Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Team Killers, Part Three

Family Affair

Sante Kimes (AP/Wide World)
Sante Kimes
(AP/Wide World)

Sante Kimes was a born con artist. She had no sense of boundaries, and even got her children involved in her schemes. She did not hesitate to do whatever it took to get what she wanted for herself. Kent Walker, her oldest son, remembers life with his mother in his book, Son of a Grifter, in which he attempts to make sense of why he rejected her life of crime while his younger half-brother Kenny did not. Sante was simply a charmer; she worked people with skill.

"I've met a lot of good liars in my day," Walker says. "None of them are as good as my mom."

Book cover: Son of a Grifter
Book cover: Son of a

This team of grifters, Sante and Kenny, came to national attention with the 1998 disappearance of a wealthy philanthropist, Irene Silverman, from her Upper East Side mansion in Manhattan. Her husband had died 15 years earlier, and since that time she had taken wealthy tenants into her apartment suites for company. Among them were the Kimeses.

Kenny was 24 at the time, and he presented himself as a polished young man fresh out of college, and quickly ingratiated himself with the elderly widow. He and his mother, 64, then finagled a real estate document with Silverman's signature on it, but the notary public refused to sign it without Irene present. The Kimses could not produce her and her friends began to wonder where she was.

On July 5, 1998, Silverman, 82, was last seen in her nightgown on the sidewalk of East 65th Street. After that, her whereabouts became a mystery.

Kenny Kimes (AP/Wide World)
Kenny Kimes
(AP/Wide World)

On that same night, Sante and Kenny were arrested for auto theft in Las Vegas. A search of their Lincoln Town Car turned up Silverman's passport, a pair of handcuffs, several syringes, a Glock 9-mm handgun, stun guns, wigs and papers that indicated that the two had planned a con on the elderly lady so they could take over her $7.7 million dollar townhouse.

In fact, these two had a lengthy rap sheet for numerous crimes, from theft and forgery to insurance fraud. Sante even served prison time for enslaving domestic help, and she was suspected in an arson and the disappearances of two men.

Apparently as Sante and Kenny traveled around, as Sarah van Boven reported in Newsweek, people began to disappear. One man, David Kazdin, in whose name they had taken out a title on a home that they subsequently burned for insurance money, was found dead and stuffed into a dumpster.

In May 2002, even without a body, the jury found that there was nevertheless sufficient evidence to convict this team of first-degree murder. The jury found Sante guilty of 58 different crimes and Kenny of 60. They were given multiple life sentences, with Sante getting 120 years and Kenny 125. The judge called Sante a "sociopath of unremitting malevolence."

Kent Walker, Sante's first son and an accomplice in some of her earlier crimes, says that there was no one easier to love and no one easier to hate. She had once used him to escape arrest by punching him hard in the mouth and directing the police against a store clerk who was accusing her of theft. They arrested the clerk, while Sante took Kent to the doctor. When he was arrested at age 12 for theft, he decided to turn his life around. He would not become his mother's partner, so she eventually turned to his half-brother. "He bought into Mom's delusions," Walker said. "She broke his spirit."

Court TV correspondent Maria Zone (CTV)
Court TV correspondent
Maria Zone (CTV)

After their New York trial, the Kimses were scheduled to be extradited to California to face charges in another murder, but in the summer of 2001 Kenny took a hostage in the prisonCourt TV correspondent Maria Zoneand held her for four hours to try to force a deal. It didn't work, and he got eight years in disciplinary confinement. As a way to reduce that time, Kenny admitted that Irene Silverman was indeed dead and that he had wrapped her body in garbage bags and dumped it in a hole at a construction site in New Jersey. He did not know where the site was. The only thing he could say to help was that the building was close to water.

He and his mother were then taken to Los Angeles and indicted by a grand jury for the murder of David Kazdin. A witness came forward to say that he saw Kenny standing by the victim with a gun in his hand. As of this writing, that capital trial is pending, and Sante is expected to act as her own lawyer. Since Kenny is alleged to be the triggerman and since Sante has shown extreme disregard for her children's welfare in the past, there's little doubt that she will likely do what she can to save her own skin.

* * * * *

Crime writer Michael Newton estimates that 13% of serial murders involve multiple killers, and more than half of such teams involve only two. In his Enclyclopedia of Serial Killers, he includes many pages in the appendices that list team killers. Male couples are the most common, with male/female couples accounting for about 25%.

Ray and Faye Copeland, 75 and 69 respectively, were married and living together on a farm in rural Chillicothe, Missouri. They often hired drifters looking for work, or took them out of homeless shelters. Ray would involve them in schemes to cheat neighbors out of cattle, and one man who was working with him noticed something odd in October, 1989. In the ground, he discovered an assortment of bones, along with a human skull. Fearing for his life, he left and called in a tip to a television program called "Crimestoppers" that operated out of Nebraska. Since local law enforcement already suspected Ray of cattle fraud, they decided to investigate. They found that the tipster had been Ray's partner in crime, so when they tracked him down, he admitted to the lesser crime but insisted that something larger was amiss on that property.

The sheriff brought the Copeland couple in for interrogation, and while they were off their property, another type of investigation got underway. On farms that Copeland had leased, the remains of five men were dug upmen that no one had missed so their disappearances had gone unreported. All were shot in the back of the head with a .22 Marlin rifle. That gun was found at the Copeland's primary farm. In addition, a ledger was discovered that listed the names of transients employed by them, and some of those were ominously marked with a "X." The prosecutor speculated that these men knew about Ray's double-dealing and had been eliminated as witnesses against him.

Initially it was thought the murders were solely the work of Ray Copeland. Then Faye wrote a note to her husband, who was being assessed for the possibility of insanity, to "remain cool." That handwriting matched the handwriting in the ledgers. In addition, Faye had stitched together a patchwork quilt from strips made from the clothing of the men who had been killed. Prosecutors saw this as damning evidence.

Faye was prosecuted for five counts of first-degree murder, found guilty, and sentenced to die. Then Ray was tried, found guilty and also sentenced to die. Before they could execute him, Ray died in prison. Many people fought for Faye's release, claiming there was no evidence that she was part of any of the murders and plenty that Ray had dominated and battered her, so her sentence was commuted to life without parole.

They were the oldest couple ever condemned to death in the United States.

Other such couples have taken even bolder steps, and contrary to what the media asserted following a sniper spree, these teams are not as "unheard of" as one might think. Let's look at four all-male couples who operated in similar ways.

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