U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Missouri
Eastern District of Missouri
For Immediate Release
October 31, 2011
Richard G. Callahan, United States Attorney
Contact: Jan Diltz, Public Information Officer
Ex–Wife and Husband Indicted for Roles in 2001 Arson That Killed Their 15-Year Old Son
St. Louis, MO – The United States Attorney’s Office announced today the indictments of Sandra Kay Bryant (formerly known as Sandra Kay Kemper), age 55, and Steven Henry Kemper, age 53, for their involvement in the November 16, 2001, arson of their home at 6682 Champana Lane in Florissant, Missouri. The Kemper’s 15-year-old son, Zachariah Andrew Kemper, was trapped in the basement and killed during the fire. The indictments were returned last week but remained sealed until earlier today.
Sandra Kay Bryant alone was originally charged by the Saint Louis County Prosecutor’s Office in 2002. During the ensuing trial the judge, over the objection of both the state prosecutor and the defense, declared a mistrial after deciding that he had erred in allowing the jury to hear evidence of a polygraph examination. The Missouri Supreme Court ultimately held that because the mistrial was declared over the defense objection, state prosecutors were barred from retrying the defendant by the United States Constitution’s
double jeopardy provision.
According to the indictment, Sandra Kay Bryant and Steven Henry Kemper participated in a continuous scheme to defraud multiple insurance companies from December 1996 through 2002. Included in the scheme were arsons of two residential dwellings in 1997 and 1999, as well as the arson of the Champana Lane residence in November 2001. During the early morning hours of November 16, 2001, the residence at 6682 Champana Lane was intentionally set ablaze while Sandra Kay Bryant, her mother, her son, Steven Henry Kemper and another individual were present inside the residence. Everyone except 15-year-old Zach Kemper was able to escape. Zach Kemper’s body was discovered by fire personnel in the basement of the home, on the floor, next to his bed. Immediately after the fire and in the months that followed, the Kempers made repeated misrepresentations to several insurance companies. Based upon those misrepresentations, the insurance companies made substantial payments to the Kempers pursuant to the terms of their applicable homeowners and life insurance policies.
The indictment represents the culmination of a major effort by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). ATF Special Agent in Charge Michael Gleysteen commented,
this case is about our Agency’s commitment to the relentless pursuit of justice, particularly in cases such a arson where the public and first responders are needlessly put at risk. Aside from praise for ATF, United States Attorney Richard Callahan also cited the cooperation from the St. Louis County Police Department and the County Prosecutor’s Office as important elements in leading to today’s announcement.
The indictment charges Sandra Kay Bryant and Steven Henry Kemper with aiding and abetting the use of fire to commit mail fraud. Sandra Kay Bryant is charged separately in a second count with using fire to commit mail fraud. The penalties under each count are a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years up to life imprisonment.
As is always the case, charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations and do not constitute proof of guilt. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.