Kimes and Punishment

Like a good boy, Kenny Kimes did what his mommy told him to. A jury said he killed for her. He says he didn’t. How far will he go to prove his innocence? An extensive interview and diary inspection are eerily enlightening.

(Details, November 2000. Photos: Collier Schorr)

ROUGHLY 30 MILES downwind of the Canadian border, in the hinterlands of the Adirondacks, stands the largest maximum-security prison in New York State. A whitewashed hulk, the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora crouches forlornly on a bleak, denuded hilltop. To its inmates, it is know mirthlessly as Siberia.

The prisoners inside have seen their share of infamous guests. The late rapper Tupac Shakur did time there; the serial killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz is a former tenant. But out of the 2,887 murderers, rapists, robbers, and cop killers behind Dannemora’s 30-foot-tall concrete walls, only one has the Norman Bates-like distinction of murdering for his mom.

For Kenny– everyone from his mother to the federal agents who took him down calls him Kenny– the worst part of all this, aside from his insistence that he’s the victim of a vast police conspiracy, in his separation from his “poor little momma” (as he calls her in his jailhouse diary). When his own defense team suggested he flip her in exchange for leniency, his response was: “I’d rather have my legs torn off.”

In countless media reports, 25-year old Kenny has been depicted as his mother’s ruthless partner in crime, her malleable dupe. But no one has been able to figure out what would make a fun-loving college student throw in his lot with his eccentric, unscrupulous 66-year-old mother.  No one has adequately accounted for this fierce filial bond. He claims to be innocent. He admits to little beyond the fact that he is now a monkish recluse who reads Tolkien and Anne Rice in his eight-by-six-foot cell, that he likes to take meditative strolls around the prison’s bustling yard. But as he sits in an arctic-blue visitors’ room on a cold September morning, looking jock-trim in layered pairs of prison-green pants, a matching sweatshirt, and boots, he is tightly coiled and pathologically polite. That is, until you throw it out there that the people have said his mother seems a bit, well, controlling.

“I’m the slave child– is that the theory we’re getting into here?” he asks, a nervous smirk pinching his face, his green eyes narrowing. Kenny is six foot two, square-shouldered, and a few pounds heavier then when I saw him seven weeks earlier, fresh from a two-year stint on New York’s notorious Rikers Island. Later, he sounds almost exasperated: “My mom loves me. Would my mom put me at that kind of risk? To steal my whole future, my whole life?” His mother love is staggering.

Kenny may have only one more chance to see his mother again. The Los Angeles County district attorney, having charged the duo for the murder of David Kazdin, a 63-year-old business associate found in a dumpster in 1998, is in the final stages of extraditing the pair to California, where they may very well face the death penalty. The trial could start as early as January.

“When he was first sentenced, I expected him to be devastated,” says Darrell Bolden, an inmate awaiting trial on rape charges who spent twenty months with Kenny in Manhattan’s downtown holding cells, nicknamed the Tombs, and on Rikers Island. “I watched him closely for a week, figuring he was gonna snap. You know, you get hit with 125 years and this other state wants to kill you– most guys would fall apart. So either he’s a really great actor, or his spirit is unbreakable.”

Kenny is hardly the first convict to proclaim his innocence. “They’re all innocent,” a guard told me after eavesdropping on Kenny’s conspiracy theories for nearly six hours one day. “They’re all fucking saints and angels.” But the sheer force and sincerity of his denials, his boy-next-door looks, and his dorky way of calling his jailers “Sir” and “Ma’am” are affecting. When Kenny walks into a room, he looks hurried and nervous, as if he’s kept you waiting and your time is valuable. He shakes hands with a salesman’s grip and says “Thanks so much for coming,” as if you’ve just arrive to test-drive a Volvo. In the four months since I met him, and after three jailhouse visits, the exchange of dozens of letters and phone calls– as well as exclusive access to diaries kept in prison– I found Kenny shrewd and focused, if blithely in denial about all the trouble he’d gotten himself into.

When I ask him that bright morning if he’d yet wrapped his mind around the notion that he might be put to death, he seems oddly unfazed. “Well, if it’s fair…,” he begins, thinking better of continuing as he bores holes in me with his eyes. “Well, I’ll deal with it when it occurs. If it occurs.”

