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.
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April 02, 2002
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Excerpt from Son of a Grifter by Kent Walker
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.