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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies - Silverman's body was never found
Number of victims: 2- 3 +
Date of murders: 1996 / 1998
Date of arrest: July 1998
Date of birth: July 24, 1934
Victims profile: Syed Bilal Ahmed / David Kazdin / Irene Silverman, 82
Method of murder: Drowning / Shooting / Strangulation
Location: The Bahamas / California/New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 125 years in prison in New York on June 27, 2000. Sentenced to life in prison in California in 2004
photo gallery 1 photo gallery 2

Department of Psychology - Radford University

Sante Kimes Information

Sante Kimes (born July 24, 1934) is an American felon who has been convicted of two murders, along with robbery, violation of anti-slavery laws, forgery and numerous other crimes. Many of these crimes were committed with assistance from her children, especially her son Kenneth. The two of them were tried and convicted together for the murder of Irene Silverman, along with 117 other charges. The pair were also suspected but never charged in a third murder in the Bahamas, which Kenneth has confessed to.

Criminal behavior

According to court records, Kimes was born Sandra Louise Walker in Oklahoma City to a mother of partial Dutch decent and an East Indian father. She spent the better part of her life fleecing people of money, expensive merchandise, and real estate, either through elaborate con games, arson, forgery, or outright theft.

According to the book Son of a Grifter by her estranged son Kent Walker, she committed insurance fraud on numerous occasions, frequently by committing arson and then collecting for property damage. She delighted in introducing her husband as an ambassador - a ploy that even gained the couple access to a White House reception during the Ford administration. And she sometimes even impersonated Elizabeth Taylor, whom she resembled slightly. He also alleges that she committed many acts of fraud that were not even financially necessary, such as enslaving maids when she could easily afford to pay them and burning down houses she could have easily sold.

She frequently offered young, homeless illegal immigrants housing and employment, then kept them virtual prisoners by threatening to report them to the authorities if they didn't follow her orders. As a result, she and her second husband, alcoholic motel tycoon Kenneth Kimes, spent years, and squandered his fortune on lawyers' fees, defending themselves against charges of slavery. Kimes was eventually arrested in August 1985 and was sentenced by the U.S. District Court to five years in prison for violating Federal anti-slavery laws. Her husband took a plea bargain and agreed to complete an alcohol treatment program; Ken, Sr. and their son, Kenny, lived a somewhat normal life until Sante was released from prison in 1989. Ken, Sr. died in 1994.


David Kazdin

David Kazdin had allowed Kimes to use his name on the deed of a home in Las Vegas that was actually occupied by Kenneth Sr. and Sante Kimes in the 1970s. Several years later, 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 and threatened to expose Kimes she ordered him killed. Kenneth Jr. murdered Kazdin by shooting him in the back of the head. According to another accomplice's later testimony, all three participated in disposing of the evidence. Kazdin's body was found in a dumpster near Los Angeles airport in March 1998. The murder weapon was never recovered, having been disassembled and dropped into a storm sewer.

Irene Silverman

In June 1998, with her son Kenny, Kimes perpetrated a scheme whereby she would assume the identity of their landlady, 82-year-old socialite Irene Silverman, and then appropriate ownership of her $7.7 million Manhattan mansion. Despite the fact Silverman's body was never found, both mother and son were convicted of murder in 2000, in no small part because of the discovery of Kimes' notebooks detailing the crime and notes written by Silverman, who was extremely suspicious of the pair. During the trial for the Kadzin murder Kenneth Kimes confessed that after his mother had used a stun gun on the sleeping Silverman, he strangled her, stuffed her corpse into a bag and deposited it in a dumpster in Hoboken, New Jersey

Sayed Bilal Ahmed

Kenneth also confessed to murdering a third man, banker Sayed Bilal Ahmed, at his mother's behest in The Bahamas in 1996, which had been suspected by Bahamian authorities at the time. Kenneth testified that the two acted together to drug Ahmed, drown him in a bathtub, and dump his body offshore, but no charges were ever filed in that case.

Sante Kimes denies any involvement or knowledge of the murders, and claims that Kenneth's confession was solely to avoid the death penalty.


Although the Kazdin murder happened first, The Kimes' were apprehended in New York City and tried first for the Silverman murder. Evidence recovered from their car helped establish the case for trying them on Kazdin's murder as well.

The Silverman trial was unusual in many aspects, namely the rare combination of a mother/son team and the fact that no body was recovered. Nonetheless, the jury was unanimous in voting to convict them of not only murder but 117 other charges including robbery, burglary, conspiracy, grand larceny, illegal weapons possession, forgery and eavesdropping on their first poll on the subject.

The judge also took the unusual step of ordering Kimes not to speak to the media even after the jury had been sequestered as a result of her passing a note to New York Times reporter David Rhode in court. The judge threatened to have Kimes handcuffed during further court appearances if she persisted and restricted her telephone access to calls to her lawyers. The judge contended that Kimes was attempting to influence the jury as they may have seen or heard any such interviews, and that there would be no cross-examination as there would be in court. Kimes had earlier chosen to not take the stand in her own defense after the judge ruled that prosecutors could question her about the previous conviction on slavery charges.

During the sentencing portion of the Silverman trial, Sante Kimes made a prolonged statement to the court blaming the authorities, including their own lawyers, for framing them. She went on to compare their trial to the Salem Witch Trials and claim the prosecutors were guilty of "murdering the Constitution." When the statement was concluded the presiding judge responded that Mrs Kimes was a sociopath and a degenerate and her son was a dupe and "remorseless predator" before imposing the maximum sentence on both of them.

In October 2000, while doing an interview, Kenneth held Court TV reporter Maria Zone hostage by pressing a ballpoint pen into her throat. Zone had interviewed Kimes once before without incident.  Kenneth Kimes' demand was that his mother not be extradited to California, where the two faced the death penalty for the murder of David Kazdin. After four hours of negotiation Kimes removed the pen from Zone's throat. Negotiators created a distraction which allowed them to quickly remove Zone and wrestle Kimes to the ground.

In March 2001, Kenneth Kimes was extradited to Los Angeles to stand trial for the murder of David Kazdin. Sante Kimes was extradited to Los Angeles in June 2001. During that trial in June 2004, while he was facing the death penalty, Kenneth changed his plea from "not guilty" to "guilty" and implicated his mother in the murder in exchange for a plea deal that his mother not receive the death penalty if convicted. Sante Kimes again made a prolonged statement denying the murders and accusing police and prosecutors of various kinds of misconduct, and was again eventually ordered by the presiding judge to be silent. The sentencing judge in the Kazdin case called Mrs. Kimes "one of the most evil individuals" they had met in their time as a judge.


Sante Kimes is currently serving a sentence of 120 years at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. On her prisoner papers, Sante's projected release date is on March 3, 2119. Additionally, Kimes and her son were each sentenced to life for the death of David Kazdin in California.

In media

A 2001 made-for-TV movie, Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes, starred Mary Tyler Moore as Sante Kimes, Gabriel Olds as Kenny, and Jean Stapleton as Silverman. In 2006, another television movie based on a book about the case, A Little Thing Called Murder, starring Judy Davis and Jonathan Jackson, aired on Lifetime.


Mother-son murderers get more than century in prison

Court TV

June 27, 2000

NEW YORK — The mother-son team convicted of murdering and kidnapping a New York millionairess were each slapped with sentences of more than 100 years.

Sante Kimes, 65, was sentenced to 120 years and 8 months behind bars, while her 25-year-old son, Kenneth, received 125 years and four months.

The two grifters were convicted last month of killing 82-year-old Irene Silverman in a plot to take her $10 million townhouse. Kenneth Kimes was convicted on 60 counts, while his mother was found guilty of 58 charges.

Both maintained their innocence in separate statements made before the court just prior to sentencing, charging that they were framed by authorities.

Silverman, a former ballerina, was last seen in July 1998, the day the Kimeses were arrested for writing a bad $14,900 check for a car. Her body has never been recovered and she has been presumed dead.

Prosecutors believe that the Kimeses drugged Silverman, smothered her, stashed her body in a stolen Lincoln towncar and dumped her in an undisclosed location. There was no sign of a struggle in Silverman's mansion, however, and no evidence of Silverman's or the Kimeses' blood in the house.

When police searched the Kimeses' car, they found a fake Social Security card bearing Silverman's name, an allegedly forged deed that approved the transfer of Silverman's Manhattan townhouse to a shell Florida firm set up by the Kimeses, and loaded .9 mm and .22 caliber pistols. Silverman's keys, cassettes of Silverman's telephone conversations, apparently taken from wiretaps, several wigs and masks, plastic handcuffs, $30,000 in cash and an empty stun gun box also were found in the car.

Prosecutors convinced jurors that the Kimeses planned to use these items to carry out an elaborate murder-robbery plot.

The Kimeses have denied any involvement in Silverman's disappearance and have suggested in previous interviews that her servants may have been involved in her vanishing.


Mother and son convicted of murdering elderly widow

Court TV

May 18, 2000

NEW YORK — Mother-and-son grifters were convicted Thursday of murdering an 82-year-old millionaire widow in a plot to steal her elegant townhouse mansion.

The jury forewoman pronounced "guilty" 118 times — 58 times for Sante Kimes and 60 for Kenneth Kimes — in the slaying of Irene Silverman, a former Radio City Music Hall dancer whose body has never been found.

Sante Kimes, 65, and her 25-year-old son could get up to life in prison at sentencing June 27.

Prosecutors said the two plotted to steal the six-story Beaux-Arts mansion Silverman's husband had left her.

Silverman vanished in 1998, the day the Kimeses were arrested for writing a bad $14,900 check for a car.

The Kimeses had not disposed of Silverman's personal documents or other suspicious items. In the car, police found loaded pistols, a red wig and two fright masks, plastic handcuffs, $30,000 in cash, a stun gun box, syringes, and a pink liquid similar to a known"date rape" drug.

They also found cassettes of Silverman's telephone conversations — secretly taped by the Kimeses — and a forged deed that transferred her townhouse to the Kimeses for a fraction of its nearly $10 million value.


Mother and Son Murder Team: Sante and Kenny Kimes

by Adrian Havill

A Victim Vanishes

The gray limestone mansion at 20 East 65th Street in New York City was designed to ward off evil. The builder had put a carved stone face above the double front door when it was constructed at the turn of the 20th century. The godlike sculpture was there for good luck. Wings sprang from the head and its fierce mouth was open, snarling at all who passed by. Legend said the god flew away at midnight in search of bacchanalian revelry, returning each dawn to guard the entrance of the great city house and its occupants within.

Today, on this morning of July 5, 1998, the great carved face had failed to do its job.

On this Sunday after the most celebratory of American holidays, East 65th Street was silent. New York’s Central Park was a block in one direction and Madison Avenue intersected the eastern end of the street. The night before had been full of gala events. Gotham was still sleeping.

A strange pair was taking advantage of the slumbering city. They emerged from the mansion dragging a huge suitcase, bickering so loudly that small birds flew away alarmed from their perch in the tree next to the house. The woman making most of the noise had a voice that grated, like a long fingernail scraping slowly across a blackboard. The twenty-something young man with her was tall and muscular, nearly handsome with his wavy hair. There was something about his eyes though. He had a frightening stare when he looked towards you. Psycho eyes. And nobody but nobody would have guessed that the older woman was not only his mother, but also his lover and soul mate.