Dreamy images of me and Mom walking down the beach together hand in hand, walking into the sunset. But that was before our trouble. I used to spend all my time with my Mom. We would drink wine together, smoke cigars and talk for hours about the past, present and future. –Kenny’s diary, the Tombs, October 29, 1998

The last time Kenny saw his mom, he was yelling at her to shut up. Defiant and red-faced, Sante Kimes had launched into a 50-miunte harangue against the police, prosecutors, the trial judge, and even her own lawyers at the Kimeses’ June 27 sentencing.

“It’s the first time that a mother and son have been convicted with no crime, no witnesses, and no DNA,” she railed. She accused the police of planting evidence and lamented that “the only murders in this case are the prosecutors for murdering the Constitution.” Near the end, Kenny, who has looked on in tender silence, blurted out, “Mom, don’t talk!,” even clasping his hands to his ears: “Mom! Mom! Stop!”

After two years in jail, and a ten-week tabloid-reviewed trial, Kenny Kimes had finally had enough. When his turn arrived, he gave a disjointed and venomous rant, turning to the detectives seated in the courtroom: “No offense, but you’re spooky,” he said.

From the day of their arrest, on July 5, 1998, the Kimeses have claimed to be pawns in Kafkaesque drama written by police, drifter employees, and even Silverman’s own staff of maids. From behind bars, Sante ran her own tabloid-P.R. operation, phoning the New York Post’s Cindy Adams and orchestrating interview on 60 Minutes and Larry King Live, where she could rave about catching “the real killers.” Sante even suggested that the onetime chorus girl who seldom left home had slipped the surly bonds of society to live a secret life elsewhere.

Police say the truth is far less romantic. On June 14, 1998, Kenny appeared at Irene Silverman’s East 65th Street mansion and rented a $6,000-a-month apartment under the name Manny Guerrin. He claimed to be a Palm Beach Web designer. For twenty years, Silverman’s Beaux-Arts home had served a salon-cum-hotel for artist, writers, tycoons, and celebrities such as Daniel Day-Lewis and Chaka Khan. From the start, however, the newcomer was less than genteel. He refused to allow anyone into his apartment. He ducked the security cameras at the entryway. He stared for hours through his peephole, spying on staff. One day he suddenly appeared with an elder woman (Sante), and they setup up house in the one-bedroom apartment. Silverman complain to friends about her strange new tenet. She said he “smelled of jail.” Within a week, she ordered her business manager to kick him out.

But before that could happen, Silverman disappeared– sometime after 11 A.M. on July 5. Concerned friends called the police, who investigated but found no signs of a struggle or traces of blood. The new houseguest had also vanished.

It was two days before police realized that Manny Guerrin was actually Kenny Kimes, a fugitive con who had been arrested that same day, with his mother, just a few blocks away in the midst of a bustling street fair. Kenny and Sante, who’d been tracked by the FBI for months, had been nabbed for using a bogus check to steal a Lincoln Town Car from a Utah auto dealer.

The NYPD ran a search and discovered that mother and son were wanted in a string of crimes across the country. In Florida, they’d allegedly written another bad check to buy a motor home. In Las Vegas, they were suspected of insurance fraud in an alleged arson fire that destroyed their family home. In the Bahamas, they were wanted for questions in the 1996 disappearance of a banker who was last seen dining with Sante. And in Los Angeles, police were zeroing in on them as suspects in David Kazdin’s murder.

When they were arrested, Kenny (who admits he wet his black jeans as he was thrown to the ground) was carrying Silverman’s Social Security card, her tax form, and her American express card– as well as a knife and brass knuckles. A search of the Lincoln uncovered a power-of-attorney form with Silverman’s forged signature, Scream masks, a 9-mm. Glock handgun, plastic handcuffs, an empty box for a stun gun, syringes, and a bottle of flunitrazepam, the so-called date-rape drug. They also found, in a black bag Sante had checked at the Plaza Hotel that day, a deed with Silverman’s forged signature, transferring her mansion to a shell company controlled by Sante.

Despite one of the biggest investigations in NYPD history, detectives don’t have a body or any physical evidence linking the Kimeses to Silverman’s disappearance. But they did find fourteen spiral notebooks recording Silverman’s every move, containing detailed blueprints for a murder and shopping lists including a shower curtain, rope, and a stun gun. The notebooks, which were written by Sante, helped clinch the prosecutor’s case.

These notebooks will be the genesis of the Kimeses’ future appeals: Their attorney, Mel Sachs, has insisted the writings be tossed out in accordance with the Fifth Amendment right protecting against self-incrimination.

