Unsolved Mysteries and Scary Stuff: Dorothea Puente

Dorothea Puente

Dorothea Gray was born in California in 1929. Her childhood was interrupted abruptly when her father fell ill and died of tuberculosis when she was only eight. A year later her mother passed away in an auto accident. This left Gray an orphan, and she spent time in a refuge for family-less children until some relatives agreed to take her in.  Later in life Gray would fabricate stories on her upbringing, claiming that her family lived in Mexico, and that she had several other siblings.

At the age of sixteen Gray abruptly married to a solider who just returned from World War II. They had two children together, but Gray sent both kids away to be raised by others. A third child died in a miscarriage. After less than three years together her husband left her. Dorothea hid this fact, much like her parents demise. In future versions of her life, Gray would tell others that her husband suffered a heart attack only days after they married.

Her life continued to spiral downward as she was arrested for forging checks and ended up spending six months in jail. Once she was released, she became pregnant by a man she just met and gave birth to a daughter who she promptly surrendered for adoption. Gray married a man named Axel Johanson in 1952 but the marriage was rocky at best. In 1960 Gray was arrested for owning and running a brothel. After serving that ninety-day sentence, she was arrested for vagrancy and ordered back to jail for another three month stay.

Gray managed to find work as a nursing assistant, charged with taking car of the old and the crippled. Soon after that she began to manage boarding houses. Dorothea ended up divorcing her husband in 1966 and married a man named Roberto Puente, who was two decades younger than her. Their bond only lasted two years before they divorced. The now Mrs. Puente took over a large housing unit in Sacramento. Puente got married yet again in 1976 to a violent alcoholic. The pair divorced only a few months later.

Puente next patrolled bars for aging men. She would try and find out their history and any possible benefit checks they might be receiving. She then began a scheme to forge their names and steal their money. This landed her under arrest yet again, but while out on probation she went right back to doing the same crime but with a new twist. Now Puente would focus on stealing from her own boarding house tenants. They would complain of her stealing money and mail from them, which later investigators deemed netted her five-grand a month.

In 1982 things tuned sinister when an elderly friend, Ruth Monroe, moved in with Puente. Shortly after this arrangement began Monroe died of a prescription drug overdose. Puente claimed her friend was depressed and the police went along with the suicide theory. Only a few weeks after that the police were called back to the boarding house when one of her elderly residents accused Puente of drugging and robbing him. This led to her being sentenced to five years in jail. From her jail cell Puente began a pen-pal relationship with 77-year-old Everson Gillmouth of Oregon. When she was paroled after serving three years, Gillmouth was there to pick her up.

Gillmouth and Puente talked marriage, got a place together and combined bank accounts. Soon after they moved in together a handyman was called to renovate the apartment. Puente worked out a deal to pay for the labor by giving him “her boyfriend’s” truck. She also had him build a box that was over six feet long and two feet high to “store books and other items”. A few days later Puente showed the handyman the box, now nailed shut, and asked him to dump it by the river for her. He agreed to do so. Less than two months later the box was spotted by a sportsman and he called the police. Responding officers found the badly decomposed body of an old man inside. The origin of the remains would not become known for another three years. Gillmouth’s pension checks kept coming in for Puente to cash and she made sure to write his family and lament that their relative was ill and not able to visit.

Puente took on 40 new tenants to her boarding house, including drug addicts and other criminals. She continued her past practice of opening up her boarders mail, taking part of their money for “expenses” and then giving them the rest. Her parole officers made at least fifteen visits during this period, and despite Puente being officially ordered to avoid the elderly and not to handle government checks, she was never marked for any violations.

A local vagrant was hired by Puente to install a concrete slab over the dirt in her boarding house basement. He was then charged with taking down a garage and installing another concrete slab over the foundation of that as well. The homeless man disappeared when these tasks were completed.

In November of 1988, a social worker realized that one of the people she was to be tending to was missing from Puente’s boarding house. Police were called in and they took note of multiple spots where the soil was disturbed around the place. A search soon after uncovered a body of one of Puente’s tenants, and six more bodies would be found in the extensive property investigation that followed. Puente was not considered a suspect at first and was allowed to leave for a cup of coffee. This allowed her to flee to Los Angeles. Their she went back to her old habit of seeking old men in bars. This time however she was recognized from the news reports that were airing on the bodies being found. She was arrested and charged with nine counts of murder.

The trial was long and over 130 witnesses were called to testify. It took the jury over a month to overcome an 11-1 deadlock and convict Puente of several of the murders. She was sentenced to life in prison and maintained her innocence up til her own death at age 82 in March of 2011.

While in prison she helped write a book titled Cooking with a Serial Killer that shared recipes, stories from her life and some of her art work that she produced in prison.

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Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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