Dorothea Puente, also known as the Death House Landlady, was a little-old-lady serial killer who preyed on the elderly and drug-addicted men and women of Sacramento, CA in the 1980s. Between 1982 and 1988, she killed nine people, all of whom were renting rooms at her boarding house. After their deaths, Puente collected their social security and pension benefits, using them to enrich herself.
Puente was born in 1929 as Dorothea Helen Gray to Trudy May and Jesse James Gray. Both of her parents died while she was young, and she grew up in an orphanage. At the age of 16, Puente married Fred McFaul and had two daughters, but she raised neither of them; one went to a relative, and the other was adopted. McFaul soon left her, and Puente married two more times, first to Axel Johanson and then to Roberto Puente.
Before she began her descent into murder, Puente supposedly ran a brothel, forged checks, and worked as a nurse's aide. Obviously, she found it more lucrative to just murder her boarders.
She Buried Bodies In Her Basement
For many years, her neighbors complained about the odd smell coming from Dorothea Puente's yard. They claimed that it smelled of sweetness and rot. People in the area started keeping their windows tightly closed and didn't seem to notice the quicklime Puente began spreading around her yard. They clearly didn't notice that the "sweet old lady" was actually burying bodies there.
Police arrived to the apartment building to investigate the disappearance of another boarder, Burt Montoya, after his social worker filed a missing person's report. Law enforcement found Montoya's body buried in the yard, along with six other bodies.
She Tried To Flee The Country
During the second day of the law enforcement search of her grounds, Dorothea Puente vanished. She had packed a bag during the time in between the initial questioning about the missing Bert Montoya and the search warrant that allowed police to dig up her yard looking for bodies. A nationwide manhunt took place looking for Puente, and the FBI were called in. She was later found at a hotel in Los Angeles where she was staying under the name Dorothea Johnson.
Puente had hidden out for days without ever leaving her room. She got bored and went to a local bar where she introduced herself to an older man as "Donna." He became suspicious, recognized her from the news footage, and alerted the police. She was then caught and sent back to Sacramento to await trial.
She Killed At Least Nine People And As Many As 25
There are nine deaths attributed to Dorthea Puente: Ruth Monroe, Everson Gillmouth, Betty Palmer, Leona Carpenter, James Gallop, Bert Montoya, Benjamin Fink, Vera Ray Martin, and Dorothy Miller. It was initially believed that Monroe committed suicide, but that changed once the truth about Puente emerged. Gillmouth's body was found in a box on a river bank. The other seven were buried in either Puente's house or under the concrete slab in her backyard. Their deaths were either caused by medication overdoses or suffocation.
However, numerous other people came forward to claim that their loved ones went missing while in Puente's care. The amount of people killed by her might be as high as 25.
She Had Help Getting Her Boarding House 'Clients'
It was well-known in the area that Dorothea Puente took on boarders who were either elderly, mentally ill, or saddled with a drug or alcohol problem. She was able to disguise her true colors enough to fool a number of Sacramento-based social workers who even placed their clients in her boarding house.
With a seemingly never-ending list of potential marks to scam, Puente was more than willing to take on the tough cases that no one else wanted in their homes.