A Nightmare on F Street

May 23, 2011 - by Mark Pulham

Dorothea Puente

Dorothea Puente (Photo LA Times)

Serial killer Dorothea Puente was charming and incorrigible. 

by Mark Pulham

Charles Willgues, a retired carpenter, had been out that Wednesday afternoon to a hardware store to buy a glass cutter. Now, he sat at the bar of the Monte Carlo Tavern, a short walk from his home where he lived alone, and nursed a beer. At around 2 p.m., the door opened, and a gray-haired woman walked in. Elegantly dressed in a red pleated skirt and red high heels, she walked to the bar, took a seat at the end and ordered a screwdriver from the bartender. Willgues called down to give her a friendly warning, “The heat from the refrigerator motor comes out right where you’re sitting.”

The woman thanked him, and moved to the seat next to him. She introduced herself as 55-year-old Donna Johansson and said she had just come down to Los Angeles from Sacramento. Her husband, she explained, had died just a month before, and to escape from her grief, she had decided to make a new life in Los Angeles. She hadn’t got off to a good start. She had taken a cab from the bus station to the Royal Viking Motel, and the cab had driven off with four of her suitcases and her overnight bag. To make matters worse, the heels of her shoes, the only ones she had, were worn down from the walking she’d done looking for a place to live.

Willgues, as a friendly gesture, offered to take the shoes across to a repair shop and have them fixed. Donna accepted his kind offer, and gave him $3 to cover the cost. Willgues said that he felt very relaxed with her. “She seemed very thoughtful and intelligent, a typical grandmother-type person.”

When he came back from the repair shop, the conversation continued, and eventually turned to financial matters. Willgues told her that he suffered from arthritis and emphysema, and that he received $576 in benefits each month from Social Security. Donna told him that he could get up to $680. She seemed to know what she was talking about. They became more friendly, and she persuaded him to take her shopping the next day to replace all the things she had lost.

Donna had an idea. She said, “I’m alone, you’re alone. Thanksgiving is coming up and I’m a great cook. How about I cook you Thanksgiving dinner at your apartment?” She then surprised Willgues by suggesting that they share an apartment together.

“I’ve got all I can handle right now.” Willgues replied. He told her he’d think about it. They agreed to meet the next morning, and Willgues took out one of his business cards, that identified him as “Chuck the Handyman.” Donna wrote her name and address on the back and handed it to him.

Back at his apartment, Willgues kept thinking about the woman he met. There was something about her that seemed familiar. “I knew I’d seen this woman before, but I couldn’t place it right away.” Finally, it clicked, he thought he knew where he had seen her. She had been on the local news. He turned on the television and watched the 5 p.m. news on KCBS Channel 2. He hoped that a photograph of the woman would be shown, but it wasn’t. He was reluctant to call the police “because I didn’t want to get an innocent person involved in something I wasn’t sure of.”

Instead, Willgues called the television station. Gene Silver, KCBS assignment editor immediately drove over to Willgues apartment and showed him a clipping from the Los Angeles Times with the photograph of the wanted woman. Willgues took a long look at the woman in the photograph and said, “It could be her.”

Silver called the Los Angeles Police Department. A short while later, officers drove to the Royal Viking Motel. Police Sergeant Paul von Lutzow knocked on the door and talked with the woman known as Donna Johansson for a few moments. “She didn't say much.” said von Lutzow, “When I asked her for some ID, she went to her purse and got her drivers license.” The license identified the woman as Dorothea Puente. “She appeared to know we might be coming,” Von Lutzow added, “She didn't put up a struggle or curse us or anything. Usually, when the police go into someone's motel room, people get upset. But she showed no emotion, almost like she expected us. She was real cool. She was real calm. She was not intimidated by police.” By 10:40 p.m., Dorothea Puente, who had been on the run since the previous Saturday, November 12, was in custody.