Still, the discovery of the deed and forged signatures hinted at some mother lode of misdoing. When I asked Kenny why he and his mother had these things, he first says the police planted them. Later he says his mother may have been brokering a deal to swap Silverman’s townhouse for land Sante herself owned in California. “I tried not to get involved with my mom’s business,” he says, nodding his head slowly, as if looking for affirmation. With his Irish-mix ancestry, the close-cropped hair, and the white T-shirt under a sweatshirt creating a clerics collar, he looks like a well-scrubbed choirboy. “You know, I liked to just kind of cruise on my own.” He says, “As far as what my mom wanted to do with maybe trading some property in California for New York property, that’s all her.”

Kenny calls me “bro’.” When he gets excited, he peppers his talk with “fuck man, come on!,” which is out of sync with his otherwise excessive politeness and purple prose of his diary. His aquiline nose swerves to left, after another inmate smashed it in (“It was nothing, really,” he says when I express concern). At New York’s notorious Tombs and Rikers Island, where he spent two years, he kept a diary over a six-month period to help him adjust to life in the large intestine of the beast. Written on more than 100 sheets of yellow legal paper, his journal chronicles the predawn “shakedowns,” when his boxer shorts might be inspected for drugs. Then men who masturbated in front of female guards. The “he/she” (in Kenny’s patois, a transvestite who had sex with one of her co-defendants in plain sight. “I was shocked and disgusted,” he wrote.

Sometimes Kenny’s focus on the issues of his case is drill-bit sharp as he addresses motions to squelch hearsay or the “integrity” of the crime scene. Other times his theories are as wild as a Little League pitch. He says it’s crucial to know that Silverman’s home attracted a slew of unsavory boarders, anyone of whom may have spirited her away. “That house had a criminal history,” he says. “There was heroin found. There were incidents of police coming in and trying to save people who were OD’ing and things like that. There was some prostitution stuff going on.” (None of Kimes’s claims could be confirmed, and police have discounted the prostitution allegations.)  Another time, he suggests the prosecutor tried to improperly influence the jury: “I guarantee you the D.A. went in there and bought them a big thing of donuts.”

So what does he think happened to Silverman, an elfin widow he describes as “Eccentric and cranky”? “I cannot comment on that because that’s not in my place to even comment on,” he states cautiously. “I think that she’s not around anymore, and my only at this point is that I know that I wasn’t there, and my mom wasn’t involved in anything like that. Could something bad have happened to her? It’s a possibility.”

Me and Mom are swimming in shark-infested water. But we’re good swimmers. – Kenny’s diary, the Tombs, October 2, 1998.

Two weeks before I visited Kenny in Clinton, I took a train to Mineola, Long Island. There, I was met by a bearish man in a white Mercedes with personal license plates: LES PI. He wore a gold necklace hung with such charms as boxing gloves, a tiny gun, and a pair of handcuffs.
Les Levine is a retired cop who has worked the bare-knuckled-investigator beat in the service of Marv Albert– defending him against a sexual-assault charge– and Justin Volpe, the New York City patrolman convicted of sodomizing a Haitian immigrant with a broomstick.

Levine was the private investigator hired by Kenny and Sante’s defense team to research both sides’ evidence. He chase down dozens of fruitless alibis, and over time became their closet extra familial confidant. We chatted in his office under a pair of movie stills of Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.

“I’m gonna pat myself on the back,” he says in a gravelly, streetwise voice. “I was the only one on this entire case who never got taken in by them. And I’ve got to tell you the truth, I came close. Okay? I’m cynical, street-hardened, tough old cocksucker who’s been burned and burned again and reburned. And I came about as close as you can come.”

[Caption: The relationship between Kenny Kimes and his mother, Sante (left, at a company part at Caesar’s Place), is viewed by many as “unnatural.” This excerpt from Kenny’s prison diary does little to dispel that notion: “The true torture through all of this is knowing the system is robbing us of our freedom and our time and existence. My time is less valuable. My mother’s is precious. What torture it is to my soul, trying to decipher my mother’s mortal time clock. She is now sixty-four and a prisoner. She could be on a beach somewhere, enjoying the sun and the sand, but instead she’s surrounded by inmates in cell.]

