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Son of a Grifter: The Twisted Tale of Sante and Kenny Kimes, the Most Notorious Con Artists in America

Son of a Grifter: The Twisted Tale of Sante and Kenny Kimes, the Most Notorious Con Artists in America

4.2 24
by Kent Walker, Mark Schone

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In 1988 a troubled young man and his flamboyant mother were arrested for murdering a wealthy widow in her New York City mansion. Suddenly, America was transfixed by a pair of real-life film noir characters. The media couldn't get enough of the twisted relationship between Sante Kimes and her twenty-three-year-old son Kenny.

But the most chilling story of all


In 1988 a troubled young man and his flamboyant mother were arrested for murdering a wealthy widow in her New York City mansion. Suddenly, America was transfixed by a pair of real-life film noir characters. The media couldn't get enough of the twisted relationship between Sante Kimes and her twenty-three-year-old son Kenny.

But the most chilling story of all was never told—until now. Kent Walker, Sante's elder son, reveals how he survived forty years of "the Dragon Lady's" very special brand of motherly love and still managed to get away.

As a child Kent watched his mother destroy his hardworking father, Ed Walker, and then—with Kent's painful collusion—snare what Sante called "my millionaire." When she married seemingly respectable real-estate developer Ken Kimes, it was a match made in hell.

For the next two decades Kent's mother and stepfather indulged in a globetrotting orgy of criminal behaviour.

Kent, their would-be recruit, was privy to the family business—torching houses, defrauding friends, crashing White When Kent's half-brother, Kenny was born, Kent was twelve years old—old enough to know that he was his younger sibling's only protector. Kent tried desperately to save Kenny from his mother's sinister bidding. His failure haunts him to this day.

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Chapter One


I make my living as a vacuum-cleaner salesman. I've met a lot of good liars in my day. None of them are as good as my mother.

When people lie, the story goes, some tic gives them away. They blink or break their gaze or touch their noses with their fingers. Polygraph machines operate on the principle that these physical signs are inside the body too, and involuntary. Breathing quickens, heart rates jump, and the needle on the lie detector skitters over the graph when run-of-the-mill humans try to deny a criminal truth.

Who can beat a lie detector test? Swamis, maybe, with pulse and breath control, or con artists, or cold-blooded sociopaths. My mother claims to have relatives among the first category, and most observers probably think she belongs to the other two.

I agree that Mom would have no trouble fooling a machine. I've seen her walk into parties filled with little clumps of people who each know her under a different alias. Instead of fleeing in panic, she works the room, remembering what fake name she used with each mark, never slipping, never breaking a sweat. A few electrodes and straps on her arms wouldn't faze her.

But it's too easy to say her skill stems from the sangfroid of a grifter. Her gift for lying comes from passionate conviction. She never blinks or stutters in the midst of the most ornate fibs, because she believes what she's saying without reservation. A good liar always starts with a germ of truth and builds from there: that's Mom. She can't distinguish between what's real and what she's invented, which makes her preternaturally persuasive.

I can make a more educatedguess than anyone on earth about when she's lying, though there are no outward symptoms. I just know when and why she does it, and about what. The hard part is reaching backward through decades of fabrications and embellishments to find what she started with, the first hard kernel of reality. Even when I think I've found it, I don't always trust it.

If you ask me where Sante Kimes came from, then, I can't be sure, nor would I swear to anything under oath. All I can tell you is how the story evolved.

At 9 A.M. on Wednesday, July 8,1998, I pulled my white Corvette into a parking space and killed the engine. I unfolded a cardboard sunshade and spread it across the dashboard, just like all the other morning commuters in Greater Las Vegas, and then walked to the service entrance of the low cinderblock building on Decatur Avenue that housed my business. I'd been out of town over the long holiday weekend and had a lot of catching up to do.

As soon as I was inside, my sales manager approached me. I heard Greg chirp "Good morning," but what struck me was the pained expression on his face. "Your mom and your brother have been calling here," he said. That's why he looked uncomfortable. He knew I wouldn't consider this good news — I hated having my fifteen employees know anything about the antics of my estranged mother and brother. "They've been calling nonstop for the last two days." There was a backlog of sixty messages, most of them aborted collect calls — the kind people in jail have to make.