The woman giving orders had been pretty once. Some would say beautiful since she had been mistaken many times for Elizabeth Taylor when she was younger. But she had gotten soft and plump with age. Time had not been kind and her black hair, usually covered by a wig, was flecked with gray. She was not happy if someone learned her age was 65.

Her son was struggling with the suitcase and she barked at him to be more careful. There was a reason for that. As he dragged the luggage towards the stolen green Lincoln Town Car you could see that it was leaking small, dark drops. They were small dots waiting to be connected. Red dots. He was leaving a trail of blood behind him.

As the city slept off its holiday hangover, the man lifted the heavy bag and heaved it into the cavernous trunk of the Lincoln. When he slammed the lid, the woman again yelled at him for creating the noise even though her own voice was much louder.

The woman’s name was Sante Kimes and thus far she had been arrested and charged 14 times for crimes that ranged from shoplifting to keeping slaves. There had been much, much more of course but she was smart. Most of the time she hadn’t been caught.

Chip off the old block

Her son Kenny was already following in her footsteps. Just two months before he had helped his mom steal some lipsticks from a discount store in Miami, knocking down the store detective before being arrested. Of course, the charges were reduced, bond was posted, and they quickly left town. Who was going to put out an APB for such a petty crime?

Just hours before, the mother and son had committed the ultimate offense. The body inside the suitcase had been a lively 83-year-old socialite named Irene Silverman who owned the East Side mansion and leased out suites to those who could afford to pay the $6000-per-month rent. Celebrities in town for a long stay--singer Chaka Khan and pianist Peter Duchin were regulars--often made up the cast of paying guests. The old dowager didn’t need the money. She simply liked company. Her staff cleaned the small apartments. Their generous employer had given the servants the holiday weekend off.

With everyone gone, Sante and Kenny had forced the old woman into their suite where, after a bloody struggle, she was shot in the head with a stun gun that had paralyzed her. Then Kenny had strangled Irene with his own hands. After that she was wrapped in a shower curtain that had been purchased just for the occasion and then trussed up with duct tape.

Why kill an old woman? Well, when the dust cleared, Sante was planning to tell the staff that her “dear friend” Irene had sold her the mansion and would show them a bill of sale if necessary. Besides murder, forgery was another specialty Sante thought she had mastered. The servants would buy her tale, she thought, and Irene--well, that Mrs. Silverman had gone off on a long European vacation would be her tale.

But that was for tomorrow. Right now there was a body inside the trunk of a stolen car that had to be made to disappear. Her son got behind the wheel and the two sped down the block, turned onto Madison Avenue and merged the Lincoln into an ever-present herd of yellow taxicabs.

Rags to Riches

“To tell the truth, I was born above a brothel in New Orleans,” the bon vivant of the fashionable East Side of New York often told her new acquaintances. Whether the story were true or not, didn’t matter. Irene Silverman was a colorful dynamo that had lived a rich, full life.

She was indeed born in New Orleans, in 1916, the only daughter of an Italian fishmonger and a Greek immigrant seamstress. Her father’s last name was Zambelli and the exotic surname was his claim to fame. He was related to the great Carlotta Zambelli, a ballet dancer who, in the first half of the 20th century was a star of the first order, every bit as important as Dame Margot Fonteyn would be to the second half.

Her father thought that dancing was in the family genes and the little girl who was then known as Irena Zambelli was given ballet lessons several times a week even though her parents had a tough time scraping up the cash to pay her teacher. “We lived then on the edge of respectability,” Irene once recalled, while telling her life story to a friend.

In 1932, during the depth of the Great Depression, Irene’s father deserted the family. Her mother, who still had dreams of producing a prima ballerina, brought her to New York to study under one of the great dance choreographers of the day, Michael Fokine. She paid for the lessons by sewing ballet costumes for him at night after her shift as a button seamstress in the garment district was finished.

Irene was good, no doubt about it, but at a mere five-feet and weighing just 98 pounds she was too tiny to dance with a major company, even by ballet standards.

‘I had to be employed because it was just my mother and myself,” Irene told her friend John Gruen a half-century later. Dance was all she knew. So in 1933, Irene found a position in what was then the corps de ballet of Radio City Music Hall doing four shows a day, seven days a week, for a weekly paycheck of $36. She was the shortest one on stage, the dancer who was always at the end of the line. Her feet often bled through her satin slippers from being (en pointe} and would hurt so much she sometimes walked home to her apartment barefoot.

Radio City was 75 cents for a matinee in those days and for that price you not only saw ballet and the more commercial dancers, the Rockettes, but a movie as well. Irene debuted in a production of Bolero, which was followed by one of the hottest movies of the year, King Kong.


Irene was nicknamed Zambi by the other dancers because it rhymed with Bambi. She soon developed a reputation as a bit of a practical joker.

“The $36 a week looked like a lot of money back then,” she once remembered, giggling. “Still, I was very mischievous. I would walk on the train of the girl in front of me, little things like that.”

After eight years of grinding it out on the Radio City Music Hall stage, Irene let a man, someone who was more than a decade older than she, into her life. His name was Samuel Silverman and he was a real estate mogul whose fortunes were still on the rise.

“Whatever reservations I had were overcome with the realization that I was going to be very rich,” she later recalled. “It was a marriage of convenience for us both.”

“He was her Stage Door Johnny,” said a pal of the two, the Hawaiian real estate tycoon, Stuart Ho. “She was bright and bubbly, a regular Auntie Mame. He was brilliant, with connections at the highest level.”

