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The Life of Dorothea Puente

The Life of Dorothea Puente

Los Angeles Times Headline
March 28, 2011

Dorothea Puente, 82 died at the Central California Women’s Facility where she was serving life without parole. She was sentenced for three first degree murder convictions for two life terms. She was a Sacramento boarding house operator who was convicted of killing her tenants in the 1990’s. She died of natural causes.

Who was Dorothea Puente?

At 64 years old, her grandmotherly figure, made headlines across the country. Hers was a macabre story that included: buried victims in her Victorian-styled home, a body found in the Sacramento River, and; several heinous killings.

She was considered to be one of the coldest and calculating female killer that ever lived. She was claimed to have drugged and killed her victims to collect on their disability checks. The amount that she robbed totalled to around $87,000 which prosecutors claimed, she had used for faced-lift operations, among other things.

The Early Years

She was given the birth name Dorothea Gray on January 9, 1929, in California, USA. She had alcoholic parents: a father, who was a cotton picker, died when she was four (4) years old; and mother, who a prostitute, also died when she turned six (6). She was sent to an orphanage after the death of her mother, where relatives claimed her several years later.

Conflicting accounts marked her early childhood. She claimed that she had seventeen (17) other siblings. This was not proven however: what was known was that her father had weird tendencies of pointing a gun on his head, whenever he was drunk. It was also reported that she was sexually abused in the orphanage where she stayed.

At seventeen (17), she married and bore two (2) children. The marriage was short-lived; since the husband died of heart attack after two (2) years. She gave up the two children for adoption. She was later caught forging checks in Riverside, but was given parole six (6) months after.

The Turbulent Years

Shortly after her released from parole, she was impregnated by a man she barely knew. She again, gave up the baby for adoption. In 1952, she married a second time around – to a Swiss named Johanson. The marriage lasted for more than a decade and was marked with turbulence and marital squabbles. She divorced Johanson in the mid 60’s and later married Roberto Puente, who was nineteen (19) years her junior. Her marriage only lasted for two years since Roberto was oftentimes seen cavorting with other women.

Dorothea Puente’s fascination with managing a boarding house, started in the early 60’s when she was still married to Johanson. However, in that same year, she was prosecuted for managing a brothel and was sentenced for ninety (90) days in the Sacramento County Jail. Her turbulent era, stopped for sometime when she found work as nursing aid; and as manager of a boarding house later on.

Before the split-up of her marriage to Roberto, she managed to take over a three (3) story, sixteen (16) bedroom house in Sacramento, California. She converted this into a home for the poor, unwanted and the homeless. She nevertheless, took charged of encashing her tenant’s Social Security checks. And this proclivity to government checks, eventually led to her reign of terror!

The Macabre Years of Horror

The bizarre stories started when neighbors found the ‘odd’ activities of a man named, Chief, who was purportedly the handyman of Dorothea. Chief was an alcoholic man, and was oftentimes seen digging lumps of soil and carting it away from the basement area of the house. The basement floors were then covered in concrete. After these were all done, Chief mysteriously vanished. There was no trace of him; and nothing was heard of him either!

Dorothea married the third time around in 1976, another abusive man named Pedro Montalvo. This third husband of hers was another alcoholic; which contributed to the collapsed of their marriage after three (3) months. Dorothea was next seen in pubs and bars luring old men, who received pensions or benefits. She took hold of their checks, forged their signatures, and encashed the checks herself. She was eventually nabbed, and was charged with multiple counts of fraud. She was placed on bail, but continued with her illegal activities though on probation.

Paper Trails of Murders and Illegal Activities

Authorities claimed that the series of murders started with the death of one Ruth Munroe, 61 years old, who died allegedly, of drug overdose. She had around $6,000 with her when she moved in with Dorothea. She died two weeks later, of Tylenol and Codeine overdose, which medics claimed were a clear case of suicide. A month after this incident, Dorothea was charged and convicted of drugging other elderly people and robbing them. Dorothea was sent for five (5) years in prison, but was released three (3) years later. The terms of her release specified, that she will have no contact with the elderly, nor of encashing government checks issued to others.

Dorothea’s pen pal while still in prison, Everson Gilmouth, a 77 year old man from Oregon, came in handy when she was later released from prison. Everson was there to pick her up on his red pick-up truck. However, his body was later found, dumped in the Sacramento River, about five (5) years later. His pick-up truck was given to a handyman, whom Dorothea hired to build a 6 x 3 x 2 box, supposedly to store books and other household items. The box was then nailed shut; and the handyman then helped Dorothea transport the box to a nearby storage area. However, the box was dumped by her on the river bank en route to the storage depot.

A year later, the box was found by two (2) fisherfolk. They informed the police officials about the decomposing body that they found inside the box. Dorothea, meanwhile had been collecting the pension check of Gilmouth, and wrote the members of his family that he was sick and cannot write the letters himself.

She continued with the boarding and lodging business that catered to the homeless and alcoholics. She encashed their checks and gave them a small amount of money, which they always spent on booze on a nearby pub. She then tipped the police, and had them arrested. Dorothea then pocketed the rest of their money for her own use.

On November 11, 1988 the police was able to get bodies buried in the lawns of the then 60 year old Dorothea. On further investigation, they found several other bodies buried on the basement. She was sentenced and convicted for life without possibility of parole. She died in prison several years after, of natural causes.