Sunday, December 22, 2013

Scandal in Paradise: The True Story of Murderers, Slavery and Arson in Paradise Palms

Remnants of the home at 2121 Geronimo Way

On a quiet evening on the last day of January, 1998 heavy smoke began to rise from the dilapidated house at 2121 Geronimo Way.  The two-story home with its tall, narrow slit-like windows sat at the end of the Geronimo Way cul-de-sac long suffering from neglect.  Owned by part-time residents, it was only a matter of hours before the entire home, with its peeling paint and overgrown vegetation was gutted by the fire.  This would be only a blip on the radar of bizarre events that unraveled into one of the most compelling stories of horror that took place at the end of the 20th century, spawning multiple books, a made-for-TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore and Jean Stapleton in 2001, and a second made-for-TV movie in 2006.



The owners of the home were described by neighbors as strange.  First appearing on Paradise Palms’ Geronimo Way in 1980, the large, eccentric woman with mounds of hair, heavy perfume and copious amounts of jewelry instantly rubbed neighbors the wrong way. Describes as a ‘fat Liz Taylor’, her condescending attitude coupled with an oft-putting personality set a negative tone for the next two decades – that and the day after she moved in, she knocked on her new neighbor’s door asking to use the phone, claiming she was waiting for hers to be installed.  Immediately after she left the house, the neighbor’s Bulova watch went missing.   

Tall, bramble shrubs and a fence separated the double-golf course frontaged home from prying eyes, while large sliding glass doors were adorned with ‘keep out’ signs.  Visitors to the home would notice two strange things: Once one entered the home, they could only exit when the homeowner let them out with a key.  The other, was that there was always a Mexican maid on staff, barefoot.  
A rare image of the Kimeses Paradise Palms home, 2121 Geronimo Way

Aerial image of 2121 Geroimo Way, present day
Five years after that strange family moved to Geronimo Way, the quiet corner of Cochise Lane and Geronimo Way was once again disturbed.  A young, Mexican woman came running out of the home on Geronimo Way, panicked, screaming for help and begging for the police.  The episode didn’t last long - she was soon captured by the homeowner and brought back into the reclusive home.  Turns out she was an indentured servant, lured off the streets of Mexico City with promises of a better life in the United States, only to be forced into slavery in Paradise Palms by the woman.

Her name was Sante Kimes.  Or Sandy.  Or Santa.  Or any combination of Santa, Sante, Santee, Sandy, Sane, Taj, combined with the different last names of Walker, Singhrs, Singhers, Singer, Saligman, Powers, Kimes, Jacobson, or Chambers.  The New York Post once ran a front page headline of her naming her the ‘Dragon Lady’.  Others described her as ‘pure evil’.  She had spent a lifetime conning people for her own gain.  Born in Oklahoma in 1934, Sante Louise Singhrs moved with her family to California in the late 1930’s, where a tumultuous family life led to her and her three siblings being orphaned.  Or so we think.  Sante changes the story every time she tells it. 
Sante Kimes
Last of her siblings to be adopted, her new family moved her to Carson City where she graduated high school in 1952 and shortly thereafter married her high school sweetheart, Lee Powers, then divorced him three months later. She married again in 1956, had a son and divorced in 1961.  A decade later, after building skills in petty theft, prostitution and grifting, she met motel developer and millionaire Ken Kimes.  One of her more notorious grifts from just before she met Ken was the time she walked into a car dealership, conned the salesman into letting her take a test drive alone, and disappeared with a brand new Cadillac.  Three months later when police caught her, she told them she was taking the car on a test drive – and still was testing it out.

It’s unclear how the Sante and Ken met.  But by 1974 they were conning their way into Washington DC political circles with hopes of supplying every classroom in America with a bicentennial scheme called the Forum of Man.  The Forum of Man was really just a poster of state flags praising the United States, that Ken and Sante envisioned selling at $10 apiece to the over 250,000 classrooms across the United States. During this time Sante and Ken miraculously gained a meeting with First Lady Pat Nixon, presenting their scheme. Mrs. Nixon saw through the con and after dismissing the White House photographer, Sante produced her own camera to record the event, an image which was later used in the Bicentennial Times, which Sante and Ken used to gain legitimacy for their scheme.  It didn’t end there.

