Sante and Kenneth Kimes were grifters. Grifters are con artists who rob you blind but in such a manner that the victim barely notices until it’s too late and the thieves are long gone. The Kimes didn’t stay in one place very long because the plethora of crimes they committed necessitated an early escape, usually before a police investigation had even begun. Sante possessed movie star beauty. Born Sandra Louise Walker in Oklahoma City in 1934, Sante looked like a chubby version of Elizabeth Taylor in her later years. In fact, so like Taylor was Sante, that she even impersonated the movie star when it suited her. She had charm, wit and she oozed sexuality. Kenneth was more subtle. He stayed in the background as she wove her web to con her victims, ready to do as she directed. Eventually, Sante would be charged with two murders, robbery, violation of anti-slavery laws, forgery and numerous other crimes. Sante was a busy woman. Sante admitted that she committed many acts of fraud that were not financially necessary, such as enslaving maids she could afford to pay and burning down houses she could have sold for profit. Sante was described by an FBI profiler as “an onion with many different layers.”
Where does a conman or conwoman come from? Usually these paradigms run in families. Psychopathy is supposedly inherited genetically. Personally, the jury’s out on that one. Like many disorders, psychopathy develops from a combination of nature and nurture. The early environment of a con is filled with an abusive family of frauds, thieves and liars. They teach their offspring and younger siblings everything they know and are able to welcome them into the family circle of crime, rather like a miniature Mafia. Psychopaths make terrible parents. They can’t teach love, empathy and impulse control because they can’t teach what they don’t know. Sante and Kenneth are a perfect example of this phenomenon. And the heredity of psychopathy is called into doubt in the person of Steve Kent, Sante’s son from another marriage. Kenny was born from her second marriage to wealthy, alcoholic motel tycoon Kenneth Kimes Sr. Kent had a very different upbringing than Kenny. He has never broken a law except perhaps for a parking ticket.
Kent stated that Kenny (as he was usually called) didn’t attend public school. “He was always tutored at home. His life in some ways was sheltered and in some ways confining. My mother was always there.” Well, that’s a bit odd I’d say. After Kenneth Kimes Sr.,’s death Kent said “that was when I became aware of how strange things were becoming with my mother and my brother.” Kent sensed negative vibes coming from the two and he avoided them.
Sante spent the better part of her life fleecing people of money, expensive merchandise, and real estate, either through elaborate con games, theft and arson. She committed insurance fraud on numerous occasions, frequently by committing arson and then collecting for property damage. Kenny was in on the impersonation act. He posed as an ambassador so successfully he and his mother attended a reception at the White House during the Ford administration. Perhaps the worst crime Sante committed was that of slavery. She frequently offered homeless, illegal immigrants housing and employment. She promised to treat them kindly, then kept them prisoners by threatening to report them to the authorities if they didn’t do as she said. She made her slaves do ridiculous things, such as cleaning a floor they had just cleaned. Sante’s cruel streak was endless. It was as though she created new ways to torment her prisoners on a daily basis.
As a result, she and Kimes Sr. spent years squandering his fortune on lawyers’ fees, defending themselves against charges of slavery. They were sentenced in 1985 by the U.S. District Court to five years in prison for violating federal anti-slavery laws. Kimes Sr. took a plea bargain and enrolled in an alcohol treatment program Afterward, Kimes Sr. and Kimes Jr. lived a relatively normal life until Sante was released from prison in 1989. Kimes, Sr. died in 1994. Boo-hoo. Soon, two more people who encountered Sante and Kenny would also shuffle off their mortal coils.
David Kazdin was murder victim number one. He allowed Kimes to use his name on the deed of a home in Las Vegas in the 1970s and in doing so he signed his own death certificate. Sante Kimes convinced a notary to forge Kazdin’s signature on an application for a loan of $280,000, with the house as collateral. When Kazdin discovered the forgery, he threatened to expose Kimes. Naturally she ordered Kenny to kill him, which the latter did do by shooting Kazdin in the back of the head. Kazdin’s body was found in a dumpster near a Los Angeles airport in March 1998. The murder weapon was never recovered.
Irene Silverman was next. In June 1998 Sante perpetrated a scheme where she would assume the identity of their landlady, (alas, not Elizabeth Taylor this time), the 82-year-old socialite Irene Silverman. In doing so, Sante’s plan was to gain ownership of her $7.7 million Manhattan mansion. How do people come up with these crimes? That takes some pretty conniving planning and considerable knowledge of the estate business, I should imagine. Silverman took copious notes about her fear of mother and son. These notes were used to help get a 2000 conviction, despite the fact Silverman’s body was never found. During the trial for the Kadzin murder Kenny confessed that his mother used a stun gun on Silverman as she slept. Ouch. Kenny strangled her, stuffed her corpse into a bag and deposited it in a dumpster in Hoboken, New Jersey. Nice.Although the Kazdin murdered occurred before Silverman’s Sante and Kenny were arrested in NYC, so the Silverman murder trial was held before Kazdin’s.
Kenny pleaded guilty to the murder of Kazdin, and happily blamed his mother for the crime, stating he only did what Mommy Dearest told him to do. Such loyalty. It’s almost pathetic….oops, I mean poetic. Actually there is a lot of truth to that statement. Sante raised him to be a grifter from a young age. He knew no other way of life. Not only were the two convicted for the murder of Irene Silverman and Kazdin in two separate trials, the Silverman jury also found them guilty of 117 other charges including robbery, burglary, conspiracy, grand larceny, illegal weapons possession, forgery and eavesdropping. Apparently Kenny didn’t learn his lesson while he was in lock-up. In October 2000, he held Court TV reporter Maria Zone hostage by pressing a ballpoint pen into her throat. Zone had interviewed Kimes once before without incident. Kenny demanded that his mother not be extradited to California, where they faced the death penalty for the murder of David Kazdin. After four hours of negotiation, prison guards created a distraction which allowed them to remove Zone and wrestle Kimes to the ground. I doubt Zone will be interviewing Kimes again anytime soon.
Sante was portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore (who still looks great) in a 2001 TV movie titled, Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes. Sante was again portrayed by Emmy winner Judy Davis in another TV production called A Little Thing Called Murder. Sante couldn’t con her way out of her life sentence. She loved the limelight, even after her conviction. Larry King interviewed her and attempted to corner her on the Silverman murder. She was a slippery snake and managed to hold her own about her innocence. She died in prison in early 2014 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County, California where she was serving a life sentence of 120 years from the NYC conviction and a life sentence in California. Kenny was sentenced to 125 years in NYC and life in prison in California.