Last thing I remember, I was running for the door,
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before,
Relax, said the night man, We are programmed to receive,
You can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave
Such a lovely little place.
During the 1980’s this dainty Queen Anne style duplex in Sacramento, California was a boarding house for senior citizens operated by a lady named Dorothea Puente.
The only problem was that Ms. Puente never let her boarders leave…. alive.
In fact, none of the tenants made it out of their garden plots until a suspicious social worker alerted police in 1988 to the disappearance of several at-risk adults. In the end, seven dismembered bodies were found on the property. Dorothea was later convicted of murdering her tenants and burying them in her yard so she could continue to collect their social security checks.
Newspapers dubbed her the “Death House Landlady”.
Dorothea’s track record wasn’t the best…. she was arrested in the 1960’s for running a brothel.
After spending time in jail, Puente dove into a life of crime by trolling bars for elderly men on benefits. She would befriend them, forge their signatures and steal their money. Dorothea was busted for these crimes in the early 1980’s and was on supervised parole and not permitted to have contact with senior citizens. So it is a complete mystery how she was able to run a boarding house for elderly and disabled people.
In any case, Dorothea was said to be controlling and stingy with the residents (confiscating their mail and keeping their government checks for “expenses”), but she was also said to be one amazing cook.
In fact, I read that part of her defense was that she fed her boarders so well, how could she possibly want to kill them after investing so much into fattening them up?
Puente lived in the upstairs apartment and rented out rooms on the lower level.
Apparently she would take the problematic residents – the ones who complained – up to her bedroom and drug them to death.
Here is a crime scene photo of the actual room where the murders took place:
Dorothea would then drain the victims’ body fluids in her apartment before hauling them down the back staircase and burying them in the yard. It’s been postulated that she hired ex-cons to dig the holes and help move the bodies.
This had been going on for the better part of a decade until Puente was busted in 1988. All those rotting corpses in the garden were emitting quite an odor and it wasn’t long before the neighbors were complaining. Dorothea claimed that the stench came from dead rats decomposing under the floor boards. To elicit goodwill from her neighbors, Dorothea would often hand out homemade tamales to the neighborhood. No word on what filling she used for those.
After Puente’s arrest and conviction, the unfortunate house went through a succession of owners, but finally sold to a serious couple of owners in 2010.
Barbara Holmes and Tom Williams bravely took on Sacramento’s most notorious house and poured money, time and love into a complete renovation of the property.
But contrary to what one might think, they actually embraced the home’s morbid past, rather than trying to erase it.
With a slightly macabre sense of humor, the couple celebrated their home’s reputation by infusing several not-so-subtle deranged-old-lady references into the decor.
Here is a photo of the owners giving a tour through the home’s dining room where Dorothea served her famously generous meals to unsuspecting seniors:
Note the creepy bronze casts of elderly faces on the left wall.
You get the feeling that the homeowners have a certain amount of glee about their home’s unique history.
Case in point – this is their shower curtain:
Then there is the sign on the front porch:
Those people you see taking pictures are tourists who came in hordes when the owners opened up their house to a local historic home tour which benefited local charities.
In one of the press articles about the one-time public tour, I read that the couple’s mother/in-law resides (happily) in the basement.
Ms. Puente died in prison in 2011 but you could say that her spirit lives on in the Victorian house on F street in Sacramento… thanks to the levity and creativity of the current owners. They place this wax replica of Dorothea in various areas of their home (and on the front porch for Halloween)….
Such a lovely face.
Such a lovely place…
You can read more about the Dorothea Puente house at the following links: