A notorious Colorado serial killer stands accused of hatching a multi-pronged plot of revenge, murder and escape from behind the bars of a state prison in Sterling, 9Wants to Know has learned.
Scott Kimball, a career conman who convinced the FBI to let him out of prison in 2002 to act as an informant – and then murdered four people – is at the center of the plot, according to court documents obtained by 9NEWS.
His plan included two contract killings, the hijacking of a helicopter to spirit him and another inmate out of the yard at the Sterling Correctional Facility, and an escape to Alaska – all of it financed by a million bucks he claimed was buried near a Montana ranch, according to the documents filed in District Court in Sterling.
There were clandestine phone calls, code names and cryptic conversations.
But the plan went awry, according to an arrest affidavit, when a former inmate enlisted to carry out the scheme was convinced by a family member to go to authorities instead.
None of it surprised the lawman who knows Kimball perhaps better than anyone – FBI agent Jonathan Grusing, who has been on his trail, off and on, for more than a decade.
“Scott Kimball is a master manipulator,” Grusing told 9NEWS. “He is a very intelligent person.
“He does not have much emotion towards other people, or the problems, difficulties, hardships they have when they go through something very difficult – even that he might put them through.”
A second Sterling inmate also involved in the plot, a convicted killer named Marc Sylvester, faces similar charges.
Kimball is eight years into a 70-year sentence for the murders of four people carried out after he’d convinced the FBI that his cellmate, Steven Ennis, was plotting the murder of a witness in a drug case. On Dec. 18, 2002, a federal magistrate allowed for Kimball to be released from custody “to actively cooperate with the FBI on the Steven Ennis matter,” according to previously released court documents.
But instead of cooperating, Kimball murdered at least four people – and has been considered a potential suspect in other killings and disappearances.
In the eight months after his release, Kimball killed LeAnn Emry, 24, Jennifer Marcum, 25, and Kaysi McLeod, 19.
Then, in mid-2004, he shot and killed his uncle, Terry Kimball, 60.
It wasn’t until 2006 that the fathers of Marcum and McLeod convinced the FBI to begin looking at Kimball as a suspect at what was then the disappearances of the young women. By then he was also a suspect in an elaborate check-fraud scheme in Boulder County.
Grusing led the FBI’s investigation, and in 2009 Kimball struck a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, and was sent to prison.
The arrest affidavit obtained by 9Wants to Know, which reads like something out of a best-seller, lays out the foundation of the new charges against Kimball, suggesting that he was plotting for months to get back at a former business partner and then bust out of prison.
The plot began to come to light last April when a man who had been imprisoned with Kimball for two years went to a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and laid out the elaborate plan.
The case was turned over to Grusing, and the former inmate became what is known as a “confidential human source” – a secret informant.
The informant said that during his last months behind bars, Kimball had proposed to pay him to kill people and to help him escape from the Sterling prison, according to the affidavit.
Kimball named a former business partner, providing information about the location of his home, his housemates and details about his life, according to the affidavit. At the same time, according to the document, Kimball’s new cellmate – Sylvester – got in on the plan.
Sylvester had his own target for a hit, according to the affidavit.
Once the killings were carried out, the man was directed to go to the tiny airport in Erie, where he was directed to rent a helicopter using a cover story – that he wanted to look at land or cattle in Northeast Colorado. Once in the air, the man was supposed to pull a gun on the pilot, zip-tie him into his seat, and force him to land in the yard at the Sterling prison, where Kimball and Sylvester would be waiting for a flight to freedom, according to the affidavit.
From there, the plan called for them to fly to a waiting rental car stashed about 20 miles away, then flee north to Alaska.
Kimball had dangled an enticing prize in front of the man, claiming he had a million dollars in cash buried in Montana and that he’d pay for the killings and the escape, according to the document.
The exact kind of prison break had been carried out in another part of Colorado in 1989 – two women chartered a helicopter, pulled a gun on the pilot, and forced him to land in the yard at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility near Ordway. Their husbands, one serving time for check fraud and the other for robbery, hopped on and were flown to a waiting van. They made it about 400 miles before getting into a shootout in Holdrege, Neb., and being captured.
