How Many Victims Did Serial Killer Dorothea Puente Actually Have?

Statistically, serial killers are overwhelmingly men, and while women are not often thought of when it comes to the topic of being serial murderers, they are not excluded, according to Discover Magazine. One of the most notorious female serial killers was Aileen Wuornos. But another one was Dorothea Puente, who started her killing spree a few years before Wuornos grabbed national attention.

During the '80s, a then-59-year-old Puente ran a boarding house in Sacramento, California. The majority of her tenants were senior citizens who were also recipients of pensions and social security payments. This made them a target for Puente, who also had a penchant for committing fraud and apparently drugging and robbing unsuspecting men (via History). She preyed on her elderly tenants by going through their mail and cashing their checks, per Sactown Magazine. It was a crime she had previously done five years in prison for, but maybe old habits die hard. After her release from prison she became landlady of the infamous F Street home that was later known as a site of horror. When a few of her tenants started going missing, Puente began to attract the attention of authorities and social workers.

The first missing person who raised suspicion was a neighborhood handyman named Chief whom Puente hired. Then another tenant, Alvaro Montoya, went missing (via Find A Grave).

Dorothea Puente's victims always went missing first

But in this case, someone was concerned enough to call the police, because the mentally ill Montoya had regular check-ins with his social worker — who hadn't heard from him (via Sactown Magazine). Investigators went to the home to follow up on a report filed on Montoya's behalf. The seemingly nice landlady, as Puente presented herself to be, didn't give them any reason to doubt. And other tenants backed up her story.

That is, until another tenant apparently secretly gave officers a note stating that Puente was forcing him to deceive them (via Medium). When he was interviewed he told them enough stories that pointed to Puente as being responsible for Montoya's disappearance. Prior to this time, neighbors and tenants had long complained of a foul odor coming from the home, but they didn't know then what was the cause.

Police visited the home, and in their search unearthed a disturbing sight in the backyard. They found seven bodies buried, and of them was Montoya. Puente's modus operandi was drugging her victims with the drug Dalmane. Many of her victims had traces of the drug in them (via The Los Angeles Times). She was later charged with two more murders in addition to the seven, bringing the total number of victims she had to nine. She died in prison in 2011, age 82, reports Crime Museum.

Oxygen will air a documentary about Puente, "Murders at the Boarding House," on April 17.