Dorothea Puente – the Boarding House Killer

Dorothea Puente(January 9, 1929 – March 27, 2011) was a convicted American serial killer. In the 1980s, Dorothea 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. When she was a little girl, her mother, being no paragon of motherhood, often went out for long periods of time, locking Dorothea in the closet. She was also an alcoholic and little Dorothea had to clean up after her mess (ick). In 1937 Dorothea’s father died. One year later her ever-loving mother died in a motorcycle accident. Dorothea spent the rest of her childhood with relatives and when her luck ran out, in orphanages. At the age of 16, Dorothea ran away. Wherever she went, she re-invented herself, telling people she was different people at different times, anxious to forget her painful past. Her behavior is somewhat typical of foster children, who often forge false childhoods. Dorothea supported herself through prostitution. For about a year she led a transitory lifestyle. Finally 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 and gave the other up for adoption.

In 1948, Fred left her. He must have had his interesting reasons. Strangely, Dorothea would lie about this marriage and claim that her husband died of a heart attack. In a foreshadowing of her dark future, she tried to forge checks, but was caught and sentenced to a year in jail. 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. By 1969 she had married and divorced her third husband, Roberto Jose Puente.  Following that, she began a criminal career that became more serious. She found work as a nurse’s aide, caring for disabled and elderly people in private homes. This was the beginning of Dorothea’s serial killer spree. In an ongoing effort to impress the neighbors, she spent money on pantyhose and jewellery. She was well-coiffed and wore silk dresses. She told people that she was a lawyer. At other times Dorothea was a doctor. Dorothea donated generously to local charities and was embraced as a community leader. However Dorothea was not giving her own money. Instead she was drugging and stealing from her clients. Needless to say this was also how Dorothea managed to stay well-dressed and make regular visits to the hair salon.  Watch Dorothea Puente Part 1 

Dorothea took over a three-story, 16-bedroom care home. According to California Court of Appeal records Dorothea began renting an upstairs apartment. The nine murders with which she was charged in 1988 were associated with this upstairs apartment and not her previous 16-room boarding house. Watch Deadly Women: Predators: 1:12  Dorothea’s motives for killing tenants were financial. The murders appear to have begun shortly after Dorothea rented out space in the home at 1426 F Street. In April 1982, 61-year-old friend and business partner Ruth Monroe lived with Dorothea in her upstairs apartment, but died from an overdose of codeine and Tylenol. Dorothea told police that the woman was depressed because her husband was terminally ill. They judged the incident a suicide. The police were back after a pensioner named Malcolm McKenzie accused her 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 but that didn’t slow her down. She was paroled after only 3 years, provided she stay away from the elderly. Naturally Dorothea opened a boarding house for elderly alcoholics. In spite of her felony charge Dorothea remained popular in the community. Murder at the boarding house

Dorothea kept her clients on a tight leash. They were kept on a rigid schedule and banned from parts of the house. In 1986 a homeless woman disappeared from Dorothea’s house. Since she had no family, no one inquired as to her whereabouts. Social services, overloaded with homeless clients, were thankful when Dorothea offered a placement for the most difficult cases. In 1987 four more residents disappeared. On November 11, 1988, police inquired after the disappearance of tenant Alvaro Montoya, a schizophrenic whose social worker reported him missing. Suspicion was aroused when neighbors noticed a homeless alcoholic known only as “Chief” as he dug in the basement, carted soil and took rubbish away in a wheelbarrow.  Soon afterward, Chief disappeared. Police were called to investigate. Dorothea seemed delighted to have visitors. She invited them in and offered them tea (no it wasn’t spiked). The police officers asked her permission to dig up her backyard. Helpfully, Dorothea found a shovel and pleasantly brought them outside. After some time, police, uncovered the body of tenant Leona Carpenter. Seven bodies were found. Dorothea was aghast. She asked if she could leave the house for a moment to get a coffee and the police foolishly agreed. When she didn’t return, a warrant was put out for her arrest. Her face appeared on television news, and not for being citizen of the year.

Dorothea went on the lam for several weeks. One evening she approached a man in his 60’s in a bar. Her hair was bleached blonde in an effort to disguise herself but he recognized her right away, stepped outside, and called police. Dorothea’s run from the law was over. Eventually she was charged with nine murders, convicted of three and sentenced to two life sentences. Her method was to poison her clients with dalmane (also known as flurazepam), wait for them to die, then bury their bodies in her backyard. Okay so she wasn’t a doctor as she liked to brag, but she certainly made use of prescription medication. Dalmane is a sedative and skeletal muscle relaxant. One man testified that when he visited his elderly mother at Dorothea’s boarding house he found small pills scattered on his mother’s salad. Weeks later, his mother was dead.

During her childhood, Dorothea had developed relationships with the sick and dying. She was surrounded by illness and learned to think of it as normal. She was torn between wanting to heal the sick and also hating them. The result was fatal for innocent people and led to a permanent sentence of isolation for Dorothea. She received life without the possibility of parole. She was incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, Madera County, California. For the rest of her life she maintained her innocence and insisted all her tenants died of “natural causes“. One thing is certain: she was never put to work in the kitchen inside the CCWF.  Watch Puente’s Pen Pal

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One Response to Dorothea Puente – the Boarding House Killer

  1. Pingback: The Perfect Murderess « Maniacal Manuscript: 50,000 Words in One Month

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