Sante Kimes (née Singhrs; July 24, 1934 – May 19, 2014[4]) also known as the Dragon Lady, was an American murderer, con artist, robber, serial arsonist, and possible serial killer who was convicted of two murders, as well as robbery, forgery, violation of anti-slavery laws and numerous other crimes. Many of these crimes were committed with the assistance of her son, Kenneth Kimes. They were tried and convicted together for the murder of Irene Silverman, along with 117 other charges.

Sante Kimes
NYS DOCS mugshot (2000)
Sandra Louise Singhrs[1]

(1934-07-24)July 24, 1934
DiedMay 19, 2014(2014-05-19) (aged 79)
OccupationCon artist
Edward Walker
(m. 1957; div. 1969)
Kenneth Kimes
(m. 1981; died 1994)
Conviction(s)Murder (2 counts), robbery, slavery, forgery, over 100 other charges
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment without parole plus 125 years

Kenneth made a plea deal in the murder of David Kazdin, pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against his mother in her trial for Kazdin's murder in return for her not facing a death sentence. Sante was subsequently convicted of that murder. The pair were also suspected but never charged in a third murder in the Bahamas, to which her son later confessed.

Early life and criminal history


Sante Kimes was born Sandra Louise Singhrs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the third of four children to Mary Van Horn (July 20, 1897 – November 11, 1969), a native of Illinois, who was of Dutch ancestry, and Prama Mahendra Singhrs (January 16, 1889 – June 22, 1940), an East Indian immigrant.[5][6] When Sante was 3 years old, her father abandoned the family and her mother resorted to prostitution to support her children, resulting in Sante being molested by several adults. According to her estranged sister, Sante had an incestuous relationship with her older brother and was a pyromaniac who held lit matches underneath her sister's fingers against her will.[7] As a child, she would tie up the goats and dogs on her family's farm and use hatpins to mutilate and torture them.[7]

When she was a teenager, Sante moved with her mother and sister to Los Angeles, California, and was promptly adopted by Edwin and Mary Chambers, along with another boy. She moved with her new family to Carson City, Nevada, where she graduated from Carson High School in 1952.[8] At school, Sante earned a reputation as a bully who frequently belittled and intimidated younger students.[7] In 1956 she reunited with a former boyfriend from high school, Edward Walker. They married the following year and had one son, Kent Walker. After a 1961 shoplifting conviction in Sacramento, Sante separated and reconciled intermittently with Walker, but their divorce was not finalized until 1969.[4]

Walker was a general contractor who built homes in the Sacramento area; in December 1960, Sante set fire to a house he had built to fraudulently collect insurance.[7] She only destroyed the kitchen and received US$10,000 (equivalent to $103,000 in 2023). During the course of their marriage, dozens of homes that Walker had supervised burned down, and Sante had a number of affairs with Walker's wealthy business associates. After her first divorce, Sante and her son travelled to Palm Springs. In 1971 she met motel tycoon Kenneth Keith Kimes Sr. (November 16, 1917 – March 28, 1994) after reading about his divorce in Millionaire Magazine and learning that he had a net worth of approximately $20 million (equivalent to $115 million in 2023). They married in Clark County, Nevada, on April 5, 1981. They had one son, Kenneth Kimes, Jr. (born March 24, 1975).[4]

Kimes spent the better part of her life fleecing people of money, expensive merchandise and real estate, either through arson, elaborate con games, forgery or outright theft.[5] She committed insurance fraud on numerous occasions, frequently by committing arson and then collecting money for property damage. Sante delighted in introducing her husband Kenneth Sr. as an ambassador, a ploy that even gained the couple access to a White House reception in the Blair House during the Ford administration, and sometimes even impersonating Elizabeth Taylor, whom she resembled slightly.

Kimes also committed many acts of fraud that were not even financially necessary, such as enslaving maids when she could easily afford to pay them.[9] She frequently offered young, homeless illegal immigrants housing and employment, then kept them as virtual prisoners by threatening to report them to the authorities if they did not follow her orders.[10] As a result, she and Kenneth Sr. spent years squandering 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 and was successfully sued by Honolulu civil attorney David Schutter in civil court.[11] Kenneth Sr. took a plea bargain and agreed to complete an alcohol treatment program. He and their son lived a reasonably normal life until Sante was released from prison in 1989. Kenneth Sr. died of a brain aneurysm in 1994.



Elmer Holmgren


On September 18, 1990, Kimes hired 50-year-old lawyer Elmer Ambrose Holmgren to burn her Honolulu home due to a lien on the property, and the fact it would have cost US$900,000 (equivalent to $2.1 million in 2023) to sell it. Insurance investigators interviewed Holmgren, who admitted his involvement in the arson.[12] On October 24, Sante burned Holmgren's office because he possessed a number of legal documents related to the case which would have incriminated her.