Like most cities, Sacramento had a homeless problem. Many of the street residents were suffering from mental illness, or they were alcoholics and drug addicts. Judy Moise was a street councillor working for an organization called Volunteers of America. Her job was to make certain that the homeless of Sacramento had help, and received the benefits and services that they were entitled to and needed. One of the people she helped was 51-year-old Alvaro Montoya, whom everyone called Bert. He was a mentally disabled schizophrenic who spent much of the time having loud arguments in Spanish with the voices that were in his head. Bert was a gentle man, almost childlike, and no danger to anyone. Living on the streets was not good for him. He sometimes slept at a nearby detox centre, but Moise felt he should have somewhere better. Luckily, there was such a place, a boarding house at 1426 F Street. It was popular with social workers as they knew that no-one would be turned away. Some of the people who lived there had many problems, such as James Gallop, a 62-year-year-old man who was suffering from a brain tumour. There was also 64-year-old Dorothy Miller, a long term alcoholic. There were Betty Palmer and Leona Carpenter, both 78 years old. They were unable to fend for themselves. No matter what your problems, no matter what your mental state, your infirmities, or your addictions, all were welcome at 1426 F Street. The boarding house was run by a white-haired landlady in her seventies, who was known for her charitable work, donating money and clothing to the needy, and employing paroled prisoners from the local halfway house to do repairs and other work that was needed. She also knew how to work the system and was very good at getting more money in benefits for her boarders. Her name was Dorothea Puente.

1426 F Street in Sacramento, CA
1426 F Street in Sacramento, CA

On February 3, 1988, Bert Montoya took up residence in the quaint pale blue gingerbread Victorian. By this time, some of the other residents had moved out. James, Betty, Dorothy, and Leona were all gone, not an unusual situation. Most of the residents of the boarding house were transient. Some may just move out to be with relatives, some just move to another place. A couple of days after Bert moved in, another resident, 62-year-old Vera Faye Martin, also moved away, and the following April, another boarder, 55-year-old Benjamin Fink, like Dorothy Miller, a long term alcoholic, also left after a heavy drinking binge. But Bert seemed to be thriving under Dorothea’s care, he looked healthier, his hair was neatly cut, he was cleaner and neatly dressed. Judy Moise was happy for her client. All through the summer, things were fine, but then Moise got a message that Bert had travelled down to Mexico. Moise called Dorothea and asks what was going on. Puente tells Moise not to worry, Bert should be back in the next few days.

But several weeks passed and by early November, Moise had still heard nothing from Bert. Now deeply concerned, Moise talked to Puente again and told her that she was worried and that she was considering calling the police. A day or two later, Moise got a strange phone call. A man claiming to be a relative of Bert told her that Bert was with him in Utah. Moise’s suspicions were definitely aroused, especially as the man who called introduced himself first as “Don Anthony” before rapidly changing his name to something different. Moise called Puente, and Puente confirmed this story, telling Moise that on Sunday, while she was out at church, a relative of Bert’s came to the house and collected him, leaving a note for Puente.

Something didn’t add up, and determined to discover the truth, Moise called the police. Officer Richard Ewing listened to what Moise had to say and agreed to visit 1426 F Street to see what was going on. Moise told him to talk to one of the residents, John Sharp. Moise knew that what Sharp said would be reliable. John Sharp was a 64-year-old retired cook, who had been living at the F Street boarding house for 11 months. Unlike the other residents, Sharp was neither an alcoholic nor a drug addict, and he was not mentally disabled. Ewing went to the house and met with Dorothea. She repeated what she had told Moise about the relative that had come and taken Bert away with him. John Sharp who was standing with them, confirmed this story. Ewing was satisfied, and left the house. He had not gone far when John Sharp caught up with him and handed him a note asking him to meet at another location, far from the house. Ewing agreed and they met later. This time, the tale that Ewing heard was a little more disturbing. Sharp told Ewing that all the tenants had been told by Puente’s to repeat the story of the relative, but it was not true. Then Sharp added more, something sinister. He told of the dragging sounds he heard on the night that Benjamin Fink moved out of the house, and he told of the strange holes that were being dug in the back yard. And he told of the awful stench that came from one of the rooms upstairs.

Ewing had heard enough, and he contacted Detective Sergeant John Cabrera of the Sacramento Missing Persons and Homicide Bureau. Cabrera started by looking into the background of Dorothea Puente. According to a police file, Dorothea was not in her seventies as she claimed, she was actually only 59 years old. She was also on Federal Parole. Between 1981 and 1982, Puente, on at least four occasions, had posed as a nurse, and had administered drugs to her elderly patients. While they were unconscious, she rifled their belongings, stealing jewellery, blank checks, and any credit cards she could find. She was caught in late 1982, trying to run, a ticket to Mexico in her bag. She was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released in 1985 for good behaviour.

