One of the reasons that women murder is out of greed. In previous episodes, we talked about Lavinia Fisher, who had a murder house with her husband, KD Kempamma, and Martha Marek. They all killed to steal money and valuables from their victims. Dorothea Puente was the same. She pretended to be a nice, caring woman to steal from her tenants, and eventually murdering nine of them.
On January 9, 1928, Dorothea Helen Gray was born to Jesse James Gray and Trudie Gray. She was the sixth child out of seven that the couple would have. When she was eight, her father died of tuberculosis. Her siblings and her lived in poverty with their alcoholic mother. Dorothea’s mother was said to be abusive when she was around, which was sporadic. She would eventually lose custody of them before dying in a motorcycle accident when Dorothea was ten.
When she became a teen, she decided to runaway from the different houses she was being bounced around to. She worked as a prostitute in Olympia, Washington. After being there for awhile, Dorothea met 22-year old Fred McFaul who was a soldier coming back from World War II. The two would eventually marry and move to Nevada in the year 1945.
It seems Fred was not a bad husband as we have seen with other female killers. The two would eventually have a daughter a year into the marriage followed by a second daughter the next year. Dorothea was not the motherly type and put one of her daughter to live with relatives, and the other was put up for adoption. Two years after getting married, Fred McFaul had enough and divorced Dorothea.
She would move to San Bernardino. While there, she was convicted of trying to cash a check with a false name. She would serve four months in jail. It is not known what she did during the period of when she got released and when she married her second husband Axel Johansson in 1952.
This marriage was not a happy one. The two would constantly argue due to Dorothea’s drinking, gambling, and extramarital affairs. In 1961, Johansson had Dorothea admitted to a psychiatric hospital. This was a year after she was found in a home where she offered to perform fellatio to an undercover cop. When she was talking to a journalist in 2009, Dorothea said about the situation, “I was there visiting a friend when the cops came”
The constant struggles with Dorothea became too much for Johansson and he divorced her in 1966. Dorothea will say he was her favorite out of her four husbands.
Boarding House Opens
Two years after her second divorce, Dorothea married for a third time. This time to someone 16 years younger than her. Roberto Puente who wanted to get his US citizenship, and whose last name she used until she passed. A year later they were separated. It was after this that Dorothea opened the infamous boarding house in Sacramento, CA.
Dorothea started making money off the boarding house. She donated money to political campaigns of politicians like Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan. Her reputation will help her continue to get boarders. Dorothea painted herself as a sweet woman who wanted to help others. She would welcome people who society shuns like alcoholics and drug addicts into her home alongside elderly people.
In 1976, she would get married to her fourth and final husband Pedro Montalvo. They would also separate that same year.
Two years later in 1978, she would be arrested for scamming her boarders. She would forge their signatures on their benefit checks and cash them. She would be sentenced to five years of probation.
Dorothea was on probation but that didn’t stop from drugging three women and stealing money and other valuables from their homes. She also did the same to a man she met and ransacked his apartment.
During this same time, her first victim tenant 61-year old Ruth Monroe overdosed on on codeine and acetaminophen. Her death was ruled a suicide because Dorothea said Monroe was severely depressed because her husband was terminally ill. The police believed her.
Dorothea was arrested in 1982 for the thefts and sentenced to five years in prison. Monroe’s kids would see the news about Dorothea being arrested for drugging and stealing from four elderly people. They reached out to the police to reopen their mother’s death. The police said that Ruth had died of a suicide. Ruth’s son would later say that if they would have taken Ruth’s death seriously, then the other victims would still be alive.
She was released after three years for good behavior. While in prison, she started communicating with 77-year old Everson Gillmouth. When she left prison, he was waiting for her in his red Ford pickup.
A state psychiatrist diagnosed her in 1985, which is when she was released, as a schizophrenic. He wrote, “This woman is a disturbed woman who does not appear to have remorse or regret for what she has done. She is to be considered dangerous, and her living environment and/or employment should be closely monitored.”
1426 F Street
Dorothea would open the boarding house at 1426 F Street. She hired Ismael Florez to do some work in her home and build a 6-by-3-by-2-foot box for storing items. She paid him $800 and gave him a red Ford pickup as payment. When he asked her who the owner was, Dorothea said it belonged to a boyfriend who said he didn’t need it anymore.
She then asked Florez to please help her transport items, including the box, to storage. On the way there, Dorothea asked if he could stop alongside the highway and dump the box in the river because she just wanted to dump it and didn’t want to go through the hassle of going to a trash dump. He agreed. In 1986, a fisherman would find the box and open it. Inside was the decomposed body of an elderly man. All this time, Dorothea was collecting Everson Gillsmouth pension. It would take three years to identify the body in the storage box as Everson Gillmouth.
Suspicion around the neighborhood arose when one of her tenants named “Chief” disappeared. Neighbors saw Chief working hard around the house, including building a concrete slab. All of a sudden, he was no longer around.
On Nov. 11, 1988, police went to Dorothea’s house after they got a call from a concerned social worker who could not locate Alvaro Montoya, who was developmentally challenged and was schizophrenic. They knocked on the door and talked to Dorothea. The conversation aroused suspicion, but they knew they had something when Dorothea fled the city with no forwarding address.
Even though they didn’t find anything in the home, police decided to check the backyard when a tenant said a body part had been found there. They went back there and started to dig up it up. The remains of seven bodies, four women and three men, were found wrapped in bedsheets and duct tape.
A manhunt that stretched all the way to Mexico was launched. Four days later, Dorothea was found in a Los Angeles motel. She had visited a bar near the motel and started talking to an elderly man. He started getting suspicious when she started asking him about his financial situation. He then recognized her and called the police.
Dorothea was arrested and charged with nine counts of murder after two other deaths were linked to her. After a 24-day trial, the jury found her guilty of three of the nine deaths. Dorothea was sentenced to life without parole.
The state psychiatrist should have been listened to because Dorothea was a dangerous woman. She didn’t have any remorse and only cared about the money. Not once did Dorothea take responsibility for anything in her life including the murders, until her death in 2011. In 1998, Dorothea talking with Shane Bugbee for several years. He would release his book in 2004 called “Cooking With A Serial Killer” that included 50 recipes and interviews with Dorothea. Even during those years, Dorothea never said she did anything wrong.
Sacramento Police Detective John Cabrera, that was part of the investigation, said about Dorothea’s murder house, “Flowers, vegetation, you know, greenery, shrubs. It was like, ‘Wow, an oasis. In a neighborhood. But actually, it was a hellhole.” The house where all the murders took place will be featured in a new series called “Murder House Flip” where houses, where crimes took place, are renovated. I’m not sure I would want to live in a house where people were murdered. I feel that it would have bad energy.
- Kuz, M. (2009, September). The Life and Deaths of Dorothea Puente. Retrieved from http://www.sactownmag.com/August-September-2009/The-Life-and-Deaths-of-Dorothea-Puente/.
- Large, S. (2019, October 24). Serial Killer Dorothea Puente’s Home Featured In ‘Murder House Flip’ Series. Retrieved from https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2019/10/24/dorothea-puente-home-featured-in-murder-house-flip-series/.