Sante and Kenneth Kimes: A Life of Crime
Kenneth Kimes Sr.
Kenneth Kimes, Sante's third husband and Kenny's dad, was born in Prague, Oklahoma in 1916. About the time Sante was being born, he was on his way to California with three brothers and two sisters and riding on an old flatbed truck, part of the Great Depression migration. For years, the family moved up and down the fertile valleys of the Golden State, picking melons and harvesting lettuces for pennies a day. Despite the low salary, Ken Kimes had the mentality of the times, saving part of each pay packet, which eventually grew into a nice nest egg.
"I was the fastest goddamn melon picker in the San Joaquin valley," Ken Kimes Sr. would drunkenly boast several decades later after he had become a millionaire many times over.
When World War II began, Ken Sr. was among the first to enlist. He spent the war years helping to liberate and then occupy the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese. The cold desolate isles off the coast of Alaska weren't the greatest place to spend three years, but he made the most of it, trading guns with the indigenous population for fresh fish and caribou, which he resold to the mess hall. He also operated a small casino inside a Quonset hut. By V-Day, he had managed to send a tidy sum home.
During one leave, he found time to woo and marry a Texas beauty, Charloette Tayor. They would have two children, a boy and a girl, and began the post-war years with a little bit of cash and a sky's-the-limit attitude. Everyone seemed to be buying cars, highways were being built and the couple decided to get into the construction business. After building a few apartment complexes and trailer parks, they began focusing on what fit the autos and road boom best — motels.
"We built at least 30 of them," Charloette Kimes recalled. "We sold them for tremendous profits."
It didn't take long for them to figure out that they could make even more money by building them and then owning and operating the new lodgings. Soon there was a small empire with the crown jewel of their chain built directly across the street from a newly constructed Disneyland. The 100-room complex was called the Mecca Motel.
Charloette soon discovered that her husband had a dark side. He began to control her, doling out an allowance and specifying what she could and couldn't buy. Ken's mother and sister lived in the small mansion in Orange County and insisted upon going everywhere with her on her husband's orders. Not only was Ken Kimes Sr. away for weeks at a time, but Charloette soon found out there was a loose woman near every motel her husband built. "I had worked like a dog for him," Charloette recalled. "I thought that every time he socked away another $100,000, he'd relax. But he never did. Money became his god. And he was a womanizer. Slick as a button about it and he got away with it for a long time. Eventually I got blindsided."
Charloette filed for divorce in 1963, but Ken Kimes hired the former attorney general for the state of California to represent him. In the end, Ken got away with the bulk of their fortune. Charloette had no regrets.
"I have never had any trouble holding my head high," she said.