Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sante and Kenneth Kimes: A Life of Crime

The Slave Girls

Sante's luck would eventually run out. For years, she had been traveling to Mexico, where she would grab poor girls off the streets and import them to her homes with promises of a big salary and a better life. Instead, she paid them nothing, kept them locked up inside her houses, and made them work seven days a week.

After the Washington trial, several of her slave girls escaped and went to the police even though it meant deportation — Sante had brought them into the country illegally.

In August, police swooped down on a residence Sante and Ken owned in La Jolla, California and charged them both with "conspiracy to violate slavery laws." Ken and Sante claimed their home was in Las Vegas and it was there that a long trial took place. Sante was held without bail because of her leaving the mink coat trial. But before the trial, she conned her captors into moving her to a hospital because of medical complaints and then escaped by crawling out a bathroom window.

"She called me and said she was coming to see me," said her old friend Ruth Tanis. "I didn't know who was going to show up on my doorstep first, the FBI or Sante."

Sante was caught three days later at a Las Vegas bar called The Elbow Room. The bartender, whom she thought was a friend, turned her in.

At the trial, a parade of servants testified against her. Most claimed that Sante had tortured them. The first one, Ana Celia Sorano, said that Sante would always dismantle the telephone and lock her in when she went out. Her employer also slapped her around, she said. Another, Dolores Vasquez, had this horror story.

"She hit me because I burned the hamburger bread," she said. "[Sante] threatened me with a pistol. She called me stupid."

Her testimony stunned the jury with this anecdote.

"I had an allergy. I fainted. [Sante] said to go into the shower. I had taken off my clothes and she told me to get into the shower. I put the water on lukewarm. She changed the water to very hot. It burned. When I moved to a corner of the bathtub, she threw the hot water on me with a little pot."

Maribel Ramirez, another former employee, said that Sante had branded her with a hot iron and had the scars to prove it. She also said Sante had locked her in a closet overnight.

Ken Kimes cut a deal with the FBI before the trial. He got a three-year suspended sentence, a $70,000 fine, and agreed to enter rehab to get his alcoholism treated.

Sante, for the first time in her life, did some serious prison time. She was given five years in a federal correctional facility in Kentucky and served three. The two Kens visited her often and Sante later joked that she had stayed at "Club Fed."

When she got out in 1989, she was determined that she would never allow herself to be put away again. Not that she was reformed. Perhaps that was why bodies began to disappear every time the law got too close. In 1990, their family lawyer, Elmer Holmgren, burned down one of their homes for the insurance money. While drunk on vodka at a bar, he told the story of his arson to fascinated listeners. Federal gumshoes quickly brought him in for a talk and he agreed to become an informant. Soon after, Sante and Ken invited him to take a vacation with them in Costa Rica. They returned, but he didn't. His body was never found.

Sante's new policy was "leave no witnesses." Ever.


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