Levine says Sante and Kenny dispatched his team on multiple cross country wild-goose chases. In December of 1999, one of Levine’s investigators told him she was fed up: Kenny and Sante had said that a Russian stewardess named Debbie M. – who had visited them in Silverman’s house in early July– would testify that there were no guns on the premises. Kenny told the investigator that Debbie worked for Gulf Air. After several calls to Bahrain and Houston, where she supposedly lived, the lead fizzled. No one had ever heard of her. “Of course, now the Kimeses are saying that Debbie M. is frightened and has told everyone to lie for her,” the investigator reported. “It is completely absurd.”

The Kimeses’ legal team was so concerned about this image that one member suggested in a letter to Les Levine that she and Kenny get coaches to help them with body language, because, he said, “you both look so guilty.” He also demanded Sante stop using Kool-Aid to make her cheeks so red. In gratitude for the advice, Sante said that when she was free, should would write the man a check for $200,000, and she and Kenny would take him on their yacht.

I’ve been quizzing Levine about several of Kenny’s remarkable claims: That cops removed a surveillance camera near Silverman’s house that would have revealed the murder. That they ignored crucial blood stains found on the sidewalk outside Silverman’s home. That a drifter actually killed Silverman. That the drifter’s blood was found in Kenny’s Lincoln, his fingerprint in Silverman’s apartment. That a secret alibi tape exists. Levin is unmoved. Pissed, even.

“We investigated any angle that would help them,” says Levine. “Unfortunately, we came up with nothing.”

Levine says there was no surveillance camera, only mounting for one that had been taken down long before the investigation. He also says specks on the sidewalk outside Silverman’s house proved not to be blood. (If it had been blood, and if it had belonged to Silverman– or the Kimeses– the prosecutors would have presented it at the trial.) Despite his extensive investigation, he says he never heard blood stains were found in the Lincoln or that the drifter’s fingerprint exists, somewhere. And even if there were blood– and it did belong to the drifter– he asks, what does it prove?

“It only proves this guy was in Kenny’s car at one time, maybe in California,” says Levine. “If Kenny had any brains, he’d wash his hands of this guy, not bring him closer.”

When I tell Kenny what Levine thinks, he gets angry. “The fact the blood was there, and the act it was covered [up], and the fact that it was on the sidewalk,” he says, “doesn’t prove anything?” He adds, “They’ve found blood from 30 years-ago on [some] cases. They pull blood out of fucking mummies and can do a DNA search. Come on!”

The one thing that certainly does exist is the so-called alibi tape. The problem, however, is that the witness is not credible, says Levine (and may have even been paid for his statement, says a source). “We believed the prosecutor was waiting for us to use it to pounce on us,” says Levine.

For weeks, Kenny has been begging me to get this cassette tape from either Levine or Sachs. But neither will turn it over. The reason, say insiders, is that it could hurt him. This seems borne out by an undated letter in the possession of Les Levine that Kenny wrote to Sante suggesting they “scare” this witness (who says he now can’t remember which day he actually saw them, Kenny notes in the letter). Levine, who will not comment on the Kimeses’ guilt or innocence– but believe the New York D.A. actually did not proof its case for murder because there was never any physically evidence that Silverman was killed– shows me a stack of letters Kenny wanted to send people in Las Vegas, soliciting an alibi for his whereabouts on the day Kazdin was kill in L.A. They are hypnotically suggestive, including such phrases as “I know you can remember this, because it is the truth” and “I promise that I will take you and any friend of yours to my beach house in the Bahamas when we get out.”

Levine wrote a terse letter to Sachs in June, asking that his client to cease these illegal activities. “In any other case, where he wasn’t facing the needle, they’d charge Kenneth with obstruction of justice,” says Levine.

Kenny’s tight scrawl is a window on his personality: The most striking aspect of his script are the violent slashes he uses to dot his I’s and the blotchy periods that end his sentences: They are so dark and large that they nearly tear the page. “This guy take a lot of time doing these periods, it’s like an obsession,” says Mark Hopper, an analyst with Arizona-based Handwriting Research Corporation, who was handed innocuous and unsigned samples of Kenny’s writing. “It’s something typically seen with rapists, murders, and very physically violent people.” A characteristic that would seem to indicate that a “compulsive and emotionally unstable” personality penned these journals are the tiny forms that appear inside Kenny’s crabbed a’s and o’s and c’s. “These things are almost look like cigars on end, and that’s a form of concealment and hiding information,” says Hopper. “Symbolically, it’s like if you don’t want to somebody to find something, you put it inside something else.” He adds, “This is not the writing of an insane person. He knows what he’s doing.”

