SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Throughout the 1980s, as many as nine deaths in Sacramento were investigated as being connected to Dorothea Puente. She was ultimately convicted in three of the murders, having buried her victims outside her boarding house in Downtown Sacramento.
Puente would organize meetings in her house, where she offered aid to alcoholics, the homeless, and the mentally ill, including setting up their Social Security accounts and at times letting some live at her house, located at 1426 F St.
It was later discovered that Puente killed some of the tenants living in her house, as well as fraudulently obtained their Social Security payments.
Puente even changed her image to seem more innocent by wearing vintage clothing and large-framed glasses, along with letting her hair turn gray, according to Crime Museum, a Washington, D.C. organization.
One of the first people that came in contact with Puente and later died was Ruth Monroe, who rented a room from her in April 1982. Shortly after moving in, Monroe died from an overdose of codeine and Tylenol. Puente told police that Monroe was depressed due to her husband’s illness and police at first ruled Monroe’s death as a suicide.
A few weeks later, Malcolm McKenzie, 74, accused Puente of drugging him and then stealing his pension. Puente was convicted of theft and was sentenced to five years in jail.
While in jail, Puente had a pen-pal, 77-year-old Everson Gillmouth. Once released from prison in 1985, Puente and Gillmouth moved in together and opened a joint bank account.
In November of the same year, Puente hired Ismael Florez as a handyman for wood paneling inside her home. She paid him an $800 bonus and even gave him Gillmouth’s red 1980 Ford pickup truck, stating that Gillmouth gave her the car and that he no longer needed the vehicle.
Puente hired Florez again to build a 6’x3’x2′ box that she claimed she would use for books. Later, Puente and Florez dumped the box into a river in Sutter County.
Later that year, the box was found with a body inside, but the police did not connect their findings to Puente at the time.
Three years after the box was found, the body was determined to be Gillmouth. During that time, Puente had been collecting Gillmouth’s pension as well as forging letters to Gillmouth’s family, in which she impersonated him.
Puente continued to house and help elderly and disabled people. She would read all of her tenants’ mail and take any money or Social Security checks that they received. While she would give all her tenants monthly stipends, Puente would keep the remainder of their money, claiming it was needed for expenses, according to Crime Museum.
Several parole agents visited Puente’s house over the years and ordered her to stay away from elderly people and not handle checks from the government. However, she was never charged during those visits.
People started becoming suspicious in November 1988, when Alvaro Montoya, a disabled man with schizophrenia disappeared. His social worker had reported him missing when he missed his meetings.
When police arrived at the house to ask about Montoya, they eventually searched the yard, where they dug up seven bodies in total.
Puente fled to Los Angeles, where she was recognized for being on the news. Los Angeles Police officers arrested Puente and she was taken back to Sacramento.
Puente was charged with nine counts of murder, including for the deaths of Gillmouth and Monroe, but she was only convicted of three, with the jury deadlocking on six of the cases.
Buried in her backyard were the bodies of Leona Carpenter, 81, Dorothy Miller, 65, Alvaro Montoya, 52, Benjamin Fink, 55, James Gallop, 64, Vera Faye Martin, 65, and Betty Palmer, 80.
Puente was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Puente died in the Central California Women’s Facility, in Chowchilla, in 2011. She was 82.