact day, but same month. Close enough.

REISER:But well, the children are wonderful, you know.

AVILA: Something good came out of it, something not so good?

REISER:The children have the best of both of us. Both of them. They both have the analytical and they're both very sensitive and have strong people skills. And Niorline has the most beautiful smile, and she got that from her mother. Just the most beautiful smile.

AVILA: So let me ask you why I mean this is something I think people look at and wonder about. It is here you are, a guy who is a smart guy, relatively attractive guy. You have a successful business. Why what's the attraction of going for the Russian mail what is known as the Russian mail order bride?

Why did you decide it was worth the risk knowing that what you did, that there would always be a suspicion about why she would be with you? Why did you want that type of relationship?

REISER:I thought if I made it clear that I wanted to have children, that that would dissuade the women who are interested in it just for a visa.

AVILA: So you thought you could win them over? Win a woman over, even if they had that

REISER:I, I thought that a woman wouldn't that there are plenty of men who go through these agencies who don't want children. So if they weren't attracted to me, they'd marry one of these other men who don't want children.

AVILA: And that children would make things different?

REISER:That by making it clear that I wanted to have children, that would make a difference.

AVILA: Was Nina different than other Russian mail order bride type women that you dated over there?

REISER:Nina is entirely unique. Try to imagine a well educated, Marilyn Monroe who's a doctor.

AVILA: So she was special?

REISER:She's extraordinarily feminine, and extremely perceptive in a way that I can't define. Very feminine, very tuned into people and a gifted cook. Just a natural cook.

AVILA: So you were infatuated with her? Loved her deeply?

REISER:Well, I married her.

AVILA: Was it because you were suspicious that she was in it for either the money or for the visa, even then?

REISER:I don't want to go into what was missing, in this interview.

AVILA: I saw video of your wedding.

In the party after the wedding, and even at the wedding itself when you were walking around in a circle, you seemed like you were having the time of your life. You seemed like this was the best day in the world for you. Nina was pregnant already and you were getting married.

Nina looked a little indifferent sometimes to me and to others who have seen the tape. She looked a little she wasn't as happy to be dancing so much with the belly dancer afterwards and didn't and looked a little standoffish in some of those things.

Did you get that feeling then?

REISER:No. And I wish you could show me the videotape and show me what you mean.

AVILA: Well, you've seen it, haven't you?

REISER:No, actually I haven't.

AVILA: Didn't ever see the

REISER:I've just been at the wedding. (laughs)

AVILA: Okay.

REISER:I was only at the wedding and I've never seen the tape. I'd love to have a copy of it and watch it.

AVILA: At the wedding itself tell me what you remember or how did you remember that day?

REISER:Well, you know, actually what you say is interesting because Nina has an ability to project that she thinks someone is very wonderful. And now I want to see this videotape. I think I told you that if you add up the objective facts, it's hard to believe what I believed at the time that I married her.

AVILA: But she had you convinced or you might even believe had you convinced, had you fooled?

REISER:I believed that, that she loved me, yeah at that time.

AVILA: At that time, being the time that she got citizenship or a visa?

REISER:No, at the time that, that we married. Yeah.

AVILA: I don't understand. Explain

REISER:At the time that we married, I thought that she loved me.

REISER:And well, I'd like to see that video now.

AVILA: When did you get the feeling that she was no longer in it for love?

REISER:Well, you know, there were hints before I got that feeling.

AVILA: What were some of the hints?

REISER:My father came and visited and he told me that she didn't love me at all.

AVILA: Why did he say that?

REISER:And I thought she was just upset at me at that time.

AVILA: Your father in fact thought that she was stealing from you.

REISER:(Sighs) Well yeah.

AVILA: And did you think that?

REISER:In 2003, I had trouble getting a hold of the books and it just kept getting delayed.

AVILA: And Nina was in charge of the books?

REISER:Nina was in charge of the books. (Sighs) There were signs and I ignored them. And there was just you know, I was a good husband and I did all the duties of a good husband. And and it wasn't enough.

There was something missing, something in it, so I couldn't just look her in the eyes and tell her how deeply I loved her. And I didn't understand what that was, but I couldn't do it. And you know, I did all the duties of a good husband, and we had wonderful vacations together, and I enjoyed being with her.

And I enjoyed us looking at the ceiling at night and talking and we both enjoyed our conversations. And you know, we'd always have the best conversations when we were supposed to go somewhere early in the next morning and we should be asleep and that's, of course, exactly when we'd always have our best conversations.

And somehow my daughter inherited that. So whenever my daughter is supposed to be asleep is when we have our best conversations of all.And that's why, you know, I ended up developing an express routine for rushing them out of bed and out to school. Because they'd wake up so sleepy, I'd feel bad about getting them out of bed for school, so I delayed for as long as possible and have it all choreographed so we'd just take our breakfast and take it into the car, eat them in the car and drive off to school, so they could get every last minute of school.

AVILA: Well, you're obviously a man who enjoyed the family part of the life, okay, the with the kids.

REISER:And I enjoyed her company. And I think she enjoyed my company.

AVILA: But when did you begin to become suspicious that she wasn't there for love that she might have been there for other reasons whether it be visa or money?

REISER:Well, in 2002, I thought she was angry at me.


REISER:Because when I left her in the United States, which I had to do for her to get the American passport, I thought that she felt abandoned. Even though I logically explained and she logically knew that I shouldn't live in the United States

AVILA: She didn't like being apart?

REISER:You know, this is one of those things where, you know, as I was doing it, I was wondering, is she really going to understand on the emotional level, not just the intellectual level, that I'm leaving, because it's in her interest for her to get the passport? And this is a sacrifice we have to make in the short term.

But she wasn't good at short term sacrifices.

AVILA: And in fact, she did complain in the divorce complaint one of her main complaints was that you didn't spend enough time with her or the kids, that you were

REISER:But this was necessary for her to get the US passport.

AVILA: I understand, but that was her complaint.

REISER:That was her complaint, and you understand that for her not to spend 50 percent of the time in the United States, would have meant that we would have to start from square one in terms of qualifying her for citizenship which AVILA: But that time apart not only left her either angry at you or emotionally upset about things, but also left the opening for an affair outside your marriage.


AVILA: And this was with your best friend.

REISER:Yeah. Now you understand that I'm sort of telling you two different things simultaneously. I'm telling you that there is warning signs that maybe she had never really loved me, and I'm telling you that she was upset that I left her in the United States. And that's a contradiction, and I don't know You know, other people at a distance have more accurate perceptions of our relationship.