For some reason I keep having this dream/urge to drive, like I used to, from California o Las Vegas, those wonderful long midnight desert drives out to the lonely land with nothing but silence, peach, and momma. We’ll get a couple of burgers, tacos, and drive. –Kenny’s diary, the Tombs, October 14, 1998.

The path of Kenneth Karem Kime’s life didn’t always lead straight into a brick wall crowned by razor wire. Born on March 24, 1975, he grew up under the doting eye of his father, Kenneth, a millionaire motel-chain operator, and his overprotective mother. He spent his childhood on the beaches of the Bahamas, Cancun, and Guadalajara, as well as in the family’s Las Vegas home, on the fringe of a golf course. Imagining her son was a genius, Sante Kimes hired live-in tutors. “The tutors would bring Kenny around the playground, and he was just dying to play,” says neighbor Sandra Raho, whose son Tory befriended Kenny while the Kimeses lived on the affluent Geronimo Way in Las Vegas. “The tutors would say, ‘He’s not supposed to play with anyone. That’s strict orders.’ He was always a little strange because of that, because he had been around adults and not kids.”

In 1982, a tutor hired for Kenny, Teresa Richards, says Sante drank each morning and tried to serve her vodka screwdrivers for breakfast. She maintains that Sante interrupted their lessons every fifteen minutes, only subtracting form Kenny’s underschooling. Richards, who had joined the family in Puerto Vallarta, at age 22, was particularly dismayed by Kenny’s habit of lying to wriggle out of homework assignments. Sante address this problem, she says, in a list of instructions, writing, “Don’t let him con!”  But it seemed clear to Richards where he was picking this stuff up. While walking on a Mexican beach at dusk, Kenny excitedly told his tutor: “I can’t wait till Papa gets home, because when he gets home, we’re gonna steal a boat.”

“I was just kind of shocked,” says Richards. “And I said, ‘You mean you’re going to rent a boat.’ But he said, ‘No, Papa said we’re going to steal a boat and go fishing.’” As Richard explained to her young charge that stealing was wrong and that “We don’t take things that don’t belong to us,” Kenny burst out crying,  “He said, ‘My mom is going to hell, she’s a bad lady,’” recalls Richards. “And I was just like, uh, oh, what can of worms did I just open?” Kenny then told his incredulous tutor about the time he’d seen his mother divert a salesperson’s attention, then slip a pair of diamond earrings into her purse. Sante then grabbed him and scuttled out the door.

If Richards had only checked up on her employer: Sante Kimes had a record as an accomplished car thief and forger of credit cards. More horrifying was the way Sante treated the teenage Mexican maids who came to work in her home. Richard says Sante told her never to let them use the phone, answer the door, or set foot outside. In 1985, the FBI stormed the family’s La Jolla rental home and arrested her and her husband: The charge was slavery. Though prosecutors let Kenny’s father plead guilty to a lesser charge and pay a fine, Sante stood trial, and several maids (and former tutors, such as Richards) testified that Sante had burned one maid with a hot iron, scalded another in a shower, and locked yet another in a closet for hours.

And there were other signs that were amiss: Richards says she complain that Kenny yanked down her bathing-suit one day, but Sante just shrugged. “She said, ‘Sometimes Kenny showers with me, and I want him to know the body is beautiful and you don’t have to be ashamed of it,’” recalls Richards. Kenny was seven at the time.

[Caption: The long arm of the law: The bearish Les Levine (below) worked as a private investigator on the Kimeses’ defense team. “It’s all about the con. It’s about what Kenny wants you to believe,” says the ex-cop.

Two cops start saying to me, “Hey, weren’t you arrest with your mom or girlfriend? Were you fucking her?” This was said right before I was photo’d. What was I suppose to do? Say thank you for your brilliant comment?… It’s not my fault she looks young and beautiful at her age… The jealous of us is delicious.” –Kenny’s diary, the Tombs, October 11, 1998.

Sante was sentenced to four years in prison for slavery.  Friends say it was the best thing that ever happened to Kenny. The 10-year old was enrolled in public school by his father. He made his friends and blossomed overnight. “Kenny was the prankster, the class clown, and was always doing stumbles and falls and you know, playing for the crowd,” says former schoolmate Neil Huffey. “He was actually living his life for the first time. Up until then he only knew one thing, that his mother instructed him to do.”

