Dorothea Puente / The Woman Who Murdered The Elderly For Cash

Dorothea PuenteDorothea Puente was born on January 9, 1929. She was a convicted serial killer.

Dorothea was born in San Bernardino County, California to two alcoholics. Her father was a cotton picker. Both parents abused her, and she often had to scavenge for food. Puente’s father died when she was four. When she was six, her mother died, so she was sent to an orphanage until relatives from Fresno, California took her in. In later life she lied about her childhood, saying that she was one of 18 children who were all born and raised in Mexico.

In 1946 Dorothea Puente married for the first time, but her husband died of a heart attack within two years. For money, she tried to forge checks, but she was eventually caught and sentenced to a year in jail. She was paroled after just six months. Soon after her release, she was impregnated by a man she barely knew and gave birth to a baby girl, which she had to give up for adoption. In 1952 she married a Swede named Axel Johanson and had a violent 14-year marriage.

In 1960 she was arrested in a brothel and was sentenced to 90 days in the Sacramento County Jail. After her release, she was arrested again — this time for vagrancy — and sentenced to another 90 days in jail. Following that, Dorothea Puente started to get involved in miscellaneous illegal acts that over time became more serious. This activity slowed down a great deal when she found work as a nurse’s aid, caring for disabled and elderly people in private homes. In a short time, she started to manage boarding houses.

Dorothea Puente

Dorothea Puente divorced Johansen in 1966 and married Roberto Puente in Mexico City, a man who was nineteen years her junior. Roberto had trouble staying faithful to Dorothea, and the marriage only lasted two years. Shortly before the end of the marriage, however, Dorothea Puente took over a three-story, sixteen-bedroom care home at 2100 F Street in Sacramento, California. There she provided care and comfort to the homeless and destitute of the area.

The first sign of something wrong was when neighbors noticed the odd activities of a homeless, alcoholic man known only as “Chief,” whom Puente stated she had “adopted” and made him her handyman. Dorothea had Chief dig in the basement and cart soil and rubbish away in a wheelbarrow. The basement floor was then covered with a concrete slab. Chief later took down a garage in the backyard and installed a fresh concrete slab there as well. Soon afterward, Chief mysteriously disappeared.

Dorothea Puente married for the third time in 1976 to a Pedro Montalvo, who was a physically abusive alcoholic. The marriage only lasted a few months, and Puente started to spend time in local bars looking for older men who were receiving benefits. She forged their signatures to steal their money, but she eventually was caught and charged with 34 counts of treasury fraud. While on probation, she continued to commit the same fraud.

Dorothea Puente

According to California Court of Appeal records, in 1981 Dorothea Puente began renting an upstairs apartment at 1426 F Street in downtown Sacramento. The nine murders with which she was charged in 1990 (she was convicted in 1993 of three of them) were associated with this upstairs apartment and not her previous 16-room boarding house.

In April 1982, 61-year-old Ruth Monroe began living with Dorothea Puente her the upstairs apartment at 1426 F Street but soon died from an overdose of Codeine and Tylenol. Dorothea told police that the woman was very depressed, because her husband was terminally ill. They believed her and judged the incident a suicide.

Only a few weeks later, the police were back after a 74-year-old pensioner, named Malcolm McKenzie, accused Dorothea Puente of drugging him and then robbing him. She was convicted of three charges of theft on August 18, 1982, and sentenced to serve five years in jail. While in jail, she started to correspond with a 77-year-old retiree living in Oregon, named Everson Gillmouth. A pen-pal friendship developed, and when Dorothea Puente was released in 1985 after serving just three years of her sentence, he was waiting for her in a red 1980 Ford pickup. Their relationship developed quickly, and the couple was soon making wedding plans. They opened a joint bank account and paid $600-a-month rent for the upstairs apartment at 1426 F Street in Sacramento.

Dorothea Puente

In November 1985, Dorothea Puente hired Ismael Florez to install some wood paneling in her apartment. For his labor, in additional to $800, Dorothea gave him a red 1980 Ford pickup in good condition, which she stated belonged to her boyfriend in Los Angeles who did not need it. Dorothea Puente then asked Florez to do one more thing: build a box 6 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet to store “books and other items.” She then asked Florez to transport the filled and nailed-shut box to a storage depot. Florez agreed, and Dorothea Puente joined him. On the way, however, she told him to stop while they were on Garden Highway in Sutter County and dump the box on the river bank in an unofficial household dumping site. Puzzled, Florez questioned why, but Dorothea told him that the contents of the box was just junk.

On January 1, 1986, a fisherman spotted the box sitting about three feet from the bank of the river and informed police. Investigators found a badly decomposed, and unidentifiable, body of an elderly man inside. Dorothea Puente, meanwhile, continued to collect Everson Gillmouth’s pension and wrote letters to his family, explaining that the reason he had not contacted them was because he was ill. She also maintained a “room and board” business, taking in 40 new tenants (most of whom were alcoholics and drug addicts). Although she was making a good profit doing this, she wanted more and therefore started to cruise bars looking for new customers.

Dorothea Puente

Every month, Dorothea Puente collected all the tenants’ mail before they saw it and gave them only a small amount of their money. Invariably, the tenants squandered what little money they had at the nearest bar and were picked up by police and jailed for 30 days following anonymous tips. Puente then pocketed the rest of the tenants’ money.

On November 11, 1988, police found a body buried in the lawn of 60-year-old Puente. Seven bodies were eventually found. Dorothea Puente was charged with a total of nine murders, convicted of three. 

In 1998, Dorothea began corresponding with Shane Bugbee, who did an extensive interview with her over the course of several years. She began sending him various recipes, and in 2004 the book “Cooking With A Serial Killer” was released. It included a lengthy interview, almost 50 recipes, and various pieces of prison art sent to Bugbee by the convicted murderer.

Dorothea Puente was sentenced to life without parole on December 11, 1993. She died in prison on March 27, 2011


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