On Friday, November 11, 1988, Cabrera, along with detective Terry Brown, and a parole agent named James Wilson, paid a visit to 1426 F Street and talked to Dorothea Puente. She seemed very open about everything, and when asked if the detectives could have a quick look around, she told them that it would be okay. Two prescription bottles were found in her room, one empty and on the floor, the other open, containing some blue capsules. The name on the bottles was Dorothy Miller. Cabrera showed the bottles to Puente, and asked her who Dorothy Miller was. Puente told him that Dorothy was a relative who recently stayed with her. She must have left the bottles behind when she went home. The detectives found Puente to be very believable.

Cabrera asked Puente if she would be okay with them digging a bit in the back yard. Once again, she was very cooperative and told them that it would be okay. They took some shovels from the car and started digging. It was not long before they hit a tree root. They tried to move it, with little success, and then Cabrera got into the hole and took a grip on the root. He pulled on it, and suddenly, it came loose and was pulled from the ground. The men looked at the root, and realized that it was not a root at all, but a leg bone. Dorothea Puente, who had come from the house to watch the men at their digging, gave an audible gasp of shock, and her hands flew to her mouth, as if to stifle a scream. She seemed visibly shaken by the gruesome discovery.

The detectives called in the deputy coroner, Laura Santos, who ordered the digging to stop until a forensic team could get there. It is not until the next morning that the digging could be resumed. By this time, word had spread about what was going on at 1426 F Street, and crowds had gathered, including members of the media. The corpse was uncovered, but it was not that of Bert Montoya. It was a small female, and had been in the ground for quite a while, the body skeletonised. The digging resumed once more, and Dorothea Puentes came over to Cabrera. Looking shaken, she asked if she was under arrest. Given that she had been extremely cooperative, Cabrera said that she was not, and asked her why. Puente tells him that what has been happening had unnerved her, and she wished to join some relatives around the corner at the coffee shop in the Clarion Hotel. Cabrera told her that she was free to go, and escorted her through the crowd.

Twenty minutes later, another leg is discovered, a second body has been found. Realizing that allowing Puente to go off for coffee may have been a mistake, they rushed around the corner to the coffee shop. They were too late. Dorothea Puente had vanished. By the time the third body had been discovered, a full scale hunt was on for the landlady of 1426 F Street.

Puente was born Dorothea Helen Gray in Redlands, California on January 9, 1929. Her parents, Trudy Mae Yates and Jesse James Gray, were cotton pickers. Dorothea lost both of her parents when young, within a year of each other; he father died from tuberculosis when she was eight years old, and her mother died a year later in a motorbike accident. In 1945, the 16-year-old Dorothea met Fred McFaul, a 22-year-old soldier. At the time, Dorothea and her friend were both working as prostitutes. After a few months together, Dorothea and Fred got married in Reno. Dorothea claimed to be 30 years old, and she signed the marriage certificate as “Sherriale A. Riscile.” Two children came from this marriage, both girls. One of them was sent to live with McFaul’s mother, and the other was put up for adoption. In 1948, Dorothea found she was pregnant once again, but this time she miscarried.

By this time, Fred was fed up and wanted out of the marriage. He had discovered that Dorothea was a compulsive liar, with tales of how she had survived the Bataan Death March, and how she was related to the ambassador to Sweden. She had even told people that she was a close friend with the film star Rita Hayworth. Fred McFaul had had enough, and finally, he left her. Dorothea now embarked on a life of crime, which included forging some checks for which she was caught and spent six months in jail before being paroled.

In 1952, Dorothea married a second time, this time to a merchant seaman named Axel Johansson. It was not ideal. Johansson’s work took him away much of the time, and when he’d return, he would find other men living with his wife. He knew that neighbors often complained about taxis that pulled up at strange hours and dropped men off to visit Dorothea. Theirs was a turbulent marriage, with frequent fights and separations, yet they remained married for 14 years.

In 1960, she was convicted of owning and managing a brothel, though she denied it. After serving her time, she was arrested again, this time for vagrancy. By this time, her marriage to Johansson was over and she had married her third husband, Robert Puente, who at only 19 years old was half Dorothea’s age. The marriage would last just two years.

The crimes that she committed now became more serious. In 1968, she opened a halfway house for alcoholics which she named “The Samaritans.” It didn’t last long. The halfway house closed after Dorothea had run up debts to the tune of $10,000. Shortly after the closing of The Samaritans, Dorothea moved to a 16-room boarding house at 2100 F Street in Sacramento, where she eventually became the manager.

