Dorothea at her case
|Birth name:||Dorothea Helen Gray|
|Born:||January 9, 1929
San Bernardino County, California
|Number of victims:||9|
|Span of killings:||1982–1988|
|Date apprehended:||November 11, 1988|
Dorothea Helen Puente (born January 9, 1929) is a convicted American serial killer. In the 1980s, Puente ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California, and cashed the Social Security checks of her elderly and mentally disabled boarders. Those who complained were killed and buried in her yard.
Puente was born as Dorothea Helen Gray in San Bernardino County, California. Her parents – Trudy Mae Yates and Jesse James Gray – were an impoverished alcoholic couple who both worked as cotton pickers. Puente's father died when she was four years old, and her mother died when she was six years old. She was sent to an orphanage until relatives from Fresno, California took her in. In later life, she lied about her childhood, saying that she was one of three children who all were born and raised in Mexico.
In 1945, she was married for the first time at the age of 16 to a soldier named Fred McFaul, who had just returned from the Pacific. Dorothea had two daughters between 1946 and 1948, but she sent one to relatives in Sacramento, and gave the other up for adoption. Dorothea became pregnant again in 1948, but suffered a miscarriage. In late 1948, McFaul became fed up and left her. Humiliated at being abandoned, Dorothea would lie about this marriage and claim that her husband died of a heart attack within days of their union. In an attempt to gain an income, she tried to forge checks, but she was eventually caught and sentenced to a year in jail; she was paroled after six months. Soon after her release, she was impregnated by a man she barely knew and gave birth to a daughter, whom she gave up for adoption. In 1952, she married a Swede named Axel Johanson, and had a turbulent 14-year marriage.
In 1960, she was arrested for owning and managing a brothel and was sentenced to 90 days in the Sacramento County Jail. After her release, she was arrested again, this time for vagrancy, and sentenced to another 90 days in jail. Following that, she began a criminal career that over time became more serious. She found work as a nurse's aid, caring for disabled and elderly people in private homes. In a short time, she started to manage boarding houses.
She divorced Johansen in 1966 and married Roberto Puente, a man 19 years her junior, in Mexico City. The marriage only lasted two years. Shortly after it ended, Dorothea Puente took over a three-story, 16-bedroom care home at 2100 F Street in Sacramento, California. There, she ostensibly provided care and comfort to the homeless and destitute of the area.
Puente got married for the fourth time in 1976 to Pedro Montalvo, who was a violent alcoholic. The marriage only lasted a few months, and Puente started to spend time in local bars looking for older men who were receiving benefits. She forged their signatures to steal their money, but she eventually was caught and charged with 34 counts of treasury fraud. While on probation, she continued to commit the same fraud.
According to California Court of Appeal records, in 1981 Puente began renting an upstairs apartment at 1426 F Street in downtown Sacramento. The nine murders with which she was charged in 1988 (she was convicted in 1993 of three) were associated with this upstairs apartment and not her previous 16-room boarding house.
Dorothea's reputation in the boarding house was mixed. Some tenants resented her stinginess and complained that she refused to give them their mail or money; others praised her for small acts of kindness or for her generous meals. Puente's motives for killing tenants was financially motivated, with police estimates of her ill-gotten income totaling more than $5000/month. When apprehended, Dorothea was in possession of expensive perfume and silk dresses.
The murders appear to have begun shortly after Puente began renting out space in the home at 1426 F Street. In April 1982, 61-year-old friend and business partner Ruth Monroe began living with Puente in her upstairs apartment, but soon died from an overdose of codeine and Tylenol. Puente told police that the woman was very depressed because her husband was terminally ill. They believed her and judged the incident a suicide.