His father, alone with his son for the first time spoiled Kenny. He sent limos to pick him up at school, bankrolled vacations for him and his friends, and gave him money for the most up-to-date stereo equipments and the latest albums by the Dead Kennedy’s. But Kenny also suffered anguish over his mother’s high-profile conviction, which had drenched the local newspapers. Friend’s say Kenny refused to take her calls from prison and dreaded the monthly visits he made with his father. “He was ashamed of it,” says Huffey. In his grammar-school yearbook, Kenny named his father as the person he most admired.

Says Kenny now: “I just felt my momma was stolen.”

When Sante was released in 1989, she immediately enrolled Kenny at a different high school across town. “I think she just wanted to get him away from the kids who knew her story,” say Raho.

By the time Kenny arrived at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1993, he was dressing in Valentino and Hugo Boss. He was there studying communication, but he was known to be opinionated, angry, even violent. “If there was ever a commotion at a part,” says Lisa McDonald statuesque blonde and a close friend of whom Kenny had a crush on, “you could be sure Kenny was at the center of it. He didn’t know how to back down. He always wanted to prove his point, whatever it was.”

When Kenny’s father died of an aneurysm in 1994, at the age of 77, Sane kept it a secret from her son for three months so he could finish his first academic year (an average one) without the heartache. Thinking he was bound for a Hawaiian vacation with both his parents that June, Kenny was met by Sante at the Lose Angeles airport with an ash-filled urn. He was yelling at her, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?” says Carolene Davis, a family friend. “That was just one more way she was controlling his life.”

After Kenny was kicked out of his dorm from for a fistfight with a fellow student– when Kenny refused to turn down his music– he boarded with a family of a friendly college-security dispatcher name Alan Katje. Sante often stayed with Kenny when she visited and Katje would overhear the pair in epic screaming matches behind Kenny’s bedroom door. “They were horrible, horrendous fights,” says Katje. “Kenny had a girlfriend in L.A., and he was always driving down to see her, running up these huge phone bills. Sante really did not like this girl. He thought Kenny could do better.”

Sante’s old friend Carolene Davis says Sante even went so far as to ask her husband, Tim Davis, to steal Kenny’s silver Camaro so he couldn’t see the girl– and so Sante could collect the insurance. “She said, ‘Go burn it,’” recalls Davis. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars and I’ll tell the insurance company it was stolen.’ And I was just like, ‘Yeah, right, Sante.’”

Over the next two years, Alan Katje noticed changed in the normally good-natured Kenny, who lifted weights with the retired cop, jogged with him, and often baby-sat his children. When Kenny started a website to sell illegal Cuban cigars, Katje was dismayed. “I said, ‘Kenny, do you really know what you’re doing?” recalls Katje, “And he had it all figured out. He was going through some attorneys and the business was based of the Bahamas.”

What troubled Katje most was Kenny’s fascination with the seedier side of things: “He’d talk about how he and his mother were meeting with smugglers in back alleys in Cuba,” says Katje, “and hanging in these areas where you could get your throat slit. You could see the excitement on his face.”

I’ve been thinking about Cuba as of recent. That place is like a beckoning dream calling from afar. The rum, the women, the cigars, and the smell of the air. How I miss it. When this is over, I would like to become a spokesman for Cuba. –Kenny’s diary, the Tombs January 5, 1999.

Kenny left college in the spring of 1996 after three years of mediocre grades (though he did get an A in acting one semester). He’d had a fender bender in which he suffered minor bruises. But seeing a chance to sue the other driver, Sante ordered him to leave school and claim serious injuries, says Katje.

He was distraught. “’My mom is making me do this,’” Katje’s wife, Patricia, recalls him telling her. “I said, ‘Kenny, you’re 21, stand up for yourself.’ And he just said, ‘No, I have to do what my mom tells me.’”

Friends say Kenny developed such a complicated relationship with his mother, dependent on her financially, fearful of her reproach, that he showed emotional symptoms of an abused child or spouse. This co-dependence was underscored when Sante allegedly tried to steal lipsticks from a Miami department store in May of 1997. According to a police report, she shoved them in her purse, but as she and Kenny walked outside, they were stopped by a store detective. Sante reportedly threw the purse to Kenny, who bolted, but was eventually caught after a struggle. As a result, he was charged with strong-arm robbery, resisting arrest, and aiding in an escape and obstruction. He agreed to plea to two of the charges, resisting and obstruction, and was given a suspend sentence.