As the investigation into Kimball’s alleged plot continued, the FBI began monitoring clandestine phone calls, according to the affidavit, involving Kimball or Sylvester and the informant.
Both prisoners had code names – “Montana” for Kimball, “Bumper” for Sylvester. The conversations, according to the affidavit, were cryptic and coded. There was talk of “Montana’s thing,” and of wanting to “make sure you still on the same page we was.” At one point, the three of them apparently established the time for the killings and the prison break – Sept. 21 and 22.
The afternoon of Sept. 21, according to the affidavit, Sylvester called the informant, who indicated he’d committed the first murder. The next morning, in another phone call, the informant said he had a helicopter chartered for 12:30 that day.
“So you’re headed to that cattle auction at two?” Sylvester asked, according to the affidavit.
“Yeah, I’ll be there at two, so,” the informant responded.
“Okey dokey,” Sylvester responded, according to the affidavit.
Prison video cameras were rolling that afternoon as Kimball and Sylvester both emerged from their cell on a 78-degree day wearing sweatpants, ball caps and sunglasses and carrying sweatshirts, according to the affidavit.
“They sat at a table along the north side of the yard for an hour, with Kimball periodically looking at his watch,” Grusing wrote in the affidavit. “Then they moved across the yard to the south side, sitting at a table in the shade, for another 45 minutes before walking back to the unit.”
Again, Kimball was “observed looking at his watch periodically.”
Eventually, they headed back inside for the inmate count.
The only thing that came the way of Kimball and Sylvester were the new felony charges.
It’s not clear from the affidavit who Sylvester wanted killed – the names of both of the targets of the alleged hits were redacted from the document – but 9Wants to Know learned that Kimball’s intended victim was a former business partner named Bryon Dathe.
Dathe once operated a cattle ranch with Kimball. The venture collapsed amid Kimball’s various financial schemes and left Dathe’s bank account and credit wiped out.
Like many others, Dathe had found Kimball completely convincing.
Kimball’s history is littered with people like Dathe – people who were roped into a business deal by his charming, sincere-sounding talk and then cleaned out financially. His string of victims stretches all over the West, dates back to the 1980s, and includes multiple cellmates. He once convinced federal agents a cellmate in Alaska was trying to order the murder of a federal judge, and his release in Colorado was based largely on the stories he told the FBI about his cellmate’s involvement in an Ecstasy ring.
Today, Dathe looks back on his dealings with Kimball – the fake checks that looked so real banks eagerly cashed them – somewhat ruefully.
“Sometimes,” Dathe told 9NEWS, “I felt almost guilty or gullible that I did fall for it, and then when you hear from authorities about all the people that he – that he pulled the wool over their eyes – like, I was just one of many people.”
Dathe returned from a road trip to a message that FBI agents wanted to talk to him
“They told me that Scott tried to put a hit on me from the prison,” Dathe said.
He said he found himself in disbelief.
“I mean, how do you come home from a road trip by saying that somebody tried to put a hit on you?” Dathe asked.
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of it was that Dathe believed he’d be nowhere near the top of Kimball’s enemies list.
“I would have thought I was at the bottom of the list,” Dathe said. “I couldn’t imagine me being the name … that … somebody would think of to take out.”
Even after Kimball’s 2009 conviction, Grusing has continued to investigate him. He considers Kimball a possible suspect in a series of unsolved homicides and disappearances. And he also knows that Kimball knows where the body of the last of his four known victims, Jennifer Marcum, is buried.
The idea that Kimball would use a former inmate to carry out killings did not surprise him.
“I don't think Scott minded sacrificing other people in case it would work,” Grusing said. “I don't know the probability that he would put on this that it would work, but he certainly wouldn't mind other people getting hurt, arrested, killed trying to carry out this scheme.”
Grusing also made it clear that he believes Kimball was the mastermind – and that Sylvester was just the latest person close to him to be drawn into his web.
“That happens with his close associates, with his family members,” Grusing said. “I mean, those closest to Scott tend to get the most trouble.”
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.