In 1976, Dorothea Puente married for the fourth time. This time, her new husband was one of the tenants living at the boarding house, a violent 52-year-old alcoholic named Pedro Angel Montalvo. The marriage would last just a few months. “She wanted new pantyhose every day.” Montalvo would later tell the newspapers. “She thought she was rich.” When this marriage collapsed, Puente began to haunt the local bars and taverns, on the lookout for elderly, lonely men. Once she had become friendly with them, she would start forging their signatures and stealing their money. She was eventually caught in 1978, and charged with forgery. She was convicted of forging 34 checks that she had stolen from her elderly victims, and was given a very lenient five year’s probation. Undeterred, even on probation, Dorothea Puente carried on committing treasury fraud.

In 1981, Puente moved several blocks down from the boarding house at 2100, into the boarding house at 1426 F Street. She rented an upstairs apartment, and it was during this period that she began the drugging and robbing of the elderly that led to her five-year sentence. One victim, 74-year-old Malcolm McKenzie, told the Sacramento Bee how she had drugged him and as he watched in a stupor, helpless and unable to move, she looted his home and took his valuables.

After her three years in prison, and her release on parole in 1985, she moved back in to 1426 F Street. Part of her parole condition was that she stay away from the elderly, and that she not “handle government checks of any kind issued to others.” It was a condition that Puente had no intention of following. When the owner decided to move out, Puente took over the running of the boarding house, a clear violation of her parole. On at least 15 separate occasions, Puente was visited by parole agents, who must have been aware that she was running a boarding house. Astonishingly, no parole violations were ever reported, and Puente was free to carry on accepting new tenants, collecting their mail for them, and handling their expenses. Before long, her reputation as a kind and benevolent woman began to spread, and soon, social workers began to send their homeless and afflicted clients to the boarding house. Puente kept her five felony convictions to herself, and the social workers never checked. Outwardly, Puente appeared to be perfect, the “best the system had to offer,” as one social worker put it.

Ismael Florez was a local handyman. He was hired by Puente in November 1985 to install some wood panelling in her apartment. She also wanted him to build a storage box. The box was to be six feet, by three feet, by two feet. Instead of getting cash for his work, Puente made him an offer. If he gave her $800, she would give him a red 1980 Ford pickup. The vehicle once belonged to her boyfriend in Los Angeles, she explained, but he no longer had any use for it. Florez accepted the deal. Puente asked if Florez would drive her and the now filled and nailed shut box to a storage depot, and he agreed. On the way there, Puente changed her mind about the depot. The box is just full of junk, she told him, and instead, he helped her carry the box to an unofficial dumping site on the bank of the Sacramento River along the Garden Highway in Sutter County.

By 1988, the neighbors had begun to notice a particularly foul smell that was coming from 1426 F Street. In the summer months it was so bad that many of the neighbors chose to endure the heat rather than turn on their air conditioners and suck the smell into their homes. When asked about it, Puente put the blame on the sewer system that she said had backed up. Another time, she blamed the fish fertilizer that she had recently spread on the garden. In an attempt to mask the stench, Puente had dumped lime and bleach into the back yard, and when any guests came to the house to visit, she liberally sprayed the house with air freshener. But it made no difference. Whatever it was, the smell clung to the house.

But in November, when the first of the bodies was discovered, the source of the smell became clear. By Sunday, November 13, Dorothea Puente was front page news across the country, and there was still no sign of her. The newspapers also commented on how the police had let her give them the slip. John Kearns, Sacramento Police Chief, acknowledged that a serious error had been committed by his officers. “She should have been followed,” he said, even though detectives did not have enough evidence to arrest her. “She should have been tailed very closely.” Kearns said, “She was a prime suspect in a homicide case. There isn't any excuse as far as I am concerned why the suspect was not kept under surveillance.” He did defend the officers’ decision not to arrest her, saying that if they acted in haste, it could well have jeopardized their case. “You've got to realize you're walking on egg shells when talking to a suspect without an arrest warrant or a search warrant. She could have refused to allow the officers to dig in the yard,” he said. The criticism became worse when it was revealed that the police knew about her criminal past and her propensity for lying.