Kenny says it was all a misunderstanding: his mother actually paid for the lipsticks, but when the detective stopped them, the man yanked Sante’s purse. Thinking his mother was being robbed, Kenny says, he grabbed the handbag back and pushed the man– but never ran. Momma did, however, as soon as she saw the badge. “At that point,” he says, his big hands opening as if to reveal something, “we figured out it was a police incident, and why the hell is it necessary for her to get involved. I think she made the right call.”


“Because had she been locked up with me, how could she have assisted me?”

By the time, Kenny had lost all contact with his college friends as he traveled with his mother. In the winter of 1997, Katje says, Kenny stopped by unannounced and asking him, an avid gun collector, if he could buy a 380 semi-automatic handgun he’d wanted to sell a year earlier. “I said, ‘What the hell for?’” remembers Katje. “And he was like, ‘Our place in the Bahamas, one of our neighbors got mugged so we just want this gun for a little protection.’ I thought it was a cock-and-bull story, No. 1, because you can’t legally transport a gun to the Bahamas. And if he needs a gun, why didn’t he just go to a gun shop there?”

Katje lied and said the gun was already gone. “When they drove away,” says Katje, “I told my wife, ‘Mark my words, we’re going to be hearing about Kenny and Sante Kimes down the road.’”

[The prison guards] use any tactic to put me down. And they hate love and affection because they are incapable of it themselves. They want animal in a zoo. Not a loving family. A mother and a son who love each other, and remind them of they love they will never have within their own dead, shallow, racist hearts. –Kenny’s diary, the Tombs, October 4, 1998.

Twenty years earlier, Sante and her husband befriended a man named David Kazdin, an insurance adjusted who later started a photocopying business. In 1992, Kazdin had agreed, his friends say, to help Kenneth Kimes protect the Geronimo Way home from a $150,000 lawsuit by putting his own name on the deed. He believed Kimes later removed his name at his request.

But in January 1998, Kazdin received a packet of documents notifying him of monthly payments on a $280,000 mortgage that had been taken out in his name on the house. Because Sante couldn’t sell the house (his other children had control of his estate), she is believed to have forge Kazdin’s signature to secure the loan. Kazdin’s friends say he was furious.

But then something strange happened. A week later, an arson fire tore through the place. Through a complicated transaction, the deed to the two-story house had been quietly transferred days earlier to a homeless man Sante found in a shelter and had taken on a gofer, a man named Robert McCarren. A fire-insurance policy had been issued in McCarren’s name. Police say the insurance money was to be paid to account that the Kimeses controlled.

A month after the fire, Kenny and Sante started renting rooms in Brentwood, about sixteen miles from Kazdin’s home, under the names Sandy and Manny Guerrero. Staying with them were McCarren, posing as Sante’s “deaf valet,” and a drifter named Sean Little (today an informant for the LAPD). Kazdin’s friend Leslie Schifrin has maintained that Sante began leaving messages on Kazdin’s answering machine, warning him not to cause any trouble about the forged documents. Sante reportedly asked him to meet with her and Kenny.

“I never met David Kazdin,” Kenny tells me. “I know my parents associated with him, but other than that… I don’t know any of these conversations or allegations where she called [him].” Kenny says he was living his own life: “I mean, it was, ‘Hi Mom. How are you? I’m going to the mall.’”

Sean Little reportedly told Los Angeles detectives that on March 13, he drove with Kenny to Kazdin’s Granada Hills home. As Little waited, he claims, he heard a shot and saw Kenny standing over Kazdin’s body with a gun in had hand. The two men are thought to have put the body in Kazdin’s Jaguar, driven it to LAX, and thrown it into a Dumpster.

Because prosecutors believe the murder was for financial gain, and because Kazdin was killed for being a witness to the crime, the Kimeses may be facing the death penalty. When I ask Kenny where he was the day Kazdin was murdered, he smiles, lowers his voice so the guard seated at the far end of the table won’t hear, and says, “I would answer, but, you know, not for the record. I can’t talk about that. It will come out at the trial.”

The only thing I’m scared of is your notes, the taped calls and stuff. We got to separate. This will help out chances of winning big time. –undated letter from Kenny to Sante before their California murder trial.