The two were married in 1941. Part of the deal was that Irene’s mother would live with them. They never had children of their own, just money, and lots of it. Sam was able to sniff out good real estate deals in every borough of New York. After World War II, he expanded his real estate empire to countries outside the U.S. where Irene used the Cajun French from her childhood to charm the Parisians. They not only purchased the grand, gray stone five-story mansion on East 65th street in New York but owned apartments in Honolulu and the City of Lights. There, the balcony of their bedroom backed onto a music theater where they heard songs coming from the stage each night as they lay in bed. Irene and Sam always had the best seats for every opera and ballet performance in Europe.

The grand, globetrotting life ended in 1973 when Sam succumbed to cancer. Her mother lasted a few years longer and for the first time in her life, Irene began to live alone.

The woman once called Irena, then Zambi, and finally respectfully as Mrs. Silverman wasn’t the type to shrivel up while waiting for death. Instead, she actually had begun quickening the pace of her life.

She began by having the mansion divided into suites and made it into the most luxurious bed-and-breakfast in all of Manhattan. She always said it was for the company and not the cash.

“If she liked the guest, she’d have the servants bring him breakfast in bed,” said her neighbor, Miki Ben-Kiki. “And if she really liked you, then she’d take you out to dinner.”

She began taking classes at nearby Columbia University. She was popular with the younger students, partly because she always kept a bottle of first-rate champagne in her purse and partly because she was the only person who not only came to classes by limousine but would sometimes volunteer to have her driver drop off a classmate after a lecture. She became known as a charming eccentric, someone who once showed up at a party with ten muscular young men in tow.

“I rented them. For the night,” she cracked. Her quirks became legend and the servants loved to gossip about how she would only allow her plants to be watered with old gin bottles and that she would breed prize boxer dogs to sell at $500 each. Still, when a little girl wanted one but didn’t have the cash, Irene said she would take the change in her piggy bank and did.

In 1998 Irene was 82, but had no plans to slow down. Her stylist dyed her hair Lucille Ball orange and despite her arthritis and a bad back, she would sometimes amaze her guests by rising on tip-toe, her hands pointed above her head, like Odile in {Swan Lake}, about to do 32 {fouette} turns.           

Then she would giggle. For a moment she had been Zambi again.


When Kenny Kimes showed up on Irene’s doorstep, he used one of the oldest cons in the book. It was slick as spit. First he used the name of an old friend of hers as a reference. Then he showed her the money. He had $6000 in $100 bills. Irene had always got checks but she knew that cash couldn’t be traced. No money for the I.R.S. Irene, a child of the Depression, sealed her lips and fate. Kenny Kimes was nicely dressed in a suit. He seemed okay. And when his loud-mouthed female assistant showed up a few days later and began living with him, Irene held her tongue. She had signed her own death warrant. In a matter of days she would be dead.

Sante, Sandra, Sandy

Irene Silverman’s co-killer, was born Sante Louise Singhrs in July 1934, on the edge of Oklahoma City. Her father, Rattan, was East Indian; her mother, Mary, was Irish. Sante was the third of four children.  After they had migrated to Southern California in the late thirties, her father deserted the family. Their mother then became a prostitute in Los Angeles and the children found themselves in foster homes or in orphanages. Sante, the last to be separated from her mother, ran wild on the streets of the city of angels.

Her hangout was a soda shop on one of L.A.’s main thoroughfares, Melrose Avenue. The couple that owned the place, Kelly and Dorothy Seligman, also owned a movie theater in the same block and from time-to-time would waive the admission charge and let the dark-haired wild child in for free. Dottie Seligman had a sister who couldn’t conceive children with her husband and they wanted to adopt. The sister and brother-in-law, Edwin and Mary Chambers, were more than willing to share their home with a needy youngster. Ed, a career military man, was about to take an important position as the third highest-ranking officer in the Nevada National Guard. Would she like to move to the state capital, Carson City, with them? She would.

“She came here in the 7th grade,” her friend Ruth Tanis remembered. “At first she was known as Sante Singhrs, but the kids made fun of that, and so then she went by the name of Sandy Singer. Then when she was adopted her name became Sandra Chambers. But we always called her Sandy.” (Author’s Note: The National Crime Information Center lists 28 different aliases for Sante Kimes.)

On the surface, Sandy Chambers appeared to fit in. At Carson High School she got decent grades, was a cheerleader for the basketball team, the historian for the Spanish club, member of the Glee club, and co-editor of the school’s newspaper, The Chatter, but was best known for being “boy crazy,” a consummate flirt.

“She ran for a freshman class office and the next year for a sophomore class post. She lost both times and never tried after that. We were a little guilty, I suppose, of treating her like an outsider,” recalled Duane Glanzman, the 1952 senior class president.

“But she never lacked for dates,” said Ruth Tanis.

There was a darker side emerging as well. She was caught shoplifting at a local five-and-dime (the offense wasn’t prosecuted) and once went on a shopping spree after stealing her adoptive father’s credit card. She seemed to be happy--so much so that when her own mother showed up in Carson City one day without warning and wanted her back, Sante refused.

Laverne & Shirley

On her high school graduation day in June of 1952, Sante told everyone within listening range that she was going on to college, get a degree and become a journalist. Instead, three months later, she married a high school sweetheart, Lee Powers, and divorced him three months after that. After that there would be a six-week secretarial course at a Reno Business School and two years of bouncing around northern California--San Francisco and Sacramento-- with her friend Ruth Tanis, alternating between office work and college courses. By most accounts, it was a grand time.