Before a case could be brought to trial, Holmgren told his family that he was taking a trip to Costa Rica with Sante and Kenneth Sr. on August 2, 1991.[13] He has not been seen since. In November 2000, Kenneth Jr. admitted that his mother had told him that she killed Holmgren by hitting him in the head with a hammer while she was in the backseat and he was riding in the front passenger's seat. His body was never found and no charges were brought against any member of the Kimes family.[14]

Jacqueline Levitz


Kimes and Kenneth Jr. are suspects in the 1995 abduction of 62-year-old Mary Jacqueline Levitz, heiress to the Levitz Furniture fortune, from her home in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Levitz was last seen on November 18, 1995, by a store clerk at a business where she bought wallpaper for her new house, and was never heard from again.[15] On November 20, a relative discovered Levitz' front door open. Her bedroom carpet and mattress were soaked in blood. Signs of a violent struggle, including torn-off fingernails, were scattered on the floor.

Police believe Levitz was the victim of a botched kidnapping and that her body may have been disposed of in the Mississippi River, which ran near her home. After the 1998 disappearance of Irene Silverman (see below), similarities were noted between her case and Levitz' unsolved kidnapping. However, neither Sante or Kenneth Jr. were ever charged in relation to this case.[16] On November 18, 2000, Levitz was declared legally dead.[17]

Syed Bilal Ahmed


Kenneth Jr. confessed to murdering 46-year-old banker Syed Bilal Ahmed, who was in charge of Sante's offshore bank accounts, at his mother's behest in Nassau, Bahamas, on September 4, 1996,[18] which had been suspected by Bahamian authorities at the time.[19] He testified that the two acted together to drug Ahmed, drown him in a bathtub and dump his body offshore,[20] but no charges were ever filed in that case. Sante denied any involvement in or knowledge of the murders, and she claimed that Kenneth Jr. confessed solely to avoid receiving the death penalty.[21]

David Kazdin


63-year-old David Kazdin had allowed Sante to use his name on the deed of a home in Las Vegas that was actually occupied by her and Kenneth Sr. in the 1970s. Several years later, Sante convinced a notary to forge Kazdin's signature on a loan application for $280,000 (equivalent to $523,000 in 2023), with the house as collateral. When Kazdin discovered the forgery through a letter sent from his bank and threatened to expose Sante, she ordered him killed.[22]

On March 9, 1998, Kenneth Jr. murdered Kazdin in his Los Angeles home 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 International Airport (LAX) in March 1998. The murder weapon was never recovered, having been disassembled and dropped into a storm sewer.[22]

Irene Silverman


82-year-old socialite and former ballerina Irene Zambelli Silverman[14] was last seen at her townhouse on East 65th Street in New York City on July 5, 1998. Kenneth Jr. was a tenant in Silverman's mansion at the time she went missing, having moved into one of her apartments the previous month using an alias.[23]

Authorities arrested Sante and Kenneth Jr. on the day of Silverman's disappearance with the initial charges stemming from a fraudulent check written in Utah for $14,900 (equivalent to $28,000 in 2023) earlier in 1998; they were charged with Silverman's murder in December 1998 and convicted in 2000.[24] Authorities believe mother and son devised a scheme whereby Sante would assume the identity of Silverman and appropriate ownership of her mansion, which was valued at $7.7 million (equivalent to $12.4 million in 2023).[citation needed] The pair recorded Silverman's phone conversations and kept a set of fifteen notebooks on which Sante had written detailed descriptions of mortgage fraud schemes involving many intended victims, including both Silverman and Kazdin.[citation needed]

When he was arrested, Kenneth Jr. had in his possession Silverman's keys, cassettes of her tape-recorded calls, loaded firearms, wigs, masks, plastic handcuffs, $30,000 in cash (equivalent to $56,000 in 2023), an empty stun gun box and a substance similar to a "date rape" drug.[citation needed] He also held a forged deed which approved the transfer of Silverman's townhouse to Sante's shell corporation for $395,000 (equivalent to $738,000 in 2023).[citation needed] During the trial for Kazdin's murder, Kenneth Jr. confessed that after his mother had used a stun gun on Silverman, he strangled her, stuffed her corpse into a bag and deposited it in a dumpster in Hoboken, New Jersey.[25]

Investigation and arrest


The investigation into the Kimes family officially began on March 14, 1998, when Kazdin's remains were found in a dumpster near LAX. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detectives assigned to the investigation focused on the mortgage application with the forged signature that falsely linked Kazdin to a house in Las Vegas which had been partly burned down in an attempted arson. The supposed homeowner turned out to be David McCarran, a homeless man who said Sante and Kenneth Jr. had lit the arson fire. He also claimed to have been forced to stay in the house by the Kimes family, who hoped to collect the insurance money from the loss of the house.