In February 1974, Sante and Ken slipped past the Secret Service and crashed a reception hosted by Vice President Gerald Ford, where they received face time with the second in command to hype up their plans.  High on their success, the pair then hopped in a cab and crashed receptions at the West Germany Embassy, the Belgium Embassy, and then a formal dinner at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.  Sante commandeered the floor of the Belgium Embassy making a brief pitch for the Forum of Man, before she was asked to leave.  The next day the two were exposed, making the front page of the Washington Post garnering the headline ‘The Biggest Crash Since 1929’ which effectively killed a Forum of Man dreams.
The Kimes with Vice President Ford

In 1975 Sante gave birth to her protégé, Kenny Kimes Jr.  Spending time between homes in Honolulu, the Bahamas and LaJolla, the Kimes arrived in Paradise Palms in 1980 after Sante had torched their Honolulu home in 1978 to cash in on insurance money.  Kenny was home schooled, isolated and protected by Sante. Private tutors were hired to educate him; however, Sante’s daily ritual of disrupting lessons every ten minutes bore frustration to each tutor. Kenny would have just one childhood friend, Vittorio Radho who lived on Cochise Lane. Sante would openly tell Vittorio’s father, Benito, what a genius Kenny was, how smart he was and how Vittorio wasn’t.

Sante and Ken Kimes enjoy life
During Kenny’s childhood, Sante continued on with her pattern of petty theft, grand theft and insurance fraud.  In 1980 Sante and Ken made a trip to the Mayflower Hotel where they encountered a woman named Katherine Kenworthy. Ken struck Katherine up in conversation, distracting her, while Sante slipped Katherine’s $6,500 mink coat off her chair, and slipped it under her own coat.  Because of Sante’s resemblance to Liz Taylor, several people in the room had been visually drawn to Sante and witnessed the event. Sante was caught, charged, and delayed the trial for five years claiming medical and health issues.  In 1985 a jury convicted her, but as the verdict was read Sante had feigned another health emergency claiming to be hit by a car, forcing the verdict to be read in her absence. Her lawyer called the court on it’s technical error, claiming the verdict was invalid due to Sante’s absence and therefore illegal.  Sante won, and was free on a technicality.
The Kimes Family in Honolulu
1985 was a banner year for Sante, as that was the year her Mexican slave had escaped from the house on Geronimo Way bringing attention to the horrors that were taking place within the home.  Sante had made a habit of traveling to Mexico with her family and Kenny’s tutor.  She would send Kenny’s tutor out on the streets, looking for young women who spoke no English, promising huge salaries and a better live in the United States.  The maids were placed in Sante and Ken’s various homes, subject to cruel treatment, locked inside and unable to communicate with their families.  Alerted to Sante’s unwilling houseguests, in August police swarmed in on Sante’s La Jolla home and arrested her. Sante claimed her home was in Las Vegas, and successfully gained prosecution there. During her transport to Nevada, Sante claimed yet another medical episode, and was taken to a local Hospital.  The ever scheming Sante managed to escape custody, and was arrested three days later at the Elbow Room bar, turned in by the bartender whom Sante thought was a friend.
Sante's trademark padlocked doors on 2121 Geronimo Way

Held without bail due to the Washington DC mink coat incident, the trial began and at least seven of Sante’s indentured servants testified against her, despite facing deportation back to Mexico.  One stated that every time Sante left the house, she was locked in and the telephone was taken away.  Another testified that she once burnt hamburger buns, prompting Sante to hit her. She also once had an allergic reaction and fainted.  Sante dragged her to the shower, dousing her in scalding hot water. When she moved out of the path of the hot water, Sante took a pan and began throwing scalding hot water on her.  It gets worse.  Another maid testified that she had been locked in a closet overnight, and at another time had been branded with a hot iron, revealing her truth-telling scars to the jury. 
The arrest of Sante Kimes

Sante was convicted; Ken was slapped with a $70,000 fine and ordered into an alcohol treatment program.  While Sante began serving a three-year sentence, Kenny began to lead a more normal life. Ken became a doting father, allowing Kenny to be enrolled at nearby St. Viator Elementary School, and later Bishop Gorman High School. Ken bought Kenny a piano, built a swimming pool in the backyard and allowed Kenny to have friends over.  The remnants of the pool can still be seen in the vacant lot on Geronimo Way.  After being isolated for so long, Kenny did have social problems and one Fourth of July, while playing with fireworks, accidentally torched a neighboring house.  The case was settled for $170,000.

Sante was released from prison in 1989.  She immediately undid all of Ken’s parenting, banning Kenny from associating with any of the friends he made.  The Kimes began to leap between houses, and Sante began plotting her next scheme.  She hired family lawyer Elmer Holmgren to torch her Honolulu home.  The Chubb Corporation refused to pay Sante’s insurance claim, as the 1978 fire was suspicious. Sante filed suit against Chubb, who in turn filed suit against her. Undaunted, Sante began traveling to New Jersey and showing up at Chubb headquarters, planting herself in executives offices weaving tales of woe. She learned the home phone numbers of Chubb executives, calling them in the middle of the night.  One executive in particular had a 17-year-old son.  Sante called the executive, trapping him on the phone for over an hour, and finished by telling him a story about her ‘friend’ whose 17-year-old son was dismembered and sent to his father in pieces.  Another time she appeared at the CEO of Chubb’s home, brandishing a bouquet a while lilies – the symbol of death.  A short time later, Sante had left a large black crow on the CEO’s wife’s car. 

Following a new policy of leaving behind no witnesses, Sante invited lawyer-turned-arsonist Elmer Holmgren on a vacation to Costa Rica. The Kimes returned to Las Vegas without Holmgren, who was never heard from again. Sante was busy that year, and began hiring movers to remove contents of the Geronimo Way home. She then filed insurance claims stating that all the furnishings had been stolen from her home.  In 1994 Ken Kimes suffered a fatal aneurism outside a bank in Santa Monica.  Sante hid Ken’s death until she could update his will to ensure that she would receive his $12 million fortune.  Ken had died while Kenny was away at college.  When Sante picked Kenny up from school at the end of the semester, Kenny asked where his father was.   Sante held out an urn, telling Kenny he was right here. Horrified, Kenny was then whisked away to Honolulu to dispose of his father’s ashes.

Sante had also transferred ownership of the Geronimo Way home into fellow real-estate fraud artist David Kazdin’s name.  Unbeknownst to Kazden, Sante took out a second mortgage on the home for nearly $280,000.  When a coupon book appeared at Kazden’s residence, he began asking questions.  Sante instructed college-drop out Kenny to dispose of Kazden.  Kazden was shot to death, his body found in a Los Angeles dumpster.  Kenny celebrated his monumental event by purchasing his mother a bouquet of flowers.

In September 1996, Sante and Kenny were in Nassau and were meeting with Syed Bilal Ahmed, a 55-year-old Bahraini who worked for the First Cayman Bank in the Cayman Islands.  He was investigating irregularities at the Gulf Union Bank in Nassau, a subsidiary of the First Cayman Bank.  The Kimeses were in constant contact with Ahment.  He was presented with an on-line business venture by Sante and Kenny and accompanied by them on his last trip to Nassau.  He was scheduled to have dinner with Sante the night he disappeared.  All his belongings were also missing from the Radisson Cable Beach Resort in Nassau where he was checked in.  Sante and Kenny left Nassau and the police were unable to question them regarding the incident.
 
Following Kazden’s untimely death, Sante went to a local homeless shelter and found a man named Robert McCarran.  She took him in, and transferred ownership of the Geronimo Way home from the deceased Kazden’s name to McCarran’s.  After ensuring that McCarran had taken out the maximum fire insurance policy from Fireman’s Fund, the house was torched. All fourteen rooms of 2121 Geronimo Way had been soaked in gasoline.  When the fire department notified the insurance company of their findings, the Kimeses and McCarran were nowhere to be found.  Finally Fireman’s Fund executives heard from McCarran and had arranged a meeting with McCarran to discuss the blaze; however, McCarran would only agree to meet at a hotel lobby near LAX.   Turned out the Kimes’ had trapped McCarran in a hotel room, forcing him to rehearse a fictitious story.  If he made a mistake in his account, Sante would beat him. At the meeting with the Fireman’s Fund executives, McCarran repeated Sante’s story of events, while Sante and Kenny sat nonchalantly on an adjacent bench sipping tea, eyeing McCarran. McCarran even gave Fireman’s Fund executives Sante’s bank account number in which to wire insurance funds to. Following this event, McCarran managed to escape Sante’s custody and told his story to investigators.