As the digging continued, more bodies began to turn up, some buried for only a few weeks, some buried a year or more. Social workers supplied the police with a list of people they had placed at the boarding house. Included on the list were the names of John Sharp and Benjamin Fink, and one that stood out for Detective Cabrera: Dorothy Miller, the name on the prescription bottles he’d found. It was established that Puente had not dug the holes, but had hired others to do it, not suspecting what the holes were for. Homer Myers, a 74-year-old former tenant, had dug several holes for her, one supposedly for an apricot tree. “She said she had contacted a nursery and they told her she needed a hole that was four feet by four feet and five feet deep,” said Myers, “I thought that was a little deep. Now I know why.” Other holes were dug by the paroles from the local halfway house, including one named Don Anthony, who Puente got to call Judy Moise and pretend to be Bert’s relative, and who inadvertently gave his own name before hastily correcting himself.

On Monday, police demolished a shed and underneath, a shallow grave was discovered. A short while later, another grave was found in the front garden. This corpse was different in the fact that the head, hands, and feet had been severed and had been removed. Inside the house, other damning evidence had been found. In plain view, detectives found a book entitled Drugs and Their Effects. Cabrera also found a driving licence that had a photograph of Dorothea Puente, but a name that was not hers. Upstairs, the detectives entered one of the rooms, and it was immediately clear that this was the source of the foul odour that John Sharp had complained of to Officer Ewing in his private talk. This room was kept by Puente to store the bodies while preparations were made for their disposal in the back yard. Sometimes, the bodies could have been there for a week or more. As a result of the length of time between their death and their eventual burial, the bodily fluids from her victims had seeped from the corpses and saturated the carpeting, seeping through to the floorboards beneath.

Neighbors began placing handmade posters in their windows, reading “Nightmare on F Street” although had it not been a comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace may have had closer parallels. Seven bodies had now been found, four women and three men. Most of the bodies were missing their teeth and were too decomposed, making it almost impossible to get their fingerprints. Identifying the bodies was going to be difficult. The San Francisco branch of the Social Security Department sent a list to the police. It contained the names of all the people registered to 1426 F Street who had been receiving benefit checks for the past three years. Although the list could not specify who actually cashed the checks, it became fairly clear what had been going on. On the days when the checks would come, Puente insisted on getting the mail, collecting the checks and handling all the finances for her tenants, giving them a small amount for their personal needs, and keeping the rest as “expenses,” to the tune of around $5,000 a month. A handwriting expert would later confirm that Puente had signed the names of her tenants, including the dead, on some 60 federal and state checks that had been sent to the boarding house. Many of the names on the list had not lived at the boarding house for well over a year, but the checks kept coming because no one had reported that they had moved or were missing.

There was, however, one family looking for a relative. Everson Gillmouth had moved to California in 1985 to get married, and his family had not heard from him since late that year, though they had been receiving letters from his new wife. The woman that Gillmouth was supposed to have married was Dorothea Puente.

Gillmouth was a 77-year-old retiree who lived in Oregon. He had begun a pen-pal friendship with Puente while she was still in jail serving her 1982 prison term. A romance blossomed, and when Puente was released on parole in 1985, Everson Gillmouth was there at the gates to collect her, in his red 1980 Ford pickup. In their correspondence, Gillmouth had told Dorothea all about himself, including the fact that he earned a nice pension. Gillmouth had told his sister that he and Dorothea were going to get married. He had even made Puente a signatory on his checking account. The family would get letters from Puente, telling them all that she and Everson had been doing, the trips they took and the things they had seen. With the bodies found at the boarding house, the family contacted the Sacramento police to ask how Everson was.

Another man named William Clausen also called the Sacramento Police, but not for a missing person. He was calling about his mother, Ruth Munroe, who had committed suicide six years before. In 1982, Ruth Munroe was 61 years old and was going through a tough time. Her husband had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and was residing in a Veterans Administration Hospital and Ruth was uncomfortable living alone. She and a partner ran a small catering business, and it was her partner who came up with a perfect solution to Ruth’s dilemma. As they were business partners, why not also share a place to live. It sounded like the ideal solution, and on Easter Sunday, 1982, Ruth moved in with her partner, Dorothea Puente. William would often visit his mother at 1426 F Street, and she seemed well for a while. One thing William noticed was that Puente made drinks for Ruth. But, he thought nothing of it, after all Dorothea was a friend of his mother. Then, on April 27, William called and found his mother in bed, unable to move or speak. Worried, William comforted her, and assured her that she was okay and that Dorothea would care for her until she was well. But the next morning, William received a phone call. His mother was dead.