“We were like Laverne and Shirley let loose in the big city,” recalled Ruth Tanis, remembering their salad days.

Sante eventually returned to Carson City and married another high school admirer, Edward Walker, in 1956. There would be a child from that marriage, Kent, but the union didn’t last long. Her husband accused her of stealing and shoplifting and indeed she was arrested in 1961 in Sacramento for petty theft.

Disgraced, she ended the marriage and returned to the streets of Los Angeles where she alternated between prostitution and crime. Court records show she was arrested for grand theft in Los Angeles in 1965, and auto theft a few days later in Norwalk, California.

“Let me tell you the story of the car theft,” one of her former lawyers, now retired, said. “Sante walked into a Cadillac dealership and conned the salesman into letting her test drive a convertible. Alone, of course. And, of course, she never came back and drove the car for months as if she owned it. When the police caught up with her, she told them she had been given the car to test drive and that’s what she was doing--still test driving it!”

The names of Sante Singhrs and several aliases were filling up the police blotters of Southern California. There was a charge against her in Glendale in 1968, and another grand-theft charge in Riverside the next year. She also worked as a prostitute in Palm Springs.

Contact with her adoptive parents ended and when Mary Chambers died of cancer in 1969, Sante didn’t even attend the funeral. By now, Sante was looking for the big score, something or someone who could put her on easy street for the rest of her life. She began looking for a soul mate that thought the same way and enjoyed the rush, the thrill of stealing just like she did.

Perhaps it was fate. His name was Kenneth Kimes, a hustler just like her. He was worth nearly ten million dollars when she met him. That wealth still did not stop them from attempting to con all who got in their way, including the president of the United States. They would produce a son, Kenny, who would be trained from birth to behave as if he were the devil’s spawn on earth.

High Plains Hustler

Kenneth Kimes, Sante’s third husband and Kenny’s dad, was born in Prague, Oklahoma in 1916. About the time Sante was being born, he was on his way to California with three brothers and two sisters and riding on an old flatbed truck, part of the Great Depression migration. For years, the family moved up and down the fertile valleys of the Golden State, picking melons and harvesting lettuces for pennies a day. Despite the low salary, Ken Kimes had the mentality of the times, saving part of each pay packet, which eventually grew into a nice nest egg.

“I was the fastest goddamn melon picker in the San Joaquin valley,” Ken Kimes Sr. would drunkenly boast several decades later after he had become a millionaire many times over.

When World War II began, Ken Sr. was among the first to enlist. He spent the war years helping to liberate and then occupy the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese. The cold desolate isles off the coast of Alaska weren’t the greatest place to spend three years but he made the most of it, trading guns with the indigenous population for fresh fish and caribou, which he resold to the mess hall. He also operated a small casino inside a Quonset hut. By V-Day he had managed to send a tidy sum home.

During one leave he found time to woo and marry a Texas beauty, Charloette Tayor. They would have two children, a boy and a girl and began the post-war years with a little bit of cash and a sky’s-the-limit attitude. Everyone seemed to be buying cars, highways were being built and the couple decided to get into the construction business. After building a few apartment complexes and trailer parks, they began focusing on what fit the autos and road boom best -- motels.

“We built at least 30 of them,” Charloette Kimes recalled. “We sold them for tremendous profits.”

It didn’t take long for them to figure out that they could make even more money by building them and then owning and operating the new lodgings. Soon there was a small empire with the crown jewel of their chain built directly across the street from a newly constructed Disneyland. The 100-room complex was called the Mecca Motel.

Charloette soon discovered that her husband had a dark side. He began to control her, doling out an allowance and specifying what she could and couldn’t buy. Ken’s mother and sister lived in the small mansion in Orange County and on her husband’s orders, insisted upon going everywhere with her. Not only was Ken Kimes Sr. away for weeks at a time, but also Charloette soon found out there was a loose woman near every motel her husband built.

“I had worked like a dog for him,” Charloette recalled. “I thought that every time he socked away another $100,000, he’d relax. But he never did. Money became his god. And he was a womanizer. Slick as a button about it and he got away with it for a long time. Eventually I got blindsided.”

Charloette filed for divorce in 1963, but Ken Kimes hired the former attorney general for the state of California to represent him. In the end, Ken got away with the bulk of their fortune. Charloette had no regrets.

“I have never had any trouble holding my head high,” she says today.


There are two stories on how Kenneth Kimes met Sante, a romantic match surely struck up by the devil in hell. The first is that Sante saw an article on California millionaires in a magazine in 1971. She liked his looks, not to mention his estimated net worth and began circling him like a hawk. The second is that he went after her. He needed a public relations person for an American Bicentennial scheme he was cooking up--one in which he hoped to make several million dollars.

Whichever is true, Kenneth Kimes had more than met his match. At first she behaved like a geisha--or maybe a practiced bar girl out to earn a commission on each shot sold. The courtesan talents she had learned at the knee of her mother served her well. She would personally stir his whiskey cocktails with her little finger while pretending to keep up with him drink for drink. Instead hers would be deposited into a planter or a wastebasket. When he would get drunk, she would take charge. And if called upon, she could perform every sexual trick in the book. Ken Kimes may have once controlled Charloette, but it was Sante who was calling the shots now.

“She asked him what his favorite flower was. When he told her, she went to a perfume shop and had them duplicate the fragrance for her to wear. She had him eating out of her hand,” a relative of Ken Kimes said.

Sante wasn’t as of yet a trophy wife. In fact, it would take ten years for Ken to marry her. By that time, their son Kenny would be six years old, Sante would have escaped a lengthy prison term, and was already beginning to teach their son the tricks of the trade.

