VIDEO VAULT | Kidnapping, arson and murder by con artist team gained national attention
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) —
It was a sensational set of crimes that made national news in the late 1990s: the con artist, grifter and murder team of Sante Kimes and her son Kenny.
It's a complicated story, which has been turned into full-length books and movies. This Video Vault segment largely focuses on the lesser-known aspects which took place here in Las Vegas.
But most people around the country were unfamiliar with the duo until they were indicted for kidnapping and killing an elderly New York socialite. Charges their lawyer denied.
"This indictment is baseless," said Kimes attorney Mel Sachs in 1998. "This indictment is based on no eyewitness evidence."
Seventeen years prior to that in in 1981, Sante Kimes had been arrested soon after arriving in Las Vegas, for attempting to steal a grand piano. A shoplifting arrest occurred the following year. Both crimes seemed baffling, as she was then married to wealthy motel owner.
Then, in 1985, Sante and her husband Kenneth Kimes Sr., were brought into U.S District Court in Las Vegas for enslaving illegal immigrant maids here and in other homes they owned in Hawaii and Palm Springs. Kenneth got a fine and probation. Sante was sentenced to five years, of which she served three.
Sante, Kenneth and their son Kenny (Kenneth Jr.) had lived at 2121 Geronimo Lane in the Paradise Palms neighborhood east of Maryland Parkway. Today it's a vacant lot. That's because in early 1998, Sante and Kenny added arson to their list of crimes.
"Our belief is there's a possible motive of financial gain to be made from burning the house and selling it to the insurance company," Fire Department Spokesman Bob Leinbach told News 3 in February of 1998.
"Clark County firefighters are putting their case together against the Kimes," reported News 3's Nina Radetich. "Bob Leinbach says this fire was suspicious from the beginning."
"There was a separate fire on the first floor from the fire on the second floor," eloborated Leinbach. "And there was no normal means for the fire to get from the lower floor."
But the more serious charge came that summer.
"Now she and her son are at the center of an investigation into the disappearance of a New York City millionaire," reported Radetich. "82-year-old Irene Silverman, last seen July 5th. So far the evidence is circumstantial. But the case is building against Kimes and her son Kenneth. The two were arrested after Silverman's disappearance on a different charge."
"Without a body, without any forensic evidence," argued Sachs. "It's a case which will be dismissed by any jury that has the opportunity to evaluate what there is."
But when the case wrapped up in 2000, the Las Vegas Sun reported that even though the body had never been found and there was no confession, Sante and Kenny were both found guilty of the murder of Irene Silverman.
There was also a deadly connection to the Las Vegas arson.
"Another man connected with the Kimes, David Kazdin. His body found in a trash bin at the LA Airport earlier this year," reported Radetich. "It's suspected he transferred ownership of this house over to the Kimes shortly before his death."
In a bizarre attempt to spare his mother the death penalty in the Kazdin case, at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, Kenny held a ballpoint pen to a TV reporter's throat for four hours, before being taken down.
Sante Kimes died in prison in 2014. Kenneth Sr. had passed away in 1994. Kenny (Kenneth Jr.) is now 41 and serving life without parole in a San Diego prison. The lot where their house was torched is still for sale on Geronimo, near Flamingo and Eastern.