March 7th, 2010
Conning the feds into releasing him from prison, Scott Kimball sets himself up for killing spree
By John Aguilar
Camera Staff Writer
Investigators found the grocery store receipt — for $17.95 worth of spaghetti sauce, pasta, meat and lighter fluid — among dozens of papers in a box belonging to Scott Kimball.
The 5-year-old slip of paper nagged at FBI Special Agent Jonny Grusing. Dated Aug. 24, 2003, one day after the disappearance of 19-year-old Kaysi McLeod, it came from the North Park Supers store in the tiny town of Walden in Colorado’s northern mountains.
Kimball, a career white-collar criminal released from prison as a paid FBI informant, had been the last person seen with Kaysi. He said he’d been alone in the high country the night Kaysi disappeared.
He had similar excuses in other cases, too.
Like the case of the veterinary assistant missing since she left on a cross-country spree with Kimball.
Like the case of the stripper whom Kimball had been assigned to keep an eye on for the FBI, but who vanished and was presumed murdered.
Like the case of Kimball’s own uncle, who went into business with him and was never seen again.
Grusing knew he had a serial killer on his hands.
But without a body, there would be no murder case.
The agent took a shot in the dark.
With the receipt in hand, he called the Routt National Forest district office in Walden to ask for a map of the area. He needed to at least take a look around.
A receptionist told him that if he wanted a topographical map, he’d have to pay for it. Eight bucks. No exceptions.
In no mood to start filling out FBI expense sheets, Grusing asked to talk to someone higher up the chain of command.
Grusing told supervisor Sue Yeager he was with the FBI and was searching for human remains. She told the agent she’d get some maps out to him right away.
Then, almost as an afterthought, she told him to talk to the coroner. A skull, likely belonging to a young woman, had been discovered by a hunter six months earlier in a remote area southwest of town.
“When she told me that, I pretty much knew it was Kaysi,” Grusing recalls.
Now it was time to back Kimball into a corner.
The case against one of Colorado’s most conniving killers spans seven years and leaves behind shattered lives, aborted dreams and unanswered questions.
It’s a saga filled with a dizzying series of detours, oversights and close calls, red flags unnoticed, leads never pursued, questionable deals made.
At its center is a man, raised in Old Town Lafayette, who spun a web of lies and deceit so thick that almost everyone around him fell into it.
Scott Kimball, now 43, conned wives and girlfriends, victims and associates. He gained their trust and wove himself into their worlds. He even married the mother of one of his victims — eight days after killing her daughter.
Kimball got the FBI on his side and lived within its shadow, as he went about snuffing out the lives of three young women and his uncle during a frenetic 20-month period.
Kimball preyed on the vulnerable, targeting people who were looking for a better life and convincing them he could help.
Jennifer Marcum, a 25-year-old single mother, longed to leave behind the strip club where she worked. LeAnn Emry, 24, struggled with bipolar disorder and dreamed of a life with her imprisoned lover. And Kaysi McLeod, at 19, seemed ready to leave behind her years of teen angst.
Scott Kimball’s murder spree would go unpunished for years, as he mastered the art of capitalizing on his crimes, side-stepping suspicions and pitting agents against prosecutors.
His FBI handler would repeatedly vouch for him, keeping him out of courtrooms and out of jail with well-placed phone calls to prosecutors intent on bringing Kimball to justice. Meanwhile, Kimball fed the agent just enough lies to keep himself in the clear.
“The FBI was so very easy to convince,” Kimball said in a letter from prison.
But the story of Scott Kimball has a critical second chapter.
It’s a chapter about good, old-fashioned police work, dogged pursuit and focused determination to put away a killer before he could strike again.
It’s an account of the people who spent years unwinding scam after scam and piecing together crime after crime, in an ever-expanding investigation that earned the label “Operation Snowball.”
“These cases were extremely difficult,” Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said. “Less persistent, less insightful people could have easily missed the clues that they used to bring these cases to closure.”
As shrewd as he was, Kimball was not invincible — not to those who finally managed to see through his cunning.
Like the final FBI agent assigned to Kimball’s case, who pored over evidence and tracked down a body; like the young Lafayette detective, who assiduously retraced Kimball’s steps from check fraud to murder; like the Boulder prosecutors, who kept on him until the prison doors slammed shut; and like the families left behind, who wouldn’t let Kimball get away with one more lie.
Scott Kimball is variously described as a genius and a psychopath, but almost everyone agrees that at first handshake, he’s one hell of a nice guy.
Kimball charmed bank tellers — bringing them steaks from his beef business — right before passing a bad check and absconding with thousands of dollars.
He convinced fellow inmates to confide in him, to introduce him to their girlfriends and to trust that he could help them set their lives straight on the outside.
“I would say nothing he ever said to me was the truth,” said John Alderman, who met Kimball in federal prison.
The 69-year-old doctor, convicted of tax evasion, learned how to play hearts from Kimball behind bars and engaged him in conversation about medicine and nutrition.
Alderman trusted his former fellow inmate enough to ask him to cash a check for $7,300, and to loan Kimball a truck and trailer once they’d both been released from prison.
Alderman never saw Kimball again.
“I guess this is how con artists work their magic,” he later told investigators. “I do not know how they can keep their lies straight, but he sure worked me over and gained my trust and took the only few possessions that I had left to my name.”
Kimball also wooed the opposite sex with ease, marrying three times and dating a succession of women, often at the same time.
Denise Pierce, 35, fell for the good-natured Colorado rancher when he came out to visit his brother in California’s Coachella Valley. He had an engaging personality, treated her with class and always seemed to have pockets stuffed with cash.
“He was a down-home country boy who liked country music,” she said.
It wasn’t until Kimball was stopped in a high-speed police chase that Pierce learned her new boyfriend was at the center of an intensive missing-persons investigation.
“I would never in my whole life have guessed. The Scott I knew wouldn’t have hurt those people,” she said. “He portrayed himself as someone else.”
On the street
FBI agent, mercenary, cattleman, lumberjack — Kimball liked to be a lot of things, depending on who was doing the asking. And he didn’t have a problem convincing people to come along for the ride.
“He has a very sincere presentation,” said U.S. Attorney Dave Conner, who prosecuted Kimball on federal firearms charges. “Mr. Kimball always has something to tell you that you want to hear.”
And Kimball had a knack for sizing people up — especially his interrogators, said FBI Special Agent Grusing. He fished for information, turned questions around and always tried to gain the upper hand.
“He just takes control of the interview,” Grusing said.
Lafayette police Detective Gary Thatcher, who pursued Kimball for nearly four years on both fraud and murder charges, described him as “the most intelligent person” he’s ever met.
“He was pretty good at poking holes in my investigation,” Thatcher said. “This was a guy who had an alibi for anything and everything.”
Larissa Hentz was so taken by Kimball’s charm that she married him and had his two children.
“He knew what to say, how to say it and when to say it,” she said. “He was that good.”
It was with this noxious mix of geniality and cruelty that Scott Kimball hit the streets of Denver as 2003 loomed. He was energetic, he was boundless — he had just been released early from federal prison to act as a confidential informant for the FBI.
And he already had an eye on his first victim.