Dorothea Puente: The Death House Landlady
Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Dorothea Helen Puente was an American convicted serial killer who mainly targeted her elderly and mentally disabled tenants. She may have looked like a harmless old lady, but she was convicted of 9 counts of murders. However, investigators believe that Puente committed at least 6 more murders.
The Early Life of Dorothea Puente née Gray
Dorothea Helen Gray was born on January 9, 1929 in Redlands, California. Reportedly, Gray had a traumatic upbringing due to her alcoholic parents. Everything turned for the worse when her father died of tuberculosis in 1937. A year after her father’s death, Gray’s mother lost custody of her children. Not long after that, her mother also died in a motorcycle accident. To add to these tragic events, Gray and her siblings were subsequently sent to an orphanage, where she was allegedly sexually abused.
At the age of 16, Gray married Fred McFaul, a soldier who had just returned from the Pacific Theater of World War II. The couple had two daughters, one was sent to live with relatives while the other one was placed for adoption. In 1948, McFaul left Gray.
Later that year, authorities arrested Gray for forging checks to purchase women’s accessories in Riverside. She pled guilty to two counts of forgery and served four months in jail. In 1960, she was once again arrested for owning and operating a brothel under the guise of a bookkeeping firm.
In 1952, Gray married seaman, Axel Bren Johansson. Like Gray’s other relationship, this too was quite rocky. Unfortunately following Gray’s arrest and an alcohol binge, Johansson had Gray briefly committed to DeWitt State Hospital in 1961. There, doctors diagnosed her as a pathological liar with an unstable personality.
After Gray’s separation from Johansson, she married for a third time to Roberto Jose Puente in 1968. However, the two separated after 16 months. Gray would go on as Dorothea Puente for more than twenty years.
Dorothea Puente: Landlady
Puente focused on running a boarding house at 21st Street and F Street following her divorce which was located in Sacramento, California. The boarding house catered to alcoholics, homeless, mentally ill, and the elderly. She would also regularly hold AA meetings and encouraged everyone to receive Social Security benefits.
In 1986, social worker Peggy Nickerson sent 19 clients to Puente’s home. The community applauded Puente for taking in “tough cases”, and the boarding house gained a good reputation among social workers. Puente was also responsible for cashing in the social security checks of the tenants.
However, when some of the tenants disappeared without a trace, social workers started to grow suspicious of Puente. Not long after the disappearances, neighbors also complained of the smell of rotten flesh coming from the boarding house.
Finally, on November 11, 1988, police inquired after the disappearance of tenant Alberto Montoya. As per reports, Montoya was a developmentally disabled man with schizophrenia.
Not knowing that they were talking to a murderer, the investigators let Puente leave the scene to buy coffee. Investigators then noticed that the soil around the property looked peculiar. When the investigators started to dig around the soil, they uncovered seven bodies on the property.
The Arrest of Dorothea Puente
In total, the police found nine bodies. They were identified as:
• 77-year-old Everson Gillmouth (Puente’s boyfriend)
• 61-year-old Ruth Munroe (Tenant)
• 78-year-old Leona Carpenter (Tenant)
• 51-year-old Alvaro “Bert/Alberto” Gonzales Montoya (Tenant)
• 64-year-old Dorothy Miller (Tenant)
• 55-year-old Benjamin Fink (Tenant)
• 62-year-old James Gallop (Tenant)
• 64-year-old Vera Faye Martin (Tenant)
• 78-year-old Betty Palmer (Tenant)
After leaving the scene, Puente immediately fled to Los Angeles. There, she befriended an elderly pensioner whom she had met in a bar. However, her new friend recognized her from police reports on television and called the authorities leading to her arrest.
Puente was then flown back to Sacramento to stand trial. Her lawyers tried to convince the jury that Puente was a sweet and altruistic caregiver. However, the jury determined that Puente was a calculating murderess, who drugged her victims and cashed in their social security checks post-mortem.
Of the nine murders, the jury returned counts of guilty on three murders. The jury could not agree on a decision for the remaining six murders. For her conviction of three murder counts, Puente received life without the possibility of parole. She was incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) in Chowchilla, California.
On March 27, 2011, Puente died at the age of 82 inside the facility.
Do you like Dorothea Puente? Comment below.