The Landlady

When we think about serial killers, or murderers in general, we don’t typically think of white haired ladies in their sixties. And for that reason some women are able to get away with murder simply because the system is prejudiced against men. And when they appear to be sweet ladies operating a boarding house for disabled lodgers, they are even less obvious in their crimes. Until a point, just as Dorothea Puente.

Born in 1929 as Dorothea Helen Gray, her parents were both alcoholics, and her father repeatedly threatened to commit suicide in front of the children. He passed away from tuberculosis in 1937, her mother died in a motorcycle accident in 1938. Dorothea and her siblings went to an orphanage where she was sexually abused.

Dorothea was married at 16 to Fred McFaul in 1945, she had two daughters that she did not raise, one was sent to relatives, the other put up for adoption. After 3 years of marriage, Fred left Dorothea.

1952, She married Axel Bren Johansson, she was calling herself ‘Teya Singoalla Neyaarda’ and took advantage of her husbands frequent trips to sea with the merchant marines by inviting men to their home and gambling away his money.

In 1960 Dorothea was arrested for operating a brothel in Sacramento. The next year she was briefly committed to a state hospital by her husband, and while there she was diagnosed as a pathological liar with an unstable personality. She and Axel divorced in 1966.

In 1968 She married again, this time to Roberto Jose Puente. They separated after sixteen months, and wouldn’t be able to finalize their divorce until 1973, however Dorothea would be known as Mrs. Puente for over twenty years. Following the divorce, she would focus on running a boarding house in Sacramento at 21st and F Streets.

She helped alcoholics, homeless, and mentally ill. She assisted by holding Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and helping them to receive their Social Security benefits. She changed her public image to that of a respectable older matron, wearing vintage clothing, granny glasses and letting her hair go gray. She eventually married for the 4th time to Pedro Angel Montalvo, in 1978, which was over after one week.

In April 1982, the first murder occurred. Ruth Monroe, 61, was living in an upstairs apartment at Dorothea’s home. She died from an overdose of codeine and acetaminophen. The police believed Dorothea when she said it was a suicide due to severe depression.

A few weeks after Ruth’s death, the police responded to a claim from Malcolm McKenzie, 74, who claimed Dorothea was drugging and stealing from him. She was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

In 1985, Dorothea was released from prison and had developed a friendship with a pen pal in Oregon, 77 year old Everson Gillmouth. Their relationship progressed quickly and soon wedding plans were being made.

November 1985, Dorothea had hired a general laborer to install wood paneling into her apartment, she also asked him to build a 6 x 3 x 2 foot box to store books and other items, she asked that box, which was nailed closed, to a storage depot. The box was dumped in an unofficial household dumping site on the riverbank in Sutter County.

Two months later the coffin looking box was found by a fisherman, and the police were called. Inside was a badly decomposed and unidentifiable body. Dorothea continued to collect Everson’s pension, and even wrote letters to his family explaining he was ill. His body would remain unidentified for three years.

Dorothea continued to have tenants in her home, and would collect their mail before they saw it. She paid them stipends and pocketed the rest of their money for expenses. Suspicion was aroused when the neighbors noticed odd occurrence’s at the house.

November 1988. Police inquired about a tenant who was reported missing by his social worker. They noticed disturbed soil on the property and uncovered the body of another tenant there. Seven bodies were eventually found buried on the property.

Dorothea was charged with nine murders, most of the victims were drugged until they overdosed. Her trial was moved to Monterey County and lasted a year. She was ultimately convicted of three murders, the other six the jury was deadlocked on. Under the law, Dorothea received life without parole. She was incarcerated at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, CA.

Dorothea Puente died in prison on March 27, 2011 from natural causes, she was 82.

Be ever alert, make good choices, stay safe

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