Who Was Dorothy Puente? The Story of a Notorious Serial Killer

  • By: Timothy Rose
  • Date: 20 December 2023
  • Time to read: 8 min.

Dorothea Puente was an American serial killer who operated in Sacramento, California in the 1980s. She was born on January 9, 1929, and died on March 27, 2011. Puente was convicted of killing multiple elderly and disabled individuals who lived in her boarding house, and then cashing their Social Security checks.

Puente’s victims were often homeless or had no family, which made them vulnerable to her manipulations. She would lure them in with promises of a safe and comfortable home, but would then drug them, steal their money, and ultimately kill them. Puente was able to evade detection for a long time due to her seemingly kind and caring persona, and the fact that many of her victims had no one to report them missing. It wasn’t until a social worker became suspicious and alerted the authorities that Puente was finally caught and brought to justice.

Puente’s case is a chilling reminder of the dangers of trusting strangers, and the importance of looking out for the most vulnerable members of our society. Despite the passage of time, her crimes continue to fascinate and horrify people to this day.

Early Life

Dorothea Helen Gray was born on January 9, 1929, in Redlands, California. She was the sixth of seven children born to Trudy Mae Gates and Jesse James Gray. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was a sex worker who often left her children with their grandmother. Dorothea’s childhood was marked by poverty, neglect, and abuse.

At the age of 16, Dorothea dropped out of high school and married a soldier named Fred McFaul. The couple had two children, but their marriage was short-lived. Dorothea moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a waitress and a prostitute. She had several run-ins with the law and was arrested for theft, forgery, and vagrancy.

Dorothea’s criminal activities continued throughout her life. She was known for her charm and her ability to manipulate people. She used her looks and her wit to get what she wanted, and she had a talent for forging documents and stealing identities. Despite her criminal record, Dorothea was able to open a boarding house in Sacramento in the 1980s. It was here that she committed the murders that would make her infamous.

Criminal Beginnings

Dorothea Puente, born Dorothea Helen Gray, had a long history of criminal activity before becoming a convicted serial killer. She engaged in various fraudulent activities, including forgery and theft.

Fraudulent Activities

In 1948, Puente was caught stealing government checks and using them to purchase clothes in San Bernardino. She was convicted of forgery and served six months of a four-year sentence before being released [1].

Later, Puente owned and managed a brothel and was arrested for pimping and pandering. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $500 [2].

First Convictions

In 1960, Puente was convicted of 34 counts of forgery and sentenced to five years in prison. She was released on parole in 1966 [1].

Puente’s criminal record continued to grow, and in 1982, she was convicted of drugging and robbing a man. She was sentenced to five years in prison but was released after serving three years [3].

These criminal beginnings set the stage for Puente’s later crimes as a serial killer.

Dorothea Puente’s Boarding House


Dorothea Puente was the owner of a boarding house located in Sacramento, California. She established the boarding house in the 1980s with the intention of providing a place for elderly and disabled individuals to live. Puente initially had good intentions for the boarding house, and she would go on to establish a good reputation in the community.


However, things began to take a dark turn at the boarding house. Puente began to take advantage of her tenants, stealing their Social Security checks and cashing them for her own benefit. She also began to murder her tenants, burying their bodies in the backyard of the boarding house.

The operation of the boarding house was a facade for Puente’s criminal activities. She was able to evade detection for a long time, and it wasn’t until a social worker reported a missing tenant that Puente’s crimes were uncovered. Puente was eventually arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder and theft.

Puente’s boarding house was a place of horror for many of her tenants, and her actions have gone down in history as one of the most heinous crimes committed by a landlord.

Murders and Investigations

Initial Suspicions

In 1982, Dorothea Puente’s boarding house was investigated by the police after a resident complained about being drugged and robbed. However, no charges were filed against Puente at the time. In 1986, another resident of the boarding house went missing, and Puente claimed that she had moved to Los Angeles.

Discovery of Bodies

In November 1988, police discovered the body of a former resident of Puente’s boarding house buried in the backyard. This led to a more thorough investigation, and seven bodies were eventually found buried on the property. The victims were elderly and mentally disabled individuals who had been living at the boarding house.

Arrest and Trial

Puente was arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder. During the trial, it was revealed that she had drugged her victims with tranquilizers and then suffocated them. She would then cash their Social Security checks.

In 1993, Puente was found guilty of three counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She died in prison in 2011 at the age of 82.

