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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.

June 26, 2002|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The unmade bed caught Linda Kazdin by surprise. Her father, David, had been trying to sell his house and was keeping it tidy for potential buyers. Then she noticed the blinking light on the answering machine, with more than 10 unheard messages.

When she learned a short time later that her father had been killed, she didn't hesitate to tell detectives where they should begin their investigation: Sante and Kenneth Kimes.

The Kimeses were captured in New York four months later, on the same day an elderly widow disappeared from her home. They became the most notorious mother and son duo in the nation when they were convicted of killing socialite Irene Silverman in a plot to swindle her out of a multimillion-dollar mansion. Now, two years later, the Kimeses are facing trial in Los Angeles in connection with the Kazdin slaying, in a case that prosecutors say involves an intricate scheme of forgery, arson and fraudulent loans.

The Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted the Kimeses last month on charges of murdering Kazdin, 63, who ran a photocopying business out of his home. Both Kenneth Kimes, 27, and Sante Kimes, 67, have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to return to court today for a pretrial hearing. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

Recently unveiled grand jury transcripts describe in detail the March 13, 1998, slaying and the Kimeses' alleged motive. Much of that detail comes from a witness who told grand jurors that he and Kenneth Kimes had wrapped the body in plastic bags, put it in the trunk of Kazdin's Jaguar and discarded it in a trash bin.

Prosecutors say the Kimeses killed Kazdin because he discovered that they had taken out a $280,000 loan in his name and he had reported the fraud to bank officials. They allege that Kenneth Kimes pulled the trigger, while his mother orchestrated the murder.

According to the transcripts, Kenneth drove to Kazdin's house in Granada Hills with Shawn Little, who had been hired by the Kimeses to work on their cars. Little testified that he waited outside while Kenneth entered the house. Then Little said he heard a popping sound, "like a gun going off." Kimes waved him inside, where Little said he saw a man lying on the floor and gasping for air. Kimes was holding a small automatic gun and said he had shot the man, the transcripts say.

"He told me to help him with this body, to help him clean up and help him put this body in bags," Little said.

Little, who has received immunity for his testimony, said Kimes wiped down the counters and ordered Little to look for checkbooks and bank statements. Little said he then left in the Jaguar and Kimes drove away in a Lincoln Continental. They bought new pants and watched part of a movie before dropping Kazdin's body in a trash bin and the dismantled gun in a storm drain, Little said. Finally, he said, they abandoned the Jaguar, stopped to buy a $100 bouquet of flowers for Sante Kimes and returned to the Bel-Air house where they were staying.

Body in Trash Bin

Kazdin's body was discovered the next day in a trash bin near Los Angeles International Airport. He had been shot once in the back of the head with a 22-caliber bullet. Sante Kimes, who has two sons, has a criminal history dating back to the 1960s that includes convictions for petty larceny, credit card fraud and stealing a mink coat from a piano bar. She was also convicted in 1986 on slaveholding charges after treating her maids like indentured servants. Her then-husband, Kenneth Kimes Sr., who built luxury hotels, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge

After her husband's death in 1994, Sante Kimes' crimes took a more violent turn, authorities say. "They've been deemed these grifters or drifters," LAPD Det. Dennis English said of Sante and Kenneth Jr. "But a true grifter is in it for the con, not for the kill. What makes somebody jump from just fraud to murder I don't know."

Sante Kimes is also suspected of being involved in the disappearance of a bank official in the Cayman Islands and of a man who told federal agents that he had burned one of the Kimeses' houses for them.

Greedy and Vicious

Jeanne King, who wrote a book about the pair, said Sante is a greedy, vicious woman who manipulated others into helping with her deceitful schemes. "She has this knack of getting people to do things for her that they wouldn't normally do," said King, author of "Dead End."

Sante's older son, Kent Walker, said that at his mother's request, he had begun shoplifting and breaking into houses by the time he was 10 years old. After years of fighting, he finally escaped her grasp and his younger brother then assumed the role of his mother's accomplice, he said.

"They became two peas in a pod," said Walker, who wrote a book about his life, "Son of a Grifter." "Beating the system was no problem. Mom was a magician at that. He fell right into it."

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