Dorothea Puente was a convicted serial killer who ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California in the 1980s. Puente cashed in the Social Security checks of the elderly and disabled boarders living in her house. Many of them found dead and buried in the boarding house’s yard.
In April 1982, Puente’s friend and business partner, Ruth Monroe, rented a space in an apartment she owned. Shortly after moving in, Monroe died from an overdose of codeine and Tylenol. When she was questioned by police, Puente said that Monroe had become depressed because of her husband’s illness. Police officially ruled the death a suicide.
Several weeks later, 74-year-old Malcolm McKenzie accused Puente of drugging him and stealing his pension. Puente was charged and convicted of theft in August of that year and was sentenced to five years in jail. When she was serving her sentence, she began a pen-pal relationship with 77-year-old Everson Gillmouth. When she was released in 1985, after serving three years, she opened a joint bank account with Gillmouth.
In November of that year, Puente hired a handyman, Ismael Florez, to install wood paneling in her home. After he completed the job, Puente paid him an $800 bonus and gave him a red 1980 Ford pickup truck- the exact same model and year of Gillmouth’s car. She told Florez that the truck belonged to her boyfriend who gave it to her. Puente also hired Florez to build a box that was six feet by three feet by two feet, which she stated that she would use to store “books and other items.” She and Florez then travelled to a highway in Sutter County and dumped the box in a riverbank. On January 1, 1986, the box was recovered by a fisherman, who called the police. When police arrived and opened the box, they found the decomposed remains of an elderly man- who would not be identified as Everson Gillmouth for another three years. During this time, Puente collected Gillmouth’s pension and forged letters to his family.
During this time, Puente continued to house elderly and disabled tenants in her boarding house. While they were living there, she read their mail and took any money and Social Security checks they received. She paid each of them monthly stipends but kept the remainder for what she claimed were expenses for the boarding house. Puente’s boarding house was visited by several parole agents as a result of previous orders for her to stay away from elderly people and not to handle government checks. Despite these frequent visits, she was never charged with anything. Neighbors began to grow suspicious of Puente when she stated that she “adopted” a homeless alcoholic man named “Chief” to serve as a handyman. She had Chief dig in the basement and remove soil and garbage from the property. Chief then put in a new concrete slab in the basement before he disappeared.
In November 1988, another tenant in Puente’s house, Alvaro Montoya, disappeared. Montoya was developmentally disabled and had schizophrenia. After he failed to show up to meetings, his social worker reported him missing. Police arrived at Puente’s boarding house and began to search the property. They discovered recently disturbed soil and were able to uncover seven bodies in the yard. When the investigation began, Puente was not considered a suspect. As soon as police let her out of their sight, she fled to Los Angeles, where she visited a bar and began to talk to an elderly pensioner. The man recognized her from the news and called the police.
Puente was charged with nine counts of murder, for the seven bodies found at her house in addition to Gillmouth and Montoya. She was convicted of three of the murders, as jury could not agree on the other six. Puente was sentenced to two life sentences which she served at Central California Women’s Facility in Madera County, California until her death in 2011 at age 82. Until her death, she continued to insist that she was innocent and that the tenants had all died of natural causes.
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