A Capital Caper

The scheme cooked up by Ken Kimes and put into motion by Sante involved making money from the 1976 American Bicentennial. It was called “The Forum of Man.” While that sounded grand, all they were really trying to sell were giant posters of state flags that extolled the 200th Birthday of the United States. They thought that simply by being seen in the right Washington circles and by being photographed in the right places, the government would put a poster in every classroom in America and sell the excess through post offices. They estimated that there were 250,000 such schoolrooms and at ten dollars each, well, do the math.

Ken Kimes needed credentials and he began addressing civic groups on patriotism. He also began calling himself “the honorary bicentennial ambassador of the United States” and said he would soon be traveling throughout the world to let other countries know about the forthcoming celebration. But an official sanction was needed and it wasn’t long before the brazen pair showed up at the White House to meet with Patricia Nixon.

Ken and Sante had forged a memo on White House stationery that supposedly was to Mrs. Nixon from a high-ranking White House assistant asking her to see him. It represented Ken Kimes as a big Republican donor and philanthropist who only wanted to give back to his country.

Mrs. Nixon appeared to see right through Ken and Sante’s pitch and motioned the White House photographer away, but Sante whipped out her own camera and documented the event. It soon appeared in the Bicentennial Times, the official newsletter for the big year. Sante and Ken appeared halfway there and used the photo with Mrs. Nixon to arrange meetings with other federal officials.

On February 26, 1974, Sante and Ken went way over the top and did themselves in. Perhaps hoping to get some invitations to visit foreign countries as “honorary ambassadors” they began the evening by slipping past the Secret Service at a Blair House reception for Vice-President Gerald Ford where they chatted him up on their plans for their worldwide bicentennial tour. Sante wore large diamonds on virtually every finger--they were fake-- and told a woman she was from “East Indian royalty” and another that she was a full-blooded “American Indian.”

Leaving some startled security guards behind, the two hopped a cab and proceeded to crash parties or receptions at the West German embassy, the Belgian embassy, and finally, a sit-down dinner at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. At the Belgian residence, Sante boldly took the floor and made a pitch for the flag posters before being asked to leave.

They might have gotten away with the whole scam except the next morning telephone calls began flooding the desks of Washington society editors. Two days later, a Washington Starheadline read THE BIGGEST CRASH SINCE 1929: “This is a story of how good manners and gall will get you into the world of Washington Society” the story began. The caption under Ken and Sante’s picture said in part: “Kimes (rhymes with climbs).” The competing Washington Post put an investigative team on the affair and soon reported that the letter used to get an audience with Pat Nixon had been “doctored.”

Exposed, the couple’s attempted swindle was over, but not before Sante told a reporter that Ken was “a Will Rogers type, a self-starter, and a tiger. People ask me if I am involved with him. Well, I love him. I just love his warmth.”

Sante said they were doing the project just to “get rid of cynicism in the world.”

The Boy Slave

Imagine, for a moment, that you are Kenny Kimes Jr., born in 1975 to a mother and father who both loved to steal and con just for the thrill of it. You have a mom who smothers you with an unnaturally close form of love at an early age. Your dad is drunk more often than he is sober and seems to be operated by his spouse as if he were a marionette. Your first memories are of police and investigators constantly showing up at your home to look into one shady scheme after another. Any hope of a normal life was doomed from the beginning.

Vittorio Raho, who lived next door to Kenny when his family had its Las Vegas house--the Kimeses also had homes in Hawaii, the Bahamas, and California--says that he was Kenny’s “first real friend.” Vittorio thought that Kenny made for a wonderful companion. He used family money to buy his friendship, he thought, since Kenny often paid for both of them when they went to the movies or McDonald’s. And Vittorio’s dad, Benito, remembered Sante as someone who looked a lot like actress Elizabeth Taylor.

“She dressed in white all the time. With her hair and the make-up, she did look like Liz Taylor, to tell the truth,” he said. Then he recalled a cruel, condescending Sante.

“She told me her son was a genius and mine wasn’t, and she didn’t want them together.” (Author’s note: When Kenny Kimes was arrested for murdering Irene Silverman, Vittorio Raho was a college graduate, entering medical school.)

When Kenny couldn’t find any friends in the neighborhood, his mother would hire them. In Hawaii, there was Kara Craver-Jones. “I was the hired playmate,” she remembered. “He wasn’t allowed to have any other friends and we had to do what his mom said, when she said it. He never talked back. She was dominant of him, of me, of everybody.”

Sante trotted out an old ploy left over from her Bicentennial scam. She told Kara she was going to send her and Kenny to Russia as “youth ambassadors.” Of course, it never happened.

Kara was picked up each day in a limousine to visit Kenny. From time to time, Kenny would confide in her, though he often made the stories up.

“We have Mafia troubles but I can’t talk about it,” a young Kenny told his wide-eyed playmate. When Kara saw his mother’s many wigs on a nightstand, Kenny made up a story on the spot. “My mother has cancer and has to go for chemotherapy treatments,” he told her. The boy slave was learning the scams. Tell a story, win sympathy, and unbalance the mark. It was a classic grifter trick.

Two strange things visitors noticed about Kenny’s family were the locks and the maids. Once you were inside the house, you couldn’t get out unless Sante let you out with a key. That was strange. And each house came with several Mexican maids whom Sante forced to go barefoot. Once one of them got out and the Rahos remembered her screaming as she ran down the street until Sante captured her and brought her back.

The Kimes trio was one strange family. Everyone agreed on that.

One scam after another

Sante kept getting arrested for grand theft, petty theft, and schemes that involved claiming an item had been stolen from her home, putting an inflated price tag on it, and getting an insurance company to cough up a check. Often houses owned by Ken and Sante would mysteriously burn to the ground and an insurance firm would have to write an even larger one.

