Local Horror Story: Dorothea Puente

As a kid, I remember everyone telling me about the Old Lady who buried people in her backyard. I always figured they were just trying to scare me, because, seriously, who wants to picture a sweet old lady killing people? The very idea was too much to process at the age of ten. I mean, we all have grandmothers. Could you really picture her doing something like that? I know I couldn’t. So as it is, I always thought it was an urban legend. We used to ride the bus downtown to skateboard on the weekends, and sometimes skipping school altogether, and once we got there we’d always try to find the house. Since we didn’t have Google back then (I know. Weird, right?), we always kind of assumed it was whatever Victorian house looked creepy enough at the time. *sidenote: they all looked creepy*

It wasn’t until years later, when I’d gotten home from work  one day, that I heard a recap on the news. I don’t remember why it was there. Maybe it was the anniversary of it or something? Anyway. There it was. The one flipping story I had heard so much about as a kid was an, honest to God, true story. And when I saw the house for the first time, it wasn’t anything like I’d expected. It was just . . . a house.


Photo taken by Genaro Molina/Sacramento Bee

So this is how the story goes:

Dorothea Puente was a charitable old lady that ran a boarding house. She was like any other elderly woman. Kind, charming, and personable.

I mean . . . who wouldn’t trust this face?


Photo credit.

Little did anyone know that she’d been charged for theft and drugging her previous tenants in 1982. She served three years out of her five year sentence and went on with her life like nothing happened. Flash forward to 1986. After the disappearance of her rumored boyfriend and her local handyman, Dorothea continued to take in elderly patients. I guess they didn’t really have enough on her for the whole boyfriend thing. She was soon back to her old ways, collecting the mail of her elderly patients and pocketing any “expenses” they may have acquired while staying with her. If anyone complained, well, they wouldn’t much longer.

Neighbors became suspicious when they noticed a lot of fresh up-turned soil in her backyard. Hm . . . it’s hard to ignore large spots of the dirt the size of a human body. It didn’t all fall apart until a social worker contacted the police about her missing client. After searching Dorothea’s home, they found seven bodies. SEVEN. BODIES. My questions is: where were the social workers for the other six victims?

No one really knows for sure whether she hired people to help her, or what the situation may have been, but Dorothea has become one of the most well-known Sacramento serial killers in my lifetime.

It just goes to show that even the most unexpected people can’t be trusted. Even sweet old ladies who run boarding houses. Who would have thought?

Categories: Local Horror

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