Investigators also located Stan Patterson, a second man who confessed to selling a handgun to Kenneth Jr. which he used to kill Kazdin. He was told of several potential felony charges stemming from the murder and mortgage fraud, and reluctantly agreed to cooperate with police in apprehending the pair to avoid prosecution. At the end of June 1998, Patterson got a call from Sante about an expensive townhouse in New York's Upper West Side she wanted to sell, and she needed his help with the paperwork. Patterson agreed to meet her in New York on July 5. He informed the FBI about the scheduled meeting before he left on July 3. Two days later, Patterson met Sante at the New York Hilton around 6 PM that evening. Around 7 PM, Kenneth Jr. arrived at the Hilton and approached Sante. Upon his appearance FBI and New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers arrested both of them.

Trials, imprisonment and death


The Kimeses were tried in New York first for the Silverman murder. Evidence recovered from their car helped establish the case for trying them for Kazdin's murder as well.[26] The Silverman trial was unusual in many aspects, namely the fact that no body was ever recovered. Nonetheless, the jury was unanimous in voting to convict Sante and Kenneth Jr. not only of murder but of 117 other charges including robbery, burglary, conspiracy, grand larceny, illegal weapons possession, forgery and eavesdropping on their first poll on the subject.[27]

The judge also took the unusual step of ordering Sante 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. He threatened to have Sante handcuffed during further court appearances if she persisted and restricted her telephone access to calls to her lawyers. The judge contended that Sante 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. Sante 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.[28]

During the sentencing portion of the Silverman trial, Sante made a prolonged statement to the court blaming the authorities, including their own lawyers, for framing her and her son. She went on to compare their trial to the Salem Witch Trials and claimed that the prosecutors were guilty of "murdering the Constitution" before the judge told her to be quiet. When the statement was concluded, the judge responded that Sante was a sociopath and a degenerate, and that her son was a dupe and a "remorseless predator", before imposing the maximum sentence on both of them.[29] This amounted to 120 years for Sante and 124 years for her son, effectively sentencing both of them to life imprisonment.

In October 2000, while doing an interview, Kenneth Jr. held Court TV reporter Maria Zone hostage by pressing a ballpoint pen into her throat. Zone had interviewed Kenneth Jr. in prison once before without incident.[30] His demand was that his mother not be extradited to California, where the two faced the death penalty for the murder of Kazdin. After four hours of negotiation, Kenneth Jr. removed the pen from Zone's throat. Negotiators created a distraction which allowed them to quickly remove Zone and wrestle Kenneth Jr. to the ground.

In March 2001, Kenneth Jr. was extradited to Los Angeles to stand trial for the murder of Kazdin. Sante was extradited to Los Angeles in June 2001. During that trial in June 2004, Kenneth Jr. changed his plea to "guilty" and implicated his mother in Kazdin's murder in exchange for a plea deal that his mother should not receive the death penalty if convicted. He then testified in trial against his mother, exposing every detail about their multiple crimes and describing how she indoctrinated him into becoming her accomplice.

Sante again made a prolonged statement denying the murders and accusing police and prosecutors of various kinds of misconduct, and she was again eventually ordered by the presiding judge to be silent.[31] The judge in the Kazdin case called Sante "one of the most evil individuals" she had encountered in her time on the bench.[32] Sante was serving a life sentence plus 125 years at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York, where she died on May 19, 2014.[33] Kenneth Jr. is currently incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in California.

In media


In 2000, NY Daily News crime reporter Alice McQuillan published They Call Them Grifters: The True Story of Sante and Kenneth Kimes. 2001 made-for-TV movie, Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes, starred Mary Tyler Moore as Sante, Gabriel Olds as Kenneth Jr. 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. Sante was also featured in a 2009 episode of the television show Dateline[34] and a 2015 episode of Diabolical Women.[35] The Kimes' story was recounted on Oxygen's Snapped, in an episode that aired on August 30, 2020.[36] Gary Indiana's novel Depraved Indifference (2009) is substantially based on the Kimeses case. The season 5 episode of Cold Case "Thick as Thieves" is based on this case, as is the Law & Order season 9 episode "Venom". The book Son of a Grifter was written by Sante's non-criminal son, Kent Walker. Once Upon A Crime Episode 067: Murder in the Family: Sante and Kenny Kimes

