Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

Sleeping Pills

The prosecution's main weakness was the fact that there were no eyewitnesses to the alleged murders. The prosecution could only prove the cause of death in the case of Ruth Munroe — the other bodies were too decayed. But one thing toxicology tests did reveal, however, was that there were traces of Dalmane (flurazepam) — a prescription-strength sleeping pill — in all the remains.

Flurazepam (Dalmane) bottle
Flurazepam (Dalmane) bottle

Dalmane can be lethal, especially when taken with alcohol or other sedatives, and it's particularly potent in elderly people, experts testified. At Puente's preliminary hearing, a doctor testified that Puente had used Dorothy Miller's veteran ID card to try to get a prescription for Dalmane, which the doctor refused to give her.

The Dalmane evidence was backed up by testimony about boarders who complained that Puente foisted medication on them. Puente had abundant sources for the drug, Wood writes. In addition to the Dalmane she acquired from her court-appointed psychiatrist, she got it from two other doctors as well.

Former resident Carol Durning, who lived at the rooming house for the first half of 1987 before she was evicted, testified that she'd overheard Puente telling James Gallop he had to leave unless he let her take charge of his money. He later complained that Puente was giving him drugs that made him sleep all the time, she added, according to the Bee.

Alvaro "Bert" Montoya complained to an employee of a local detox center where he resided before transferring to 1426 F Street that Puente was "giving him a medicine he didn't like to take," according to the Bee.

When that employee, William Johnson, confronted Puente about the matter, she flew into a rage and asked him to take Montoya back to the detox center to live if he was going to meddle in her business. Johnson advised Montoya that he'd be better off at the boarding house than at the center.

"I told him, 'You'll be safe here,'" Johnson told the court. "I was wrong... I've got to live with this for the rest of