Courts & Crime

Notorious California landlady and murderer, Dorothea Puente, dies

Dorothea Puente, the notorious F Street landlady convicted of killing her tenants and burying them in her backyard, died Sunday.

Puente, 82, died at 10:15 a.m. Sunday of natural causes at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, state corrections officials said.

"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," former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said Sunday.

Even in a city with no shortage of infamous and gruesome murders, the Puente case stands out.

She was a sweet-looking, grandmotherly woman who ran a boardinghouse out of a rented two-story Victorian at 1426 F St.

Puente began the business in 1980, renting out the top floor of the home, but she was sent to prison for three years for drugging her elderly tenants and stealing checks from them.

She was back in business by 1985, renting the entire house and offering rooms to elderly and disabled residents, some of whom she met while cruising bars in the area.

The case broke open in 1988, after social worker Judy Moise finally convinced police something was wrong at the boardinghouse. Moise, who worked for Volunteers of America, had referred Alvaro "Bert" Montoya, a 51-year-old mentally impaired homeless man, to stay at the boardinghouse, where Puente was known for lavishing her tenants with gifts and home-cooked meals.

Montoya disappeared from the home after a few months, and Moise filed a missing persons report on Nov. 7, 1988, with Sacramento police. An officer went to the home to question Puente, and during the course of his visit a tenant slipped him a note that said Puente had asked him to lie.

Four days later homicide Detectives John Cabrera and Terry Brown showed up at the house with Puente's federal parole agent, Jim Wilson, and some shovels. They began digging in the backyard and Cabrera unearthed what he thought was a tree root. It turned out to be a leg bone belonging to 78-year-old Leona Carpenter. Eventually, seven bodies would be unearthed from the grounds of the home.

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