OFF THE BAT, it is clear that Jeanne King was a
prototypically busy kid, the kind to raise a schoolteacher's hackles and spend
recess at a desk scribbling, "I will not talk. I will not talk. I will not
talk..." 100 times on her tablet.
"I was accused of 'speaking out of turn,'" King said, teeth gleaming and
spectacled eyes squinting with the mischief of her smile.
The home she keeps in Forest Hills suggests a few things about this
churning within. Her front-door greeting began with a handshake, then an
unprompted ruminating on whatever subject came to mind. Lois Lane, her snow-
white short-hair cat, was underfoot. Clark Kent, the more skittish of her two
felines, was out of sight. King began pointing out her collection of ceramic,
plastic and wooden felines of varying sizes, shapes and colors, scattered on
end tables, radiators and wherever.
Photographs showing the worldly and locally prominent with whom she has
worked and rubbed shoulders lead downstairs to a basement-work space for a
journalist-turned-author -where walls are ringed with more pictures.
Bookshelves overflow. File cabinets line up. File crates stack up.
Leading upstairs to her more private quarters, a wall of courtroom sketches
of some of New York City's most famous criminal trials helps tell the story of
how King arrived at this moment. She covered the retrial of Dr. Sam Sheppard,
the trials of Rabbi Meir Kahane's accused killers and yuppie murderer Robert
Chambers, the World Trade Center bombing case and the racially tinged cases
from Howard Beach and Bensonhurst.
Now she has snared a six-figure book and television movie deal to offer her
take on the case of Sante and Kenneth Kimes, the mother- son duo convicted of
murdering Irene Silverman, the East Side millionaire widow whose body was never
From jury selection to the verdict's public reading, King-at 68, a grand
dame of Reuters news wire service-was the only reporter to cover every day of
The Kimes story she is crafting for the big bucks of Hollywood and the
publishing world -her first book-has nudged her away from the journalistic
tradition in which she is steeped. Where she tried to begin her trial coverage
with a reporter's requisite lack of presumption-and sought to keep it that way
until the end-King now says the courtroom back-and-forth convinced her of the
They committed to paper too many plots against Silverman and made too many
telephone queries about her private affairs. There were 129 witnesses. Duct
tape and a box of 42-gallon, industrial-weight trash bags-four of them were
missing-were taken from the Kimes apartment to be cataloged among 430 pieces of
The book will include particulars left out of routine press reports. Such
as Kenneth Kimes' furious and frequent mouthing of profanities. "I was
constantly reading his lips," King said. Or his mother's weirdly incessant
facial contortions. Or the detectives' tracing and retracing the Kimeses' trek
across a half-dozen or so states and one foreign country.
"I have every intention of giving both sides of the story," she said. "But
now I can say what I want to say."
King has invited the 129 trial witnesses, the defense attorneys and
prosecutors, and Silverman's household and administrative staff to a catered
affair at her home in August.
Her book is slated to hit stores in 2001, somewhere ahead of the Kimeses'
next trial-on charges they murdered a man in Los Angeles. Precisely how a
six-figure deal translates in terms of dollars King will not say. Friends have
inquired about what she will do with the bounty. She said she has not given it
A long weekend in Maine is on her calendar. And for the months following,
she will devote herself to fulfilling her book contract.
Not a bad place to find yourself, said King, who grew up in Washington
Heights, reading Nancy Drew mysteries and watching TV lawyer Perry Mason.
She dropped out of college. "I am so ashamed of that. It is my biggest
She took her first job as a clerical worker for the Screen Actors Guild at
a time when few women of even her ordinary social station went anywhere without
a husband leading them. She went on to write copy for radio and do publicity
for the 1950s "Queen for a Day" TV show.
King arrived at newspapers just as the industry was beginning to let women
dabble outside the women's pages. Former New York Daily News court reporter
Theo Wilson taught her the tricks of the trade, she said, and she has sought to
pass on her own tips to court-reporting upstarts.
"Little things: A trial starts at the time of jury selection, not the day
of opening statements. Keep track of what time someone went on the stand and
off. Observe things. Does he pick his nose? When and how long does the jury
deliberate?" she said. "That's how it ought to be done."