Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

A Gentle Side

In interviews, people gave conflicting descriptions of Puente's personality.

John Sharp, 64, a retired cook who lived in the boarding house for 11 months until police shut the place down, told reporters that Puente had a gentle side — she fed stray cats, gave her boarders clothes and cigarettes, and even bought one disabled tenant an adult tricycle so he could be more mobile, according to the Associated Press.

Vera Faye Martin
Vera Faye Martin

The media feeding frenzy was enormous, with every news organization looking for a unique angle. When neighbors told reporters that Puente passed out tamales at Christmas time, the National Enquirer wanted to know if the meat in the tamales tasted funny.

The LA Times tracked down Patty Casey, a 54-year-old cab driver who ferried Puente around town and eventually became a friend who visited Puente at the boarding house. Casey told the paper that she drove Puente on errands several times a week to buy cement, plants or fertilizer or dropped her off at various dive bars in downtown Sacramento.

Puente confessed secrets to the cabbie, saying she was really 71, and not 59, as the records indicated, and telling her about her four failed marriages and her recent face lift.

"I thought she was a nice person," Casey told the paper. "I really looked up to her and admired her. I felt I could learn a few things from her. I thought she was very savvy."

When Casey commented on the unpleasant odor permeating the house, Puente told her it came from dead rats that were rotting under the floorboards.

The police were also interviewing former boarders, and certain patterns that became evident. Several times before a tenant disappeared, for example, Puente would tell someone that so-and-so wasn't feeling well and that she was "taking them upstairs to make them feel better."

And she always had excuses for the disappearances: one tenant was becoming burdensome and "telling her how to run her house," so she'd packed his stuff into cardboard boxes in the middle of the night and threw them on the street; another left suddenly to live with relatives.

 

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