Dorothea Puente dies in prison

According to the Los Angeles Times, convicted serial killer Dorothea Puente died Sunday in prison at the age of 82.

Dorothea ran a boarding house for elderly and disabled people. As I recall from what I’ve read in books, they signed their Social Security and other benefit checks over to her, and she used the money to pay for their room and board, and took care of them. Except she was actually drugging them until they didn’t know what was going on, then spending the money on herself. She spent a few years in prison for this, then after her release she opened another boarding house. (Way to go, state of California, that you let her do that.)

Dorothea had learned her lesson from prison: in her second boarding house, rather than drugging the residents into oblivion, she murdered them and buried their bodies in her yard. Most of the residents didn’t have any family or anyone who visited them, so she got away with it for a long time. She was caught after a social worker reported one of the residents as a missing person.

If my memory serves me — maybe I’ll look this up when I get home — Dorothea sprinkled quicklime on the corpses to make them decompose faster. What she didn’t realize is that quicklime only works that way if you mix it with water. Dry quicklime, on the other hand, acts as a preservative, so when the police disinterred the murder victims they were in remarkably good shape. (Again, I’m not 100% sure whether this was Dorothea or another lady serial killer who also killed patients from her boarding home. There were a couple of these. But it’s a fun fact anyway.) [UPDATE: Yeah, I looked it up and it was indeed Dorothea. Courtesy of Harold Schechter’s The Serial Killer Files.]

Dorothea published a cookbook shortly before her death. Apparently she was a wonderful cook when she wasn’t mixing deadly chemicals into the food. Shane Bugbee, the man on the outside who helped her publish the book, says “Thea was a kindly old lady that, it sounds like, she got mixed up with the wrong kind of people.”

Whatever, Shane.

I hope that conditions are better now for vulnerable people in boarding homes, and that social workers or whoever check on their well-being regularly, so they don’t wind up buried in the backyard for months or years and never missed. But I’m not at all convinced that they are. Social services can’t even look after their foster children. Old and disabled people can’t have it much better.

14 thoughts on “Dorothea Puente dies in prison

  1. danielle March 29, 2011 / 4:27 pm

    “she got mixed up in the wrong people”….why isn’t ever the killer’s fault??

    • marycarney March 29, 2011 / 7:38 pm

      No kidding! We’re all just victims, right?

  2. Claudine March 29, 2011 / 6:27 pm

    “Thea was a kindly old lady that, it sounds like, she got mixed up with the wrong kind of people.”

    What?? I could maybe understand if he claimed she had become a nicer person in prison and that she regretted what she’d done or something … but he makes it sound like she just, oops, accidentally murdered a bunch of people … It’s amazing what people will believe …

  3. Princess Shantae March 29, 2011 / 8:54 pm

    Wrong people my eyeball. I wonder if this Bugbee (what a funny last name that is) would be comfortable letting sweet old Thea be in charge of his grandparent.
    Old people have it even worse than foster children do when it comes to social services. They’re forgotten and nobody gets up in arms if they get abused or took advantage of, at least not like people do when kids get in a bad way. Now with Mickey Rooney going public with his story maybe that will start to change.
    It just realy makes me angry when older people are mistreated or manipulated.

    • danielle March 30, 2011 / 10:27 am

      you said it!! I hope Mickey Rooney does bring attention to this……(our culture is different with old people…In the Philippines, for example, the old are respected and live with sons).

  4. Kat March 29, 2011 / 10:22 pm

    First of all, I checked crime library today and she was one of the recently featured stories…now I know why. And if anyone thinks the elder abuse thing is going downhill…we just had a lady in the very small town next to me scammed out of $15,000. The frauds are taking back to the landlines ala 1980. Preying on the elderly again, since computer scans are too costly/traceable/time consuming. So all you all with older relatives, keep an eye on them. It’s a damn shame that this is still around. And I don’t think the world is worse off with Ms. Puente gone.

    • Diane April 7, 2011 / 6:11 am

      This is one of the many reasons why I would never abandon my mom or let her live apart from me. She’s going wherever I’m going, even if I move 5,000 miles away from wherewe live now. I purchased my first (and present) home in late 2006 and told her she’d have the master suite. This was three years after Dad died and we were left with relying on just each other (both Mom and I are only children) for support. And now that she’s disabled, it’s even more important to keep my mom really close to me. I do not want anyone taking advantage of her and I really hope that once she takes care of her eye problems and can get glasses that she’ll finally learn to listen to my admonishments about never answering the phone unless it shows a recognizable phone number and/or name on the caller ID. She has about eight people who call her on a regular basis and I would really want her to study those numbers carefully and learn to identify them from some stranger calling up to work some scam on her. Her doctors are never a problem as they always identify themselves via caller ID.

      Anyway. I do think this is also an argument for having loved ones take care of elderly family members, either their children or grandchildren or some other trustworthy, younger family member(s). And yes, I know relatives can also scam the elderly, but I haven’t heard quite the number of relative scam stories as I have those elder abuse/scam stories from strangers who operate either as professional caregivers or plain old scammers, e.g. those people who approach seniors in front of grocery stores and ask them for help with cashing lottery tickets by providing money up front. I don’t know what I would do if my mom were ever the target of anything like that.

  5. Justin March 30, 2011 / 1:46 am

    Some people just cannot comprehend the people they know with what they did. You can show a film of them committing the act, and they will just keep making excuses. Especially if they are the parents of these people. Psychopaths can be quite charming. Some of the biggest mass murderers were thought to be kind men by the people who knew them.

  6. Zoe March 31, 2011 / 5:38 am

    I love your commentary Megan, ;o) “(Way to go, state of California, that you let her do that.)” etc … you ever thought of writing non-fiction? I think it would be quite good reading!

  7. Cattt April 2, 2011 / 7:44 am

    Her cookbook is called “Cooking With A Serial Killer” ???? It doesn’t sound very appetizing. It makes me think she cooks with body parts and human blood.

    • Meaghan April 2, 2011 / 9:31 am

      Well, it capitalizes on Dorothea Puente’s notoriety. I don’t think most people will be buying it as an ordinary cookbook.

  8. shane bugbee April 2, 2011 / 10:15 am

    hey all… the quote re: he getting mixed up with the wrong folks of course was edited.
    it was in regards to her having to have help, not being the only person in on the killing… she had to have help, she was to old and weak to drag those bodies around, let alone dig graves and even throw one off of a bridge.

    thea wasn’t innocent, this I know.

    the cookbook is available at the link below, there is a FREE download available thru this link as well.

    oh, and princess shantae, yes I would have had thea take care of my family… we even offered that to the parol board when she was up for parol… I just wouldn’t let her cook of near the meds is all.

    • Meaghan April 2, 2011 / 6:25 pm

      Okay, that quote makes a little more sense now.

  9. fonso September 2, 2011 / 12:03 pm

    How could Dorothea Puente move the bodies alone and bury them herself without no one noticing , to me looks very odd?

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