Kenny and Sante’s dozen letters to potential alibi witness in Las Vegas appear to be addressed to casual acquaintances– a waiter, a manager at “the Eastern Flamingo” – and a few old friends. In each letter, Kenny and Sante proclaim their innocence, shower the person with praise, and then coax him or her to remember something crucial: that mother and son were in Vega on March 13, 1998, far from the city where David Kazdin was going to be executed.

The letters include vivid description of what Kenny and Sante wore that day, what they ate, talked about. Oddly, almost all letters instruct the reader to respond on the back of the paper the letter is written on. One tells the recipient simply to destroy it.

When I asked Kenny one day about these letters, he claims not to know what I’m talking about. Then he begs me not to write about them. In a rush of anxiety, he tells me to call Carolene Davis, because she has “some major information” about his whereabouts the day Kazdin was killed.

Davis indeed remembered seeing Kenny and Sante on March 13– at her condo in Santa Barbara, about an hour and a half away from Kazdin’s Granada Hills home.  Kenny had dropped off his mother around 10:30 A.M., returned with lunch for her around noon, and didn’t come back again until 8:30 that night. “He looked like he had fire in his eyes,” she calls. “Like he’d just conquered the world.” Davis says she gave these same details to Los Angeles detectives. In a letter to his mother, Kenny tells her they must separate for the upcoming trial. But the time for that strategy has most likely passed. “I think Kenny is starting to realize, ‘I’m 25 years old and I’m in jail for the rest of my life,” says Levine. “And he’s asking himself, Why?”

I want to get a pipe. I want to…listen to a little Bach… or, you know, Rachmaninoff or something like that, read my books, smoke my little pipe. That’s my cruise level. Clearly, I’m incarcerated, but I find much enjoyment and pleasure out of the very basic aspects of sitting back, smoking a little cigar with a little music and reading a book. And that’s very thrilling for me. – Kenny, in a July 5 interview at Dannemora.

Levine is sitting behind is large desk, a silver-plated handgun between us. He says Kenny will most likely suffer in Clinton– or anywhere else he ends up. He already had his forehead slashed once with a razor, on Rikers, when he wised off to another inmate who wanted to open a window, curtly informing the man he needed the guard’s permission to do so. “Kenny is not tough,” says Levine. “Kenny is the typical type of individual who gets preyed on. Kenny tried to convince you of the error in your ways by talking to you. And I just don’t see a lot of kaffeeklatches [COFFEE CLATHCES?] going on up there.” In a letter, Kenny tells his mother that he’s suing the state for $1 million over the window incident (because the inmates weren’t being supervised properly) – but will settle for $400,000.

Since the day I met Kenny, he’s asked repeatedly if I might bring him a Walkman, music tapes, clothes, a typewriter, blankets for his mother, “candies, taffies and other junk food,” and a pair of Doc Martens. Levine, as prickly as he is, apparently has a heart of gold– putting plenty of money in Kenny and Sante’s commissary accounts. When I tell him I’ve managed to rebuff all Kenny’s requests, with the exception of eight packs of vanilla-flavored Backwoods cigars, he laughs. That’s eight more than he had before he met you,” says Levine. “Kenny’s like a bear getting ready for hibernation. He’s filling up his pouch.” Kenny has apparently asked every news outlet that’s approached him– Larry King, Hard Copy, A&E, Court TV– for money. The first day I appeared as the Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York, where he was temporarily housed, he promised to guarantee me an exclusive– for $15,000. It took some days to convince him payment just wasn’t possible. He eventually dropped the matter and moved on to smaller request.

As he prepares for battle in California, he says he’s spending hours in the prison library poring over law books and has instructed his mother in a letter to pickup a copy of the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual, Fifth Edition. He realizes now that sticking by his mother was mistake, all because of her meticulously kept notebooks. “Let’s be really honest here,” he says. “If me and Mom separated, we both would have been better. I think so, honestly. I think mom probably would have gotten nailed in a Dannemora interview.”

The last time I see Kenny, the second day of an early-September visit (he would call me nearly 50 times in the weeks that follow), he says he’s trying “to maintain.” He is certain the prison is keeping him in the general population instead of in protective custody because there is a desire on the part of the state that he be injured or killed. But he remains unwavering about innocence: “I’m going to try with my fist, feet, and brains, bro’,” he says, “I’m going to do everything I can because we’ve been fucked. We’re fucking innocent.”