The case of Dorothea Puente is considered one of the most shocking and disturbing serial killer cases in Sacramento history.

Trial and Conviction

Legal Proceedings

Dorothea Puente was arrested on November 16, 1988, on charges of theft, forgery, and violation of parole. After the police discovered seven bodies buried in the yard of her boarding house, she was charged with nine counts of murder. The trial began on October 2, 1992, and lasted for six months.

During the trial, the prosecution argued that Puente had drugged and killed her victims to steal their Social Security checks. The defense argued that Puente was innocent and that the victims had died of natural causes. However, the evidence presented by the prosecution was overwhelming, and Puente was found guilty on all counts.


On August 2, 1993, Dorothea Puente was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The judge stated that Puente had committed “heinous and cruel” crimes and that she had shown no remorse for her actions. Puente’s lawyer stated that she would appeal the verdict, but the appeal was later denied.

Puente spent the rest of her life in prison, and she died on March 27, 2011, at the age of 82. Despite her conviction, Puente maintained her innocence until the end of her life.

Later Years and Death

In 1988, Dorothea Puente was arrested and charged with the murder of her tenant, Alvaro Montoya. She was convicted of murder in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Puente continued to maintain her innocence until her death.

While in prison, Puente corresponded with several pen pals and even got married to one of them in 1997. She also received visits from her son and daughter-in-law.

On March 27, 2011, Puente died at the age of 82 in a hospice care facility in Chowchilla, California. The cause of death was ruled as natural causes. Puente was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

Puente’s story has been the subject of numerous books, television shows, and documentaries. Her former boarding house has been demolished, but the memory of her crimes still lingers in Sacramento.

Despite her heinous crimes, some people still remember Puente as a kind and caring woman who would help anyone in need. However, the evidence of her murders and the stories of her victims paint a different picture of a cold and calculating killer who preyed on the vulnerable.

Legacy and Media

Dorothea Puente’s crimes have been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and true crime TV shows. Her story has been featured on Investigation Discovery’s “Deadly Women,” and Oxygen’s “Snapped” and “Killer Couples.” Her case has also been the subject of a book titled “The Bone Garden” by journalist William Cook.

Puente’s legacy is one of infamy and horror. She is remembered as one of the most notorious serial killers in California history. Her case highlighted the vulnerability of elderly and disabled individuals who are often taken advantage of by those who are supposed to care for them.

Despite her notoriety, Puente’s name has largely been forgotten by the general public. Her boarding house, however, still stands in Sacramento and has become a macabre tourist attraction. The house has been featured on ghost tours and is rumored to be haunted by the spirits of Puente’s victims.

In 2019, Netflix released a true crime series titled “The Confession Killer,” which briefly mentioned Puente’s case. The series explores the case of Henry Lee Lucas, another notorious serial killer who falsely confessed to over 600 murders. The inclusion of Puente’s case in the series serves as a reminder of her heinous crimes and the lasting impact they had on the Sacramento community.

Frequently Asked Questions

What crimes was Dorothea Puente convicted of?

Dorothea Puente was convicted of murdering nine people between 1982 and 1988. She ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California, where she preyed on elderly and mentally disabled boarders. Puente would murder her victims and cash their Social Security checks.

How did Dorothea Puente dispose of her victims’ remains?

Dorothea Puente disposed of her victims’ remains by burying them in the yard of her boarding house. She would also dismember some of her victims and dispose of their body parts in the Sacramento River.

What was the extent of the financial fraud committed by Dorothea Puente?

Dorothea Puente committed financial fraud by cashing the Social Security checks of her victims. She was able to get away with this for a significant period of time, as many of her victims were elderly and had no family members to report them missing.

Can you detail the significant events in Dorothea Puente’s life timeline?

Dorothea Puente was born on January 9, 1929, in Redlands, California. She had a troubled childhood and had been in and out of jail for most of her adult life. In the 1980s, she ran a boarding house in Sacramento, where she committed her crimes. Puente was arrested in 1988 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She died in prison in 2011.

What was the address of the boarding house where Dorothea Puente committed her crimes?

The address of the boarding house where Dorothea Puente committed her crimes was 1426 F Street in Sacramento, California.

Did Dorothea Puente have a diagnosed mental illness?

There is no record of Dorothea Puente having a diagnosed mental illness. However, some experts have suggested that she may have suffered from a personality disorder.

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