Born Sante Louise Singhrs in Oklahoma City, possibly to a Dutch mother and East Indian father, Kimes spent the better part of her life fleecing people of money, expensive merchandise, and real estate, either through elaborate con games, arson, forgery, or outright theft. She committed insurance fraud on numerous occasions, frequently by committing arson and then collecting for property damage. She delighted in introducing her husband as an ambassador - a ploy that even gained the couple access to a White House reception during the Ford administration - and impersonating Elizabeth Taylor, whom she resembled slightly. She frequently offered young, homeless illegal immigrants housing and employment, then kept them virtual prisoners by threatening to report them to the authorities if they didn't follow her orders. As a result, she and her second husband, alcoholic motel tycoon Kenneth Kimes, spent years, and squandered his fortune on lawyers' fees, defending themselves against charges of slavery. Kimes was eventually arrested in August 1985 and was sentenced to five years in prison in 1986. Her husband took a plea bargain and agreed to complete an alcohol treatment program; Ken, Sr. and their son, Kenny, lived a somewhat normal life until Sante was released from prison in 1989. Ken, Sr. died in 1994.
Both mother and son are thought to have committed the brutal killing of an Indian banker, Syed Bilal Ahmed, in Nassau, Bahamas on September 4, 1996, because he refused to approve her loan. Both mother and son drugged Ahmed, drowned him in the bathtub and stored his body in garbage bags overnight. The following morning, they dumped his body in the sea.
In June 1998, with her son Kenny, Kimes perpetrated a scheme whereby she would assume Irene Silverman's identity and then appropriate ownership of her $7.7 million Manhattan mansion. Despite the fact Silverman's body was never found, both mother and son were convicted of murder in 2000, in no small part because of the discovery of Kimes' notebooks detailing the crime and notes written by Silverman, who was extremely suspicious of the pair.
A few months later, Kenny attempted to escape by holding a Court TV reporter, Maria Zone, hostage by pressing a ballpoint pen into her throat. After three hours he was subdued, and the following month, both Kenny and Sante Kimes were extradited to Los Angeles to stand trial for the murder of David Kazdin, a 63-year-old businessman whose body was found in a trash bin near Los Angeles International Airport in 1998. Police believe Kazdin was killed after he found out the Kimeses had forged his name on a loan. During that trial in June 2004, while he was facing the death penalty, Kenny changed his plea to guilty and implicated his mother in the murder. He also confessed to killing the Bahamian banker, Syed Bilal Ahmed.
Sante Kimes is currently serving a life sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. Both she and her son also are serving additional life terms for the death of Kazdin. On her prisoner papers, Sante's projected release date is on March 3, 2119. Each received two life sentences added on to the more than 100 years they were already serving.
Sante and Kenny Kimes are also suspects in the 1995 disappearance of 62-year-old Jacqueline Levitz, the heiress to a multi-million dollar estate in Mississippi. There are striking similarities between Levitz's case and Silverman's, but no link between the two cases has ever been established. Levitz is presumed murdered and was legally declared dead in 2001.
Venom, a November 1998 episode of Law & Order featured a fictionalized version of the Kimes storyline.
A 2001 made-for-TV movie, Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes, starred Mary Tyler Moore as Sante Kimes, Gabriel Olds as Kenny, and Jean Stapleton as Silverman. It hinted at an incestuous relationship between the mother and son, an allegation not supported by their family and friends.
A 2003 episode of Law and Order:SVU makes reference at the end of the episode to the crime when the suspect is asked what happened to the elderly woman who owned the Upper East Side townhouse he was residing in, and he replies, "Well, maybe she's alive, maybe not, but there's no body, so there's no crime."
An autobiography by Kimes' older son, Kent Walker, reveals many facts about his mother, her personality, and her crimes from his point of view. His book, Son of A Grifter: The Twisted Tale of Sante and Kenny Kimes, the Most Notorious Con Artists in America, (ISBN 0-06-103169-0), was a national bestseller and winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best Fact Crime book in 2002.
Gary Indiana's novel Depraved Indifference is about a fictionalized version of the Kimes family.