The cause of Ruth’s death was determined to be an overdose of a mixture of drugs. Puente told the coroner that Ruth was very depressed, not unreasonable considering her husbands illness. With no other evidence, the death was ruled a suicide. Ruth’s family denied that Ruth was depressed or suicidal, that in fact, she was the opposite, upbeat and cheerful. The timing of Ruth’s death struck Cabrera. It was the same time that Puente was drugging and robbing the elderly, and Puente needed to go on the run. Ruth would have been a ready source of cash, and it was likely that the ticket for Mexico found on Puente when she was caught was paid for with Ruth’s money. With this new evidence, Ruth Munroe’s name was added to the list of homicide victims.

The coroner’s office was working hard to try and identify the seven bodies taken from the boarding house yard. Eventually, they were successful. The first one found, whose leg was first thought to be a tree root, was that of Leona Carpenter, and the fourth body found had some tattoo’s, which enabled them to identify it as that of Benjamin Fink. Despite their condition, the coroner’s office did manage to get fingerprints from two of the bodies. One was Dorothy Miller, and the other, to Judy Moise’s sorrow, was Bert Montoya. It was the body of Betty Palmer that was missing the head, hands, and feet. The last two bodies were those of James Gallop and Vera Faye Martin.

One thing Cabrera noted was how the corpses were buried. Each one had been wrapped in sheeting and plastic, and secured with duct tape. He wondered if any similarly wrapped bodies had been discovered elsewhere. Cabrera sent out a bulletin to all agencies, and it wasn’t long before he got a reply. Sutter County police called and told him that on January 1, 1986, a fisherman out on the Sacramento River had found a long homemade box on the river bank, where people were dumping their garbage illegally, just off the Garden Highway. He called the police, and when they opened the box, they found, wrapped in sheeting, plastic, and duct tape, the badly decomposed corpse of an elderly man. He had been dead a few months, and they had been unable to identify him. Now, three years later, they finally could. It was the body of Everson Gillmouth.

Puente’s body count was now nine.

After her capture in Los Angeles, Puente was cooperative, and admitted that she had buried the bodies in the back yard, and that she had continued to collect their checks and cash them. However, she denied that she had murdered the victims, insisting that they had all died of natural causes. In fact, there was no clear cause of death in any of the victims. Dalmane (flurazepam) is a prescription-strength sleeping pill, which could certainly be lethal if it was taken with alcohol or any other sedatives, and it was especially lethal if taken by the elderly. Although Dalmane had been found in all of the bodies, it could not be determined as the cause of death in any of them. But it would have been easy for Puente to mix it in with their food or drinks.

After many delays, including a change of venue to Monterey County due to the publicity surrounding the case in Sacramento, the trial of Dorothea Puente on nine counts of homicide, finally began on February 9, 1993. Puente’s defense team of Kevin Clymo and Peter Vlautin didn’t deny that Puente had buried the bodies of her tenants, or that she cashed their benefit checks. But, they insisted, the tenants had all died from natural causes. The trial lasted months, but finally, on July 15, the jury retired for deliberation. Weeks passed until on August 26, the jury returned. At 43 days, it was at that time the longest deliberation in California history.

For four of the counts, the jury returned a split vote, eleven guilty, one not guilty. For two more of the counts, the jury was split equally. But for the murder of Benjamin Fink and the murder of Vera Faye Martin, she was found guilty in the first degree, and for the murder of Leona Carpenter, she was found guilty in the second degree. On October 13, 1993, Dorothea Puente was sentenced to two life terms for the murder of Fink and Martin, and 25 years to life for the murder of Leona Carpenter. This time, there would be no parole.

Dorothea Puente was taken to what would be her home for the rest of her life, the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, Madera County, California.

In the wake of the events surrounding 1426 F Street, the social services understandably came under fire. An independent agency published a report entitled “Sins of Omission,” which criticised the Sacramento Police Departments handling of the case, and also criticised 10 more agencies, both public and private, that had dealings with the boarding house. After the events, social services were tightened, and a better system for keeping track of applicants was established.

Cooking with a Serial Killer
Cooking with a Serial Killer

In 1998, Puente began a long correspondence with underground artist, publisher, and self proclaimed serial killer expert Shane Bugbee. In 2004, he published the book, Cooking with a Serial Killer which included a long interview with Puente, plus some prison artwork, and 50 recipes that she had sent to him.

On March 27, 2011, Dorothea Puente died from natural causes at Chowchilla. She was 82 years old.

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