Dorothea Puente, The Deadly Landlady of Sacramento

Serial killers have a way of capturing the darkest corners of our imagination, and Dorothea Puente is no exception. Dubbed the “Deadly Landlady of Sacramento,” Puente’s life and crimes are a chilling reminder of the evil that can lurk behind a seemingly benign facade.

In this article, we delve into the horrifying story of Dorothea Puente, a woman who turned her boarding house into a house of horrors.

Early life and background

Dorothea Puente was born on January 9, 1929, in Redlands, California.

Her parents were both alcoholics and her father repeatedly threatened to commit suicide in front of his children. Her father died of tuberculosis in 1937; her mother, who worked as a sex worker, lost custody of her children in 1938 and died in a motorcycle accident by the end of the year. Puente and her siblings were subsequently sent to an orphanage, where she was sexually abused.

Her early life was marked by instability, as she was shuffled between foster homes and subjected to abuse and neglect. These tumultuous formative years set the stage for a life marred by criminality.

Puente’s criminal history

Puente’s criminal history began to take shape in her early adulthood when she began committing a series of thefts and frauds. Her first documented encounter with law enforcement occurred in 1948, and over the next several decades, she would be in and out of prison for various crimes, including forgery and theft.

The boarding house of horrors

In the 1980s, Puente’s criminal activities took a deadly turn when she acquired a boarding house in Sacramento, California. It was within the seemingly quaint walls of this boarding house that she carried out a gruesome series of murders.

Puente’s modus operandi involved befriending vulnerable individuals, often those who were struggling with addiction or mental health issues. She would invite them to live in her boarding house, where she would drug them, steal their Social Security checks, and ultimately murder them.

The victims’ bodies were buried in the backyard of the boarding house, creating a macabre graveyard that went undetected for years. It is estimated that Puente may have murdered as many as nine people during her reign of terror.

The victims

Leona Carpenter: Leona Carpenter 78, was hospitalized following a flurazepam overdose. She gave Puente power of attorney and she began cashing her social security checks just ten days later. In December, after Carpenter was released from the hospital, she went to live with Puente. Once again, Carpenter returned to the hospital, and just a few weeks after she was discharged, in February 1987, she disappeared. In November 1988, her body was found in the southeastern corner of Puente’s yard. Toxicology reports of Carpenter’s brain tissue revealed the presence of codeine, diazepam, and flurazepam.

Ruth Monroe: Ruth Monroe, 61 was found dead due to respiratory depression, caused by a massive overdose of codeine. Munroe was reportedly in good health when she arrived at Puente’s home just over two weeks prior to her death, however, by April 25, she told a friend, “I am so sick I feel like I am going to die.” Munroe’s death was originally ruled an “undetermined overdose,” but later classified as a homicide.

Dorothy Miller: Dorothy Miller, 65 was placed in an upstairs flat in Puente’s home. She introduced Miller to Ricardo Ordorica, and the following November, Ordorica became the representative payee for Miller’s social security benefits. Just weeks after her arrival, Miller had disappeared, and on November 20, 1987, Puente hired a carpet cleaner to remove a large “pile of foul smelling slime” in Miller’s room. Puente continued to forge Miller’s checks, totalling over $11,000, after she was no longer at her house. Miller’s remains were later discovered buried under a slab of concrete, near some rose bushes. Tissue samples from Miller’s brain revealed the presence of carbamazepine and flurazepam.

Benjamin Fink: Benjamin Fink, 55. In November, Fink’s body was discovered in next to the door of the metal shed, wrapped in plastic knotted bedspread, secured with duct tape, and covered with blue absorbent pads. His toxicology report revealed the presence of amitriptyline, loxapine, and flurazepam.

James Gallop: James Gallop, 62 was another victim who was buried in the backyard under a gazebo. He was drugged and then died of an overdose.

Vera Faye Martin: Vera Faye Martin, 61 was drugged and subsequently asphyxiated. Her body was discovered in the backyard in a metal shed of the boarding house.

Alvaro Montoya: Alvaro Montoya, 51 was found buried adjacent to Carpenter. Toxicology testing revealed the presence of loxapine, flurazepam, diphenhydramine, amitriptyline, and carbamazepine. Montoya had prescriptions for all of the drugs except for carbamazepine.

Discovery and arrest

Dorothea Puente’s crimes remained hidden for years, but in 1988, her reign of terror finally began to unravel. A social worker became suspicious when one of Puente’s tenants went missing, and she decided to investigate. What she uncovered was a web of deception and death that shocked the nation.

Authorities conducted a thorough excavation of the boarding house’s yard, unearthing the remains of multiple victims. Puente was promptly arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder.

The trial and conviction

Dorothea Puente’s trial captivated the nation, with gruesome details of her crimes laid bare for all to see. Her defense attempted to portray her as a frail, elderly woman, but the evidence against her was overwhelming.

In 1993, she was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

She died in prison at Chowchilla on March 27, 2011, from natural causes, she was 82.

Legacy and notoriety

Dorothea Puente’s story remains a chilling reminder of the capacity for evil that can exist in the most unexpected places. Her boarding house of horrors shocked the nation and became a symbol of the darkness that can hide behind a smiling face.


Dorothea Puente, the “Deadly Landlady of Sacramento,” is a haunting figure in the annals of true crime. Her life and crimes serve as a grim reminder of the depths of human depravity.

While she may have been imprisoned for her heinous acts, her legacy will continue to send shivers down the spines of those who dare to delve into the darkest corners of the criminal mind.

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