Home Horror SubgenresTrue Crime The “Death House Landlady”: Dorothea Puente

The “Death House Landlady”: Dorothea Puente

by Timothy Rawles

If you think serial killers are suave, handsome, manipulative young men, think again because you’re about to meet, Dorothea Puente, the “Death House Landlady.”

Looking at Puente you wouldn’t think of her as a calculating murderer, but that is exactly what she was, taking the elderly and infirm into her boarding house where she would kill them, bury them in the yard, and steal their pensions and welfare checks.

The “Death House Landlady”


Puente was born in the small community of Redlands California in 1929. Before she was 10 her parents passed away and she was sent to an orphanage. At 16 she married a military man and had two children; one she sent to live in Sacramento, the other was put up for adoption.

The marriage failed after Puente had a miscarriage.

Dorothea Puente’s criminal activities started early in her twenties after she was caught forging checks, a crime that landed her a six-month jail sentence.

She went from fraud to prostitution. In 1960 she was arrested for running a brothel and spent another 90 days behind bars.

Her last name comes from her second marriage to a much-younger Roberto Puente in 1966.

Perhaps on a path to do better, Puente began caring for the elderly as a nurse’s assistant. From there she started managing boarding houses.

Three failed marriages later and Puente was finally in charge of her own facility, a two-story, 16 room Victorian-style home located on F Street, just a stone’s throw away from Sacramento.

Boarding only the most difficult cases–men and women with mental health problems or drug addictions–Puente’s house had a reputation among social workers for accepting their hardest cases.

Tenants ranged in ages from 52 to 80 and often needed to have their social security checks cashed for them; a task Puente was happy to do. Little did they know what the old lady was really up to.

Puente was getting potent tranquilizer prescriptions from a psychotherapist which she would secretly administer to her tenants before killing them. She continued to cash their checks post-mortem.

A corpse found in Dorthea Puente's yard.

A corpse found in Dorthea Puente’s yard.

Her victims didn’t have close friends or family so their disappearances went unnoticed. One of her victims remained unidentified for three years.

The killing spree ended in 1988 after a social worker approached Puente about one of her boarders, Alberto Montoya, who had mysteriously gone missing. In her investigation, the social worker discovered that the boarding house was unlicensed and reported the missing Montoya to the police.

In an effort to cover her tracks, Puente told the police that Montoya had taken a vacation, but in their inquiry, the officers noticed something strange; some of the earth around the property looked peculiar.

The “Death House Landlady”

The “Death House Landlady”

At the behest of Puente, and since she wasn’t a suspect, officers let her leave the house and go buy a cup of coffee. But she ended up escaping to Los Angeles instead.

When all was said and done there were seven corpses found buried in the yard including that of 78-year-old Leona Carpenter.


(Courtesy of The Sacramento Archives)

Back in Los Angeles, a man recognized Puente from news reports and called the police department. She was flown back to Sacramento to stand trial.

“I used to be a very good person at one time,” she told law enforcement at the time.

The court case wouldn’t get underway for another five years for various legal reasons.

During her trial, Puente’s lawyers deemed the 64-year-old woman as a sweet grandmother type. They said she might be a thief but not a calculating murderess.

Over 300 witnesses disagreed. Prosecutors asserted that this sweet woman drugged her tenants and suffocated them. Not able to bury them herself, she hired ex-convicts to do it for her.

The drug Dalmane, a sedative-hypnotic agent used for insomnia, was found in “all seven of the exhumed bodies,” according to the website All That’s Interesting.

After three days of deliberation, Dorothea Puente was charged with three counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors said Puente wasn’t an altruistic caregiver at all,  but one of the most “cold and calculating female killers the country had ever seen.”

Dorothea Puente died a prisoner much like she kept her innocent victims. Only her death was in a real prison where she eventually died of natural causes, unlike the defenseless people she robbed. She was 82.

Up until her death, Puente maintained she was innocent.

Puente’s former house will be featured on the reality series “Murder House Flip.”

Info taken from allthatsinteresting.com

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