On the surface, Sante Kimes was a doting mother who loved luxury. She drove Cadillacs and was often seen dripping in diamonds and expensive furs.
But her glamorous appearance hid a horrific crime spree that was only brought to an end after she and her son Kenneth “Kenny” Kimes Jr. were charged with the murder of wealthy Manhattan socialite Irene Silverman.
The twisted story of the mother and son grifters is documented in an episode of Investigation Discovery’s Vanity Fair Confidential entitled “Sins of the Mother.”
Most of America heard about Sante and Kenny after the disappearance of Irene Silverman, an 82-year-old wealthy widow who rented out rooms in her $7.5 million townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.But investigators would soon learn that the fun-loving socialite’s murder was just the tip of the iceberg: Sante had been living a life of crime for decades. “My mother’s life was a life of secrets,” Sante’s elder son, Kent Walker, said. “She would only let you know what she wanted you to know.”
Sante was born in 1934 in Oklahoma City. Her father was a farmer who died when she was six years old — and her family fell on hard times as her mother struggled to support Sante and her three siblings.
Sante spent several years roaming the streets before later being adopted by Ed and Mary Chambers, who lived in Carson City, Nevada. The couple reportedly doted on Sante — and her early experiences had made the young woman determined to never struggle for survival again.
Sante married Ed Walker when she was in her twenties — and soon after, began to commit arson by burning down homes that Walker built, and scamming insurance companies by collecting the money.
The couple later divorced, and Sante and her son, Kent, settled in Palm Springs. This time, she had a new goal: She was determined to marry rich.
In 1971, while working for a society magazine, Sante met Kenneth Kimes Sr., a rugged real estate professional 18 years her senior — most importantly, with a net worth of around $21 million. The couple married, and Sante gave birth to her second son, Kenneth Kimes Jr.In 1985, a Mexican maid escaped the household and told police that Sante and her husband Ken Sr., had a pattern of kidnapping young Central American women and smuggling them in the U.S. to use as personal slaves. Sante would reportedly torture the women with scalding showers, starve them, and burn them with hot irons in her Las Vegas mansion.
Attorney Douglas Crawford presented a unique defense in the civil suit by encouraging insurance companies to make slavery a “covered act” under a homeowner’s insurance policy.
Kenneth Kimes pleaded guilty and received a three-year suspended sentence, but in 1986, a jury found Sante guilty. She was sentenced to five years behind bars.
“Sante always did everything she could to isolate Kenny, and gave the message that he was superior,” Crawford said. Kenny Jr. had grown up in a highly controlled environment. He was home schooled — and his mother had started coaching him early on how to successfully shoplift and steal.
But while his mother was behind bars, Kenny lived a happier time. He went back to public school and was allowed to play with friends. But just three years later, his mother was released from prison.
In 1994, Kenneth Sr. died of an aneurism — and left Sante absolutely nothing in his will.
Sante began to get more and more desperate. She allegedly torched the family’s residence, but the Las Vegas Police Arson Unit investigated and discovered that the ownership of the home had been transferred to David Kazdin, a family friend.
Kenneth Sr. and Sante had transferred the home into Kazdin’s name when they got into legal trouble in order to avoid lawsuits. Kazdin allegedly believed that the home had been transferred back. Since she could sell the house, Sante took out a $250,000 mortgage on the property in Kazdin’s name.
He found out about the fraud, and became furious. Then in March 1998, Kazdin’s body was discovered inside a Los Angeles International Airport dumpster.
Kenny would later confess that he fatally shot Kazdin in the back of the head to keep Kazdin from going to the police. He admitted that after the murder, he bought flowers for his mother to celebrate, and that she gave him a kiss.
They started driving east, but a bad check Sante wrote to a Utah car dealer for a Lincoln town car would turn out to be their undoing.
On July 5, police arrested Sante and Kenny and charged them with fraud. Police found hundreds of items including wigs, .22 caliber bullets, flex cuffs, a powerful sedative, and a Glock handgun in the Lincoln that Sante and Kenny were driving. They also, damningly, found a black bag with $10,000 in cash and an ID that belonged to Irene Silverman.
Sante told investigators that Irene was friend of hers, but police later learned that Sante and Kenny had targeted the wealthy widow for months, and tricked her into renting out her apartment. They had planned to kill Silverman and steal the deed to her home. Sante and Kenny Kimes were both sentenced to life in prison for Silverman’s murder.
While on trial for Kazdin’s murder, Kenny testified against Sante in order to avoid the death penalty. He confessed that he zapped the 82-year-old victim with a stun gun before strangling her, while his mother urged him to “Do it!”
Sante continued to insist that she was innocent. She died of natural causes while incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 2014. She was 79.
Kenneth Kimes is currently serving life in prison in California.
For more on Sante and Kenny Kimes, watch the “Sins of the Mother” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Vanity Fair Confidential on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Sante and Kenny Kimes [Investigation Discovery]