See also



  1. ^ "Sante Kimes". Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  2. ^ "He Said 'No'". People.
  3. ^ King, Jeanne (March 20, 2002). Dead End: The Crime Story of the Decade—Murder, Incest and High-Tech Thievery. M. Evans. ISBN 9781461734291 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b c d King, Jeanne (July 10, 2002). Dead End: The Crime Story of the Decade : Murder, Incest, and High-tech Thievery. M. Evans. ISBN 9780871319425 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ a b McFadden, Robert (July 14, 1998). "A FAMILY PORTRAIT: A special report.; A Twisted Tale of Deceit, Fraud and Violence". New York Times. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  6. ^ Walker, Kent; Schone, Mark (2001). Son of a Grifter. New York: Harper Collins. pp. 15–19. ISBN 978-0060188658. OCLC 46343316.
  7. ^ a b c d Santé Kimes Documentary (A&E Biography) 2001, YouTube.
  8. ^ Havill, Adrian (April 15, 1999). The Mother, The Son, And The Socialite: The True Story Of A Mother-Son Crime Spree. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312970697.
  9. ^ Plotz, David (2001-05-20). "Take a Son to Work David Plotz, The New York Times 5/20/2001". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  10. ^ Cohen, Adam (1998-07-20). "The Landlady Vanishes". Time. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  11. ^ "Woman convicted in isle slavery held in N.Y. missing-person case". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. 1998-07-11. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  12. ^ The Slave Girls, Crime Library.
  13. ^ Jury Sequestered, Kimes Judge Discloses Other Accusations, The New York Times.
  14. ^ a b The Lady Vanishes, 1999-11-20. Retrieved 2014-02-10
  15. ^ 1424DFMS - Mary Jacqueline Levitz, The Doe Network.
  16. ^ "Police: Mom, Son Not Tied To Levitz Disappearance". Sun-Sentinel. 29 July 1998. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  17. ^ Mary Jacqueline Levitz, The Charley Project.
  18. ^ Kimes, Son Get Life Sentence in L.A. Murder ( Kimes, Son Get Life Sentence in L.A. Murder Reuters/Washington Post 3/22/2005]
  19. ^ "Suspects in a Disappearance Have Been Running for Years". The New York Times. 1998-07-10. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  20. ^ "Associated Press/The Union Democrat, 6/23/2004". 2004-06-23. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  21. ^ "I loved Irene, Sante insists Michelle Caruso, New York Daily News, 7/24/2004". 2004-06-24. Retrieved 2011-04-10. [dead link]
  22. ^ a b "Mother-Son Duo Faces Day in L.A. Court; Law: The pair who killed a New York socialite will be tried in the 1998 slaying of a local man. Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2002". 2002-06-26. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  23. ^ Irene Silverman, The Charley Project.
  24. ^ 2296DFNY - Irene Silverman, The Doe Network.
  25. ^ "Murderer Reveals New Details In Slaying of Socialite in 1998 Thomas J. Luek, The New York Times, 6/24/2004". The New York Times. 2004-06-24. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  26. ^ "Con Artist Is Returned to L.A. for Murder Trial; Crime: He and his mother are accused of killing a local businessman. They were convicted last year of slaying a wealthy New York woman. Twlla Decker, Los Angeles Times 3/22/2001". 2001-03-22. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  27. ^ "Mother and Son Guilty of Killing A Socialite Who Vanished in '98 David Rhode, The New York Times, 5/19/2000". The New York Times. 2000-05-19. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  28. ^ "Sante Kimes Chastised by Judge Over Contacts With News Media David Rhode, The New York Times, 5/17/2000". The New York Times. 2000-05-17. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  29. ^ "Mother and Son Are Given Life Sentences Katherine E. Finkelstein, The New York Times, 6/28/2000". The New York Times. 2000-06-28. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  30. ^ "Kenneth Kimes Takes Reporter As a Hostage Shaila K. Dewan, The New York Times, 10/11/200". The New York Times. 2000-10-11. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  31. ^ "Sante Kimes Denies 1998 Slaying; She says the Granada Hills victim was her 'best friend' and that she didn't order his death. Anna Gorman, Loas Angeles Times, 6/22/2004". 2004-06-22. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  32. ^ "Life Terms For Pair The New York Times, 3/22/2005". New York Times. Los Angeles (Calif); New York City. 2005-03-22. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  33. ^ McShane, Larry (2014-05-20). "Murder, grifting mastermind Sante Kimes dead in prison at 79". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  34. ^ "DATELINE: Real Life Mysteries ~ The Grifters ~". CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  35. ^ "Season 1 Episode Guide". TV Guide. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  36. ^ The Case of Sante and Kenny Kimes Snapped, Episode 481