When we think of grifters or con artists, what usually comes to mind is the romanticized version depicted in films like "The Sting," or, more recently, "Catch Me If You Can." Hollywood often paints a picture of the con artist as a modern-day hero. He swindles the rich and greedy, people who on some level we believe deserve to be swindled. He does so armed with nothing more than street smarts, charm and a lot of chutzpah. You gotta admire that, right?
In reality, modern day grifters like Sante Kimes and her son Kenny offer little to be admired. This mother and son team of con artists is certainly no pair of heroes. They instead more closely resemble the darkly twisted mother and son grifters played by Angelica Huston and John Cusack in the film "The Grifters."Some might even argue that the Kimes story is far less elegant, more second rate trashy, dime-store detective novel than Hollywood tale.
In fact, Sante and her son Kenny are now serving life sentences without parole after being sentenced on March 21, 2005 in connection with the 1998 shooting death of California businessman David Kazdin.
As the story goes....
As the story goes, Sante had a long history of "short cons," including shoplifting, petty theft and forgery, starting basically from birth. By high school, she was busted for shoplifting and stole her adoptive father's credit card. Upon graduation, she married and divorced twice in quick succession and had one son, Kent, whom she apparently abandoned to his father.
After her second divorce, she continued on a steady diet of shoplifting and stealing. She later turned to prostitution and upped the ante on her thievery career to grand theft auto.
Sante then met a kindred spirit in Kenneth Kimes, a fellow con artist who already amassed a substantial fortune when they met. The pair later had a son Kenny although it is questionable whether they ever married. According to one version, Sante simply forged a marriage certificate.
In any case, the fact that the couple was already rich didn't seem to matter. They pulled scam after scam together, swindling their way across America and amassing more wealth.
Eventually, the couple was finally charged - with slavery. It seems Sante had acquired a taste for luring young girls from the streets of Mexico under the auspices of needing housework and forcing them into servitude where she would torture them.
Kenneth Kimes pled out of this one, receiving a suspended sentence and a brief stint in an alcohol rehab program. Sante did five years prison time.
Growing Up Kimes
The younger Kenny Kimes grew up in this environment, encouraged by example to lie about even the most basic things. From the beginning, Sante tool control of Kenny, even going so far as to hire playmates for him.
By all accounts, when Kenny entered college at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Sante began sleeping with her son, leaving her husband to his own devices.
Although the pair have never admitted it, those who witnessed their relationship think it is likely that Sante and Kenny Kimes had sexual intercourse and that Sante victimized her son sexually while he was growing up.
When Sante's husband died suddenly of a heart attack, she didn't tell anyone and instead covered up his death. Apparently, he hadn't updated his will. And, she wasn't included. On top of that, there was the question of whether Sante had forged the marriage certificate in the first place.
Rather than risk losing the money, Sante simply got into the habit of forging her husband's name on checks and legal documents, spending his $12 million dollar fortune.
It also seems that her prison time on slavery charges left quite an impression on Sante. So rather than risk prison, Sante apparently began killing witnesses.
In fact, Sante and her son Kenny killed several people who got in her way after the elder Kenneth's death, including David Kazdin, a former business associate of Kenneth Kimes. Kazdin apparently got understandably angry when he learned that Sante had forged his name on a $280,000 mortgage.
Sante instructed Kenny to kill Kazdin and to dispose of his body, which Kenny willingly did. A witness says that Kenny bought Sante a huge bouquet of flowers after murdering Kazdin.
Eventually, Sante enlisted her son to pick up where she and the elder Kenneth had left off, pulling cons together, swindling people and using bad checks to purchase cars and other things. They began working their way across the country and ended up in Florida, where they heard about a rich heiress in New York that ran a bed and breakfast for the wealthy.
The Final Con
Days before July 5, 1998, Kenny Kimes showed up at the door of 83-year old Manhattan socialite Irene Silverman, looking for a place to stay. Silverman had turned her luxurious $7 million mansion into a bed and breakfast for the rich and famous.
Kenny told Silverman her place had been recommended to him by a mutual friend, cleverly dropping the name of an old friend of Silverman's. He flashed a lot of money and paid the $6,000 bill for the room in cash. A few days later, his "assistant," Sante Kimes, showed up at the mansion to stay with him.
Sometime during this period, the pair placed a call to Stan Patterson, an old friend from Las Vegas, asking for his temporary help running a bed and breakfast.
On July 5, 1998, while Silverman's staff was away for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Kimes and her son Kenny murdered Silverman and disposed of her body. Kenny strangled Silverman with his bare hands, placed her body into a suitcase and wrestled it into a car. After disposing of the body, Sante and Kenny went to meet Patterson.
Unbeknownst to Sante and Kenny, the FBI was already hot on their trail for a number of crimes, including the Kazdin murder in California. They had recently contacted Patterson, who agreed to cooperate with them in exchange for immunity. Patterson met the mother-son duo wearing a bullet-proof vest. The FBI swarmed in and arrested the pair.
Sante Kimes was initially convicted of 58 crimes and was sentenced to 120 years in prison. She began serving her sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. She fought extradition to California, most likely because of California's death penalty law. Kenny was convicted of 60 crimes and sentenced to 125 years in prison. He was then expedited to California to face charges in that state.
The drama didn't stop there. Several years later, in 2001, Kenny grabbed a t.v. reporter during a jailhouse interview and threatened to harm her with a pen, demanding that his mother not be extradited to California to face trial on charges of murdering Kazdin. Kenny's attempt was unsuccessful--he was wrestled to the ground and subdued.
Sante Kimes was in fact extradited to California in 2002, and the pair was charged with Kazdin's murder. Kenny entered a plea agreement in 2004, pleading guilty to first degree murder. Facing the prospect of California's death penalty, Kenny finally turned against his mother and agreed to testify against her. Sante was ultimately convicted of Kazdin's murder.
On March 21, 2005, both Sante Kimes and Kenny Kimes were sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Sante did not show any remorse, nor did she go down without a fight--at her sentencing, she continued ranting and raving about the unfairness of it all from a wheelchair.
Sante Kimes will return to New York to serve her sentence, while it is expected that Kenny Kimes will serve the remainder of his sentence in California
Unfortunately, the FBI caught up with mother and son grifters a couple of days too late for Irene Silverman. Her body has never been found.