Already I was embarrassed, but I played it nonchalant. "If my mother or Kenny calls again, tell them I'm not back yet. I really don't want to talk to them."

The last time they'd phoned so often was fourteen months before, when Kenny got arrested in Florida for shoplifting and aggravated assault on a police officer. His story was that he was with a "girlfriend" who happened to put something in her purse with every intention of paying for it, but the police got the wrong idea and he had to defend her, and so on.

I knew who the so-called girlfriend was: Mom. She not only liked to steal, she liked to dress conspicuously. A security cop with an eye out for shoplifters couldn't help but notice a senior citizen in fishnet blouse and bell-bottoms, wearing her trademark black wig and trailed by her gawky twenty-two-year-old son. On this occasion, at the Federal Discount store in downtown Miami, a plainclothes detective had stopped my sixty-two-year-old mother as she waltzed out of the store, her bag filled with stolen lipsticks. While Kenny "defended" his "girlfriend," swinging at the detective, Mom slipped out the rear door and went into hiding at a motel. Kenny went to jail.

The phone calls that ensued were almost comical. The first came from Mom. In her breathy, high-pitched voice she fed me the usual stew of manipulative half-truths, lies, anger, and actual concern. "Kent, you have to help your little brother. He didn't do anything." False. "With my record, I can't help him." True. "You're all he's got." I often thought that was true.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Oh, it's just silly, no big deal. He was trying to cover for his girlfriend, and the cops roughed him up, and I am so worried about him."

"His girlfriend wouldn't wear big black wigs, would she?" I joked.

"I had nothing to do with this, Kent," she lied. Her voice changed from pleading to demanding. "This is your brother, for God's sake, and he really needs your help!"

I explained that I was two thousand miles and three time zones away from the Miami lockup and there was nothing I could do for either of them in the next fifteen minutes. The conversation ended, but in the time it took to pour a cup of coffee the phone rang again. Kenny, calling from jail. I'd never heard him so panicked. This was his first real experience behind bars.

"Kent," he barked, "have you talked to Mom?" His voice was even more hyper than usual.

"Yes, we just hung up."

"If she calls back, give her this message for me. Tell her to 90, go, go! I'll be all right, but if those assholes get their hands on her, it'll be the end of her."

So much for the girlfriend story, I thought. Aloud I said, "Kenny, get a lawyer, and do what he says. You haven't been in any major trouble before, and I'm sure they'll go light on you." Part of me still held out hope that this would be the long overdue event that finally shook him. I wanted him to know there were consequences to the way he and Mom had been operating.

Son of a Grifter. Copyright © by Kent Walker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Kent Walker lives in California with his wife and children.

