Sacramento Stories: Grandmotherly figure's boarding house horror discovered (November 1988)
Sacramento has had more than its share of serial killers, but none as unlikely as grandmotherly Dorothea Puente.
Puente ran a boarding house out of a two-story Victorian home on F Street for years, where she catered to elderly and disabled tenants with sumptuous home-cooked meals and gifts.
Then she drugged them, buried them in the backyard and cashed their government assistance checks.
Puente met some of her victims while cruising midtown bars, and had maintained a lively business until November 1988, when Sacramento police showed up with shovels in search of a resident who had been reported missing months earlier.
Eventually, police unearthed seven bodies in the backyard, but Puente wasn’t immediately taken into custody.
Instead, on the second day of digging as police were discovering a second body in the yard, she calmly walked away wearing a red coat and purple high-heeled shoes.
She was arrested a few days later in Los Angeles sitting in a bar, where a patron recognized her from news coverage of the case, and she eventually was charged in nine slayings.
Her trial was moved to Monterey and included 156 witnesses, although Puente herself never testified.
A jury convicted her of three of the slayings and Puente lived out the rest of her days at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, where she died in 2011 at 82.
The case gained worldwide attention over the years, even inspiring a cookbook entitled “Cooking with a Serial Killer.”