Sante narrowly escaped prison for stealing a mink coat from the Mayflower hotel during another trip to Washington in February of 1980. That caper had been a doozy. And it was amazing the way it went down.

A woman named Katherine Kenworthy had draped her dark ranch mink over a chair in the Mayflower’s Town and Country lounge. Sante, who had already been noticed because of her resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor, focused on the coat. As Ken distracted the woman with conversation, Sante strolled over, slipped it on, then put on her own fur coat over it and sauntered away.

“Did I really see that?” a witness to the event, Rena Beachy, asked her companion. When the Kenworthy woman reported the coat stolen, Beachy’s description of “a fat Liz Taylor” to both the police and the hotel staff pinpointed Sante, who was staying in a suite with Ken and little Kenny on the 7th floor.

When the police showed up at the door, they found the coat. The initials had been freshly cut out with a razor blade. There were also several other mink coats, all with the labels and any identifying features removed. Additionally, there was a man’s topcoat that had been reported stolen.

Sante was charged with the theft of the fur coat; Ken, with the men’s coat. The two hastily posted a $4000 bond and left town.

Over the next five years, Sante kept getting her trial delayed by always having letters from mysterious doctors in Mexico sent just before trial. The notes said she was either too ill to travel or was about to have an operation. Ken lucked out when the owner of the topcoat died before his trial and the charges were dropped. In 1985, Sante was finally brought to trial but as the testimony ended and the jury deliberated, she again skipped town. The jury convicted her, but a few days later another phony letter was presented that said she had been hit by a car crossing a street just before the verdict and had flown home for treatment. Her lawyer then said she had been convicted while absent and that was illegal. The ploy worked. Sante won on a technicality.

The slave girls

Sante’s luck would eventually run out. For years, she had been traveling to Mexico where she would grab poor girls off the streets and import them to her homes with promises of a big salary and a better life. Instead, she paid them nothing, kept them locked up inside her houses, and made them work seven days a week.

After the Washington trial, several of her slave girls escaped and went to the police even though it meant deportation--Sante had brought them into the country illegally.

In August, police swooped down on a residence Sante and Ken owned in La Jolla, California and charged them both with “conspiracy to violate slavery laws.” Ken and Sante claimed their home was in Las Vegas and it was there that a long trial took place. Sante was held without bail because of her leaving the mink coat trial. But before the trial, she conned her captors into moving her to a hospital because of medical complaints and then escaped by crawling out a bathroom window.

“She called me and said she was coming to see me,” said her old friend Ruth Tanis. “I didn’t know who was going to show up on my doorstep first, the FBI or Sante.”

Sante was caught three days later at a Las Vegas bar called The Elbow Room. The bartender, whom she thought was a friend, turned her in.

At the trial, a parade of servants testified against her. Most claimed that Sante had tortured them. The first one, Ana Celia Sorano, said that Sante would always dismantle the telephone and lock her in when she went out. Her employer also slapped her around, she said. Another, Dolores Vasquez, had this horror story.

“She hit me because I burned the hamburger bread,” she said. “La Senora threatened me with a pistol. She called me stupid.”

Her testimony stunned the jury with this anecdote.

“I had an allergy. I fainted. La Senora said to go into the shower. I had taken off my clothes and she told me to get into the shower. I put the water on lukewarm. She changed the water to very hot. It burned. When I moved to a corner of the bathtub, she threw the hot water on me with a little pot.”

Maribel Ramirez, another former employee, said that Sante had branded her with a hot iron and had the scars to prove it. She also said Sante had locked her in a closet overnight.

Ken Kimes cut a deal with the FBI before the trial. He got a three-year suspended sentence, a $70,000 fine, and agreed to enter rehab to get his alcoholism treated.

Sante, for the first time in her life, did some serious prison time. She was given five years in a federal correctional facility in Kentucky and served three. The two Kens visited her often and Sante later joked that she had stayed at “Club Fed.”

When she got out in 1989, she was determined that she would never allow herself to be put away again. Not that she was reformed. Perhaps that was why bodies began to disappear every time the law got too close. In 1990, their family lawyer, Elmer Holmgren, burned down one of their homes for the insurance money. While drunk on vodka at a bar, he told the story of his arson to fascinated listeners. Federal gumshoes quickly brought him in for a talk and he agreed to become an informant. Soon after, Sante and Ken invited him to take a vacation with them in Costa Rica. They returned, he didn’t. His body was never found.

Sante’s new policy was “leave no witnesses.” Ever.

Where's papa?

Most mothers don’t go off to college with their children. Sante Kimes did. And at the University of California at Santa Barbara, she lived off campus with Kenny and her fading husband. At UCSB she often co-hosted keg parties with her son. If that was strange, so was the family’s travel. She now shared a bed with her son on the road and not her husband.

On March 28, 1994 Sante Kimes pulled up in front of a Santa Barbara bank and went inside leaving Ken Sr., now 77, in the car. When she came back out, he was dead of a heart attack. Sante didn’t tell their son, who was away on a spring break vacation in Hawaii. Instead, she greeted him at the airport when he returned.

“Where’s Papa?” Kenny asked.

“He’s right here,” Sante said and in a macabre move worthy of a Stephen King novel, whipped out Ken’s ashes, which were inside an urn. Kenny was horrified, particularly when Sante produced two airline tickets. She forced him to get right back on a plane where they returned to Hawaii. There, they disposed of her husband’s ashes by scattering them on the waves of the Pacific Ocean on a beach near Honolulu.

Sante never told anyone about her husband’s death. When his children or old friends telephoned, she would make up a story. He’s gone off to Japan to build a motel, was one of her favorites.

Mommy and Clyde

Why? Her alcoholic husband had never had his will updated and there was an old one somewhere out there that left everything to his two children from his first marriage. Although Sante could produce a marriage certificate, authorities would later doubt even its authenticity, saying it appeared forged. Sante set out to grab as much of Ken Kimes Sr.’s $12 million fortune as she could.

She began by enlisting the help of an old real estate crony of Ken’s, David Kazdin. By creating a paper trail of documents, it soon appeared that Kazdin had purchased some of the Kimes’ real estate empire. But Sante got greedy. She would often get a second mortgage on the properties using old documents and then Kazdin would get a coupon book that instructed him to pay back by the month.

Kazdin didn’t like that and soon threatened to tell all. That was a mistake. His body would be found in a Dumpster near Los Angeles airport in March of 1998. He had been shot to death.

Ken Kimes Sr. also had several secret bank accounts in Caribbean nations like the Bahamas and Grand Cayman. Sante began forging checks to get the money out. Authorities there believe that a Bahamian banker, Sayed Bilal Ahmed, discovered the scheme in 1998. He scheduled a dinner meeting with Sante at a Cable Beach hotel and was never seen again.

 Kenny dropped out of college and in an odyssey that seemed more like Bonnie and Clyde--one tabloid reporter would dub them “Mommy and Clyde”--the two began their 1998 nationwide journey that at first seemed without purpose. They began by purchasing the new Lincoln Town Car, paying with a worthless check about the time David Kazdin was killed. Sante and Kenny soon showed up in Florida to meet with the about-to-disappear island banker, Sayed Bilal Ahmed. They were scamming as often as they could now. They had already pulled the worthless check trick on an Alabama motor home dealer and made off with an RV. It was in Florida that Sante had first met someone who told her about an elderly woman’s wonderful boarding house for the rich in the Big Apple. That sounded like a good one. Mother and son left Florida and were off to New York.

It's All Over

After Sante and Kenny disposed of Irene’s body at a suburban New Jersey construction site, they returned to New York ready to carry out the rest of their plan. They weren’t about to expose themselves until they thought the coast was clear. A few days prior to killing Irene Silverman, the pair had called an old buddy, Stan Patterson, who lived in a Las Vegas trailer park. Patterson had sold Sante and Kenny guns, did odd jobs for them, and was able to keep his mouth shut. Or so they thought.

“What’s up, Sante?” Patterson asked when Sante called. She told him that he was needed to run a New York mansion for them that rented suites to the rich.

“Just for a few weeks, I promise,” she said.

The phone call would prove to be the biggest mistake of her life. The FBI had found Patterson and talked to him about Sante. They wanted to question her about David Kazdin’s murder, the stolen Lincoln, and a few other crimes. Lead us to her, the G-men told Patterson, and we won’t prosecute you for selling guns illegally.

So when Sante and Kenny met Patterson--who wore a bulletproof vest to the rendezvous at the New York Hilton--just after returning from disposing of Irene Silverman’s body, federal agents surrounded them. It was all over. Kenny was so frightened that he wet his trousers. Sante was brazen to the end, using an alias, and loudly protesting her innocence.

Inside the stolen Lincoln was a treasure trove of incriminating evidence. Irene’s passport and keys to the mansion were in the back seat as was a fully loaded Glock .9 mm pistol and a .22 Beretta. There were real estate transfer papers and a notebook that showed Sante practicing Irene Silverman’s signature over and over again. There was an empty stun gun box, blank social security cards, handcuffs, extra license plates, syringes, and walkie-talkies. The car’s contents seemed to have been acquired from a supermarket for criminals.

"No body, no crime"

Sante and Kenny were tried in the spring of 2000. After several months of testimony, the jury declared Sante guilty of 58 different crimes and 60 for Kenny. Sante was sentenced to 120 years and Kenny, 125. At their sentencing, Sante was asked if she had anything to say and with that she jumped to her feet where she ranted about her life and the unfairness of her trial for more than an hour. She would have gone on for several more but was stopped by the judge.

“Mrs. Kimes, your performance is over,” she was told. Marshals led them both away.

A few months later, Kenny attempted to escape by holding a Court TV reporter, Maria Zone, hostage by pressing a ballpoint pen into her throat. After three hours he was subdued, and the following month, both Kenny and Sante Kimes were extradited to Los Angeles to stand trial for the murder of David Kazdin. During that trial in June of 2004, while he was facing the death penalty, Kenny changed his plea to guilty and betrayed his mother by implicating her in the murder. He also confessed to killing the Bahamian banker, Syed Bilal Ahmed, by first drugging him, then drowning him in a bathtub, and later disposing of the body in the ocean. 

"No body, no crime," Kenny told the judge, revealing the Kimes family motto. Even though her son had "ratted" her out, Sante maintained her innocence and tried to play the sympathy card. Her court appearances included arrivals via wheelchair, fainting spells, a "heart attack," and continuous weeping. The judge, Kathleen Kennedy-Powell didn't buy the illness routine, particularly after Sante took to name-calling and repeatedly called the prosecutor "Mr. D.A. Death."

Each received another life sentence that was added on to the more than 100 years they were already serving.


(Editor’s note: Adrian Havill is the author of “The Mother, the Son, and the Socialite”, the definitive account of the Kimes case. In May of 2001, a CBS movie-of-the week adaptation of the book, premiered. Mary Tyler Moore starred as Sante Kimes, Gabriel Olds was Kenny, and Jean Stapleton played Irene Silverman.)



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