5 crimes that put Sacramento on the map

There are those who may view Sacramento as a sleepy river town, distinguished only by its role as the seat of government for the nation’s most populous state.

That would be a mistaken assumption for a variety of reasons, one being the number of criminal cases that have unfolded in court here and drawn wide attention from far beyond the city’s boundaries.

Here are five of the most notorious:

1. Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski

Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, was prosecuted in Sacramento. After his arrest in 1996, he was brought here to face charges involving 16 homemade bombs mailed or placed between 1978 and 1995. The devices injured 23 people and killed three. In 1998, Kaczynski avoided a possible death sentence by pleading guilty and accepting life without parole. Reporters from around the world descended on Sacramento during the two years of court proceedings.

2. Dorothea Puente

Puente, the grandmotherly woman who ran a boardinghouse out of a rented two-story Victorian at 1426 F St., Sacramento, was convicted of killing her tenants, burying them in her yard and cashing their government assistance checks.

“She served as a living illustration of the notion that one cannot judge a book by its cover, the epitome of evil without a trace of evil appearance,” said former Sheriff John McGinness at the time of Puente’s 2011 death in prison. The case generated worldwide attention and remains a subject of fascination.

The case’s files are stored at the Center for Sacramento History, and the Mansion Flats home on F Street was sold at auction in 2010 for $215,000 .

3. Umer and Hamid Hayat

The prosecution of a Lodi ice cream street vendor and his son as terrorists likewise drew the attention of national and overseas media. The son, Hamid Hayat, a cherry packer with a seventh-grade education, was sentenced to 24 years in prison for providing material support to terrorists and making false statements to hide his conduct. In 2006, a Sacramento jury found Hayat, who was born in Stockton but had lived nearly half his life with relatives in Pakistan, guilty of undergoing terrorist training in Pakistan and returning to Lodi prepared to wage jihad against fellow U.S. citizens.

A separate jury deadlocked on false-statement charges against his father, Umer Hayat, and a mistrial was declared. Umer Hayat was later allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense unrelated to the terrorism charges and was sentenced to the time he had spent in jail awaiting trial.

4. Lynette Alice “Squeaky” Fromme

On Sept. 5, 1975, at 10:06 a.m. in Capitol Park near 12th Street, Fromme pulled a loaded Colt .45-caliber pistol from a leg holster, pointed it at President Gerald R. Ford, who was about 2 feet away shaking hands with well-wishers as he headed for a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown, and pulled the trigger.

The gun did not fire a round because there was not one in the chamber. Fromme was wrestled to the ground by a Secret Service agent, a Sacramento police officer and bystanders. Within weeks, the red-haired young woman, a devout follower of cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson, was on trial in federal court. At the conclusion of a 19-day trial, featuring Fromme’s sometimes outrageous antics, she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for attempting to assassinate the 38th president of the United States.

Ford gave videotaped testimony in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, and jurors later viewed the tape as part of Fromme’s trial in Sacramento. It remains the only time a sitting president has testified in a criminal trial. Fromme has been paroled and lives in upstate New York.

5. Frederick Scott Salyer

The decline and fall of Salyer, one-time tomato king of California, and his SK Foods LP, brought the national press to Sacramento. Scion of one of the state’s most storied and colorful Central Valley families – his grandfather was among the last of the California land barons – Salyer sought to corner the market on processed tomato goods by bribing purchasing agents for the country’s largest food suppliers. It was one of the biggest scandals in the U.S. food industry history. Salyer eventually pleaded guilty to racketeering and price fixing and was sentenced in 2012 to six years in prison.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee