“The house of death”, this is how the home of Dorothea Puente, a 59-year-old woman who killed nine people and buried them in her patio, was known. During six years of terror, she dedicated herself to deceiving the family members of the guests in her house, the social workers who followed up and even the investigators.
Dorothea Helen Gray was born on January 9, 1929 in Redlands, United States. She was the sixth child of seven in a humble cotton-picking family going through a difficult physical and mental situation.
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His father suffered from tuberculosis and spoke frequently of suicide. Her mother was a drinker, so she often argued with the other members of the family.
According to Spotify’s «Criminal Women» podcast, Trudy, the mother, disappeared for days until she ended up in jail for being drunk in public.
Given the scenario, the 5-year-old girl had to be raised by her older brothers, something that increased when her father died of the disease.
They moved to Saint Dimasin California, and there the infant began to invent stories about her life that she told others. Stories that would grow, like her, over the years. What started as a self-defense method turned into pathological lies.
Dorothea entered a school where they noticed how they were treated by their mother, so Truddy lost custody and the children were taken to a state orphanage. The mother died months later in a motorcycle accident, leaving her children orphaned.
According to the newspaper «Clarín», in that place the 9-year-old girl suffered from constant sexual abuse and was in various foster homes with close relatives. Finally, she ended up as a sex worker and invented a new life based on lies.
Dorothea married for the first time at the age of 16 with a soldier named Fred McCall in Nevada and signed their marriage certificate under her false first name: Shell Arise.
”He even told him that at thirteen he lived through the Bataan Death March and the bombing of Hiroshimathat she was the sister of the Swedish ambassador, or that she was a close friend of the actress Rita Hayworth», reported «Clarín».
The couple had two daughters, one of whom was sent to Fred’s mother and the other was given up for adoption, since Dorothea did not want to take on this responsibility.
It was not until 1948 that they ended their relationship, a fact that caused the woman so much revulsion that she told everyone she knew that her ex-husband had died days before.
It was from there that his problems with the law began, since that year he used fake checks to buy clotheswhich caused his first arrest, from which he was released for being a misdemeanor.
Her middle name, Tella Sin Wa Lane, came at the same time as her second husband: Swedish sailor Axel Johanssen, to whom she told that she was Muslim and of Egyptian descent.
In 1960, she was arrested again when the owner of the house where she ran a brothel reported human trafficking to the police. With her skills at lying, Puente was able to get her sentence reduced to 90 days in the county jail.
Axel admitted her to a psychiatric hospital, and when she was discharged, he divorced her because he believed she was still the same as before.
Shortly thereafter, she married Roberto Puente, nineteen years her junior, and from whom she took her surname in Mexico City. However, she divorced this character two years later.
The House of Death
With money provided by the government, Dorothea opened the Los Samaritanos pension, in which she intended to exploit the elderly population, sick and alcoholics of the United States. His house had three floors and sixteen rooms and was located at 2100 F Street, in Sacramento.
The monstrous reign began as a scam: all residents had to sign their welfare checks in her name. As if that weren’t enough, she used her physique and personality to conquer men who she later scammed.
After several complaints, she was charged with 34 counts of fraud and, after a two and a half year sentence, she was released on parole.
After returning from his sentence, the woman began to interact with the social workers, in order to have them on her side. He entered politics and showed himself as an impeccable person while entertaining his friends on nights when he went to the bars.
The deaths began in 1982 with Ruth Monroe, a friend of Dorothea, who died in April of an overdose of codeine and paracetamol. Ruth’s condition began to deteriorate the week after she arrived at the boarding house, as her caretaker gave her poisoned mint tea.
“I made them change their clothes every day, take a bath every day, and eat three times a day. When they came to me, they were so sick that they were not expected to live.”, assured Dorothea in the trial.
Like a master of deception, the police believed Puente when he alleged that Ruth suffered from depression due to her husband’s terminal illness. No one questioned his version and they treated it as a suicide.
Like Ruth, Dorothy Miller, 64, also died at the hands of the woman with the excuse of an alcohol overdose. Benjamin Fink, 55, followed for the same reason, and Betty Palmer, 78.
All of these bodies were found in the woman’s garden along with Leona Carpenter, James Gallop and Vera Faye Martin. Dorothea continued to emerge from her corpses unscathed, due to the good relationship she had with social service agents.
It was until 1988, when the residents of the sector began to alert about the smell that emerged from the pension. However, the old lady always justified it with a stench from the pipes. And, although the woman covered the garden floor with cement and then killed whoever did the work for her, the truth always comes out.
On the morning of November 11, Detective John Cabrera and other police officers inspected the boarding house. While inside they found nothing, Outside, they realized that the earth was disturbed, they dug and found remains of bodies.
One of the police officers in the case told the American newspaper ‘The New York Post’ that he had found «pieces of cloth, egg shells and pieces of leather that looked like dehydrated meat.»
«I could see Dorothea looking at us through the window, upstairs,» he added.
Although the killer fledShe was captured and put on trial some time later. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors said Puente was one of the «coldest and most calculating» serial killers the country has ever seen.
In prison, where he had been more than five times, the old woman died in 2011 of natural causes.
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