Sante and Kenny began their next scheme.  Sante contacted a Cedar City car dealership with who she had purchased automobiles from previously. She requested a green Lincoln Town car to be delivered to her in Los Angeles.  Sante Kimes was a multi-millionaire, and a valued customer to the dealer, and there was no need to question this transaction.  The dealership delivered the car, and Sante delivered the dealer a phony check.  Sante and Ken then took off on a road trip to Louisiana and Florida. Needing temporary lodgings, Sante approached a RV dealer in Baton Rouge and used a similar scheme to obtain an $80,000 RV utilizing a phony check.  The RV was found abandoned a few weeks later in Florida.

Sante and Kenny turned up a few weeks later in New York City.  Kenny rented an apartment in a townhouse owned by octogenarian millionaire Irene Silverman, for $6,000 a month cash.  Posing as business partners, the Kimeses began to plot to forge Mrs. Silverman’s signature on documents, signing over ownership of the townhouse to them. Rightfully suspicious of mother-and-son Sante and Kenny, Mrs. Silverman began to keep notes in her journal about the pair, noting physical details and other irregularities.  

On July 5th, 1998 Mrs. Silverman disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.  Coincidentally, later that day police closed in on Sante and Kenny – not alerted by the disappearance of Mrs. Silverman, but by the stolen vehicle report filed by the Cedar City car dealer. 


Investigations on the pair had already been underway by the FBI, and the air found themselves facing 117 different charges, including robbery, grand larceny and burglary and forgery, along with the murder charge of Silverman.  The Kimeses were tried in New York, where Sante was eventually convicted of 58 crimes and sentenced to 120 years in prison.   Protégé Kenny was convicted of 60 crimes and also received a 125-year sentence. At her sentencing, Sante was asked by the judge if she had anything to say. She jumped to her feet, and began a soliloquy that lasted for over an hour.  Fed up, the judge eventually stopped her, exclaiming, “Mrs. Kimes, your performance is over.” 
Sante Kimes grandstands in front of the court

Months later convicted Kenny gave an interview to Court TV reporter Maria Zone.  The Kimeses were both facing extradition to California to face charges in the death of David Kazden.  Not wanting his mother to face California’s death penalty, Kenny held Maria Zone hostage for three hours with a ball-point pen held to her throat.  After a torturous three hours, Kenny was distracted and guards were eventually able to wrestle him to the ground and free Ms. Zone.
Sante and Kenny Kimes give an interview

The stunt didn’t work, and Sante was extradited to California in 2002, where she and Kenny were charged with Kazdin's murder. Kenny entered a plea deal, pleading guilty to first degree murder. Not wanting to face the death penalty, Kenny agreed to testify against his mother. Sante was ultimately convicted of Kazdin's murder and on March 21, 2005, both were sentenced to life in prison.  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 continues to maintain her innocence, and won’t be eligible to be released from prison until 2119.  Her sentencing judge named her ‘one of the most evil individuals.’ 



This has been a very brief recap of the Kimeses and their life in Paradise Palms. The web that Sante, Ken and Kenny spun was extremely complex and significantly deeper than can be covered in what is this very brief overview.  Their long, twisted story reads like fiction, but is darkly true and close to home.  There have been several books published about this real-life horror story, including ‘Son of a Grifter’, by Sante’s first-born son, ‘Dead End: The Crime Story of the Decade--Murder, Incest and High-Tech Thievery’, ‘The Mother, The Son, And The Socialite: The True Story Of A Mother-Son Crime Spree,’ ‘The Anonomaty of Evil,’ ‘Female Terror,’ and mentions in countless other anthologies.   There’s also the two TV movies, ‘Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes’ and ‘A Little thing Called Murder.’  Our sympathies go out to the victims of the Kimses, and we hope that no other individuals have to face such maladies that the Kimeses endured on those within their grasps.  
Mary Tyler Moore as Sante Kimes

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