Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

Escape to L.A.

On the second day of digging, when police let Puente walk to the nearby Clarion Hotel — ostensibly for a quick cup of coffee — she fled. She called a cab from the hotel, which took her to a bar on the other side of town. There, according to Wood, she chugged down four vodkas and grapefruit, before catching another taxi to Stockton, where she boarded a bus to Los Angeles. During the six-hour bus ride, she had a numbing buzz, $3000 cash in her purse, and a burning desire to reinvent herself.

A few days later, Charles Willgues, a 59-year-old retired carpenter, was nursing a mid-afternoon beer at the Monte Carlo tavern in downtown Los Angeles when an elegant stranger in a bright red overcoat took a stool next to him.

Dorothea Puente arrested
Dorothea Puente arrested

She ordered a vodka and orange juice and introduced herself to Willgues as Donna Johansson, a Sacramento woman whose husband had died the month before and who was looking to begin a new life in L.A. The grieving widow told Willgues that she'd gotten off to a poor start: the cabbie who'd dropped her off at the $25 a night Royal Viking Motel had driven off with her suitcases, and to make matters worse, the heels of her only remaining pair of shoes — she leaned back in her bar stool to flash a bit of ankle and the purple pump at him — were broken.

Willgues felt sorry for the woman and took her shoes to a cobbler across the street to have them repaired. When he returned, the woman asked him how much money he got from Social Security a month, the Los Angeles Times reported. He didn't think her question was particularly nosy, so he told her — $576 a month.

He did think it strange, however, when the stranger told him she was a good cook and suggested they move in together. They were two lonely souls in the world, she said, so why not keep each other company?

"I've got all I can handle right now," he responded, taking another long drink of beer, and changing the subject. They went for a chicken dinner at a fast food joint, and Willgues kept wondering why the stranger seemed so familiar. In the early evening, they parted ways after making plans to go shopping the next day and replace the items the cabbie had stolen.

Back at his apartment, Willgues figured out who she was. He'd seen her on television, along with the bodies they'd pulled from her yard. A chill ran through him. He called a local TV station, which in turn called the police.

"I'm just very thankful that the relationship didn't go any further," Willgues told the Times.

At 10:40 p.m., Los Angeles police surrounded the fleabag motel where Puente was staying, and arrested her without incident. During the flight back to Sacramento, she told a reporter: "I have not killed anyone. The checks I cashed, yes... I used to be a very good person at one time."


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