A few weeks later, the police were back after a 74-year-old pensioner named Malcolm McKenzie (one of four elderly people Puente was accused of drugging) accused Puente of drugging and stealing from him. She was convicted of three charges of theft on August 18, 1982, and sentenced to five years in jail. While in jail, she started to correspond with a 77-year-old retiree living in Oregon, named Everson Gillmouth. A pen-pal friendship developed, and when Puente was released in 1985 after serving just three years of her sentence, he was waiting for her in a red 1980 Ford pickup. Their relationship developed quickly, and the couple was soon making wedding plans. They opened a joint bank account and paid $600-a-month rent for the upstairs apartment at 1426 F Street in Sacramento.
In November 1985, Puente hired handyman Ismael Florez to install some wood paneling in her apartment. For his labor and an additional $800, Puente gave him a red 1980 Ford pickup in good condition, which she stated belonged to her boyfriend in Los Angeles who no longer needed it. Dorothea Puente then asked Florez to do one more thing: build a box 6 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet to store "books and other items." She then asked Florez to transport the filled and nailed-shut box to a storage depot. Florez agreed, and Puente joined him. On the way, however, she told him to stop while they were on Garden Highway in Sutter County and dump the box on the river bank in an unofficial household dumping site. Puente told him that the contents of the box were just junk.
On January 1, 1986, a fisherman spotted the box sitting about three feet from the bank of the river and informed police. Investigators found a badly decomposed and unidentifiable body of an elderly man inside. Meanwhile, Puente continued to collect Everson Gillmouth's pension and wrote letters to his family, explaining that the reason he had not contacted them was because he was ill. She also maintained a "room and board" business, taking in 40 new tenants (most of whom were alcoholics and drug addicts). Although she was making a good profit doing this, she wanted more money and therefore started to frequent bars looking for new customers. Gillmouth's body remained unidentified for three years.
Puente continued to accept elderly tenants, and was popular with local social workers because she accepted "tough cases," including drug addicts and abusive tenants. Puente collected tenants' monthly mail before they saw it and paid them stipends, pocketing the rest for "expenses."
During this period, parole agents visited Puente, who had been ordered to stay away from the elderly and refrain from handling government checks, a minimum of fifteen times at the residence. No violations were ever noted.
Suspicion was first aroused when neighbors noticed the odd activities of a homeless alcoholic known only as "Chief," whom Puente stated she had "adopted" and made her personal handyman. Puente had Chief dig in the basement and cart soil and rubbish away in a wheelbarrow. At the time, the basement floor was covered with a concrete slab. Chief later took down a garage in the backyard and installed a fresh concrete slab there as well. Soon afterward, Chief disappeared.
On November 11, 1988, police inquiring after the disappearance of tenant Alvaro Montoya, a mentally retarded schizophrenic whose social worker had reported missing. After noticing disturbed soil on the property, they uncovered the body of tenant Leona Carpenter, 78. Seven bodies were eventually found, and Puente was charged with a total of nine murders, convicted of three, and is now serving two life sentences.
During the initial investigation, Puente was not immediately suspect, and was allowed to leave the property, ostensibly to buy a cup of coffee at a nearby hotel. Instead, she fled to Los Angeles, where she immediately befriended an elderly pensioner, who recognized her from police reports and called the authorities- but not before paying some of her expenses and entertaining her suggestion of cohabitation.
In 1998, Dorothea began corresponding with Shane Bugbee, who conducted an extensive interview with her over the course of several years. She began sending him various recipes, and in 2004 the book "Cooking With A Serial Killer" was released. It included a lengthy interview, almost 50 recipes, and various pieces of prison art sent to Bugbee by the convicted murderer.
Although never mentioned by name, Puente's crimes were alluded to in the novel and film of the same name, No Country for Old Men. The character, sheriff "Ed Tom Bell" reads an account of them from a newspaper to one of his deputies to illustrate how difficult it is to get anyone in a community to care about crimes being committed right next door. Some of the details he reads, though, are inconsistent with Puente's crimes. "'Neighbors were alerted to a man seen running from the premises wearing nothing but a dog collar.' But that's what it took to get someone's attention. Digging graves in the backyard didn't bring any."
Unfortunately, we could not find any sentences from other sites similar to those above.