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Son of a Grifter 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is fascinating. I am amazed Sante Kimes was able to pull off these cons and crimes for so many years! I completely disagree with another reviewer who thought Kent Walker should have had more respect for his mother. What a joke! She didn't earn any respect as a person or as a mother. I thought the opposite, that he should have turned his back on her many years before. I hope his wife gets her reward in heaven for putting up with his family! The book was written frowm a viewpoint that no other can be. Kent Walker, move on and focus on your real family.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've known Kent Walker personally for years. His story is gripping and absolutely true. Kent tells, in vivid detail, what it was like being 'The Other Son' of Sante Kimes. His story is both poignant and shocking. This is a must read for any crime buff because it goes into to such detail. Look for this one to top the bestseller lists. God Bless You Kent!
kitchengenie More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down, so glad I ordered it. It was an incredible read. You can't make this stuff up! Kent Walker was so honest in his life story about his insane mother Sante, then later on adding his poor brother Kenny to the story. I can see how it can happen, the binds that tie, so-to-speak. Kent's honesty as well telling of his own greed and why he did what he did; just glad he finally got out and that he is living a normal life with his family today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grifter is too stylish a word. Ryan O'Neill played the part of a grifter in the movie Paper Moon. Santee - thief, liar, white-slaver, arsonist, murderess and all-round great mom is Satan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an insurance investigator involved in one of the insurance claims involving the subjects this book, it is true to the facts. Worth reading as an interesting insight into Santee Kimes bizarre nature and the power he had over her sons.
scullerymaid More than 1 year ago
This is a rare family, yet, all to familiar to many. Thank you for sharing your story. I laughed, cried, got angry, and felt connected to his story. It helped me come to terms with my birth circumstances. I was surprised that I am not alone. Sociopathic personalities ruin the unsuspecting lives around them. Read this story, it may help you avoid their deceitful web.
DeeNadj More than 1 year ago
I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in that family; not to mention being able to walk away mentally clear enough to write about it. Kent Walker couldn't have made up a better plotline. I think his ability to see the humor in his familial situation is probably what kept him sane all these years. This is a very brave, very well written book - a very intimate peek inside a three-headed sociopathic monster. Outstanding, Mr. Walker. If it wouldn't involve more criminal activity, theivery and/or murder - I'd beg him to write another one. Hopefully this is the end of the Kimes story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must say I don't get Aimee's review either. I think Mr. Walker bent over backwards to examine his own wrong doings as well making sure we understand the part of Sante that he saw that was loving and caring. I must say I give all respect to his wife. I wonder how she stayed in the marriage with that kind of mother-in-law! Its interesting to note I read an article about Sante and Ken, Jr. on the court t.v. website and that reporter's facts about Sante and her life do not jive with Mr. Walker's. I think I will go with Mr. Walker's facts as who would know better than he? The other thing I don't get about Aimee's review is that she said to borrow the book. Nonsense. I urge anyone who wants a book you can't put down to get this one!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't get aimee's review. I think Mr. Walker (not Kimes) was actually way nicer than he needed to be towards his mom. I liked how he admitted his own faults and misgivings, too. He didn't try to say he was perfect or anything. But wow. I'm amazed he came through his childhood as well as he did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book on the recommendation of a 'friend of a friend.' I don't work for Mr. Walker, never met anyone in his family (at least not that I am aware of), and have never posted on an online book review in my life. Mr. Walker's ability to walk a straight and narrow path under the influence of such a horrible homelife is a tribute to human strength and decency. I wish him the best, and hope he makes millions off this book, since his mother single-handedly destroyed all of his other hopes, dreams, and career opportunities. I couldn't put the book down! It was great!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've truly enjoyed reading this autobiography, and am currently enjoying 'Son of a Grifter' for the second time. Mr Walker has been my employer off and on for the past two years. I can't say enough good things about him, he's a very down to earth, nice man. I'm also good friends with his sister-in-law Michele mentioned in his book. As to the previous review written, by someone who apparently grew up with a loving, non-psychotic mother I can only say when you are raised in a insane environment you grow up with a deffinate love-hate relationship with the abuser. I see Sante Kimes as a serious abuser who used both her sons at any oppurtunity, I'm amazed Kent has anything positive to say in regards to her. I would and have recommended this book to anyone who wants to read an exciting, suspensful, tear-jerking autobiography.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
489 pages
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Found it hard to believe that the author didn't cut his mother and brother off once he married. His wife must be a saint to have hung around through all this. I would have thought she would have given her husband an ultimatum where the kids were concerned. What mother in her right mind exposes her kids to these kind of people.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very very good book, well written. Cons you wouldn't think could happen did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although Kent Walker tells a twisted story about his mother and half-brother, it seems that in the end he makes excuses for them. His mother and brother choose their lifestyle and deserve to pay the price, which I'm not sure Mr. Walker understands. It sounded like because Kenny was sorry he didn't need a long jail sentence. A very good read about a twisted family relationship, I just wonder how blameless Kent Walker was.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recieved this book as a gift from a friend because I enjoy true crime. The story itself was OK, but I just couldn't get past Mr. Kimes harsh and sometimes vulgar comments regarding his mother (even though his mother is Sante Kimes). I had hoped for more of a diplomatic view, but what you get is Mr. Kimes trying to convince his audience of how wonderful he is. Mr. Kimes has an ego the size of New York. If you can get past the blatant disrespect for his mother and his far fetched martyrdom, the book is a fairly smooth read. Bottom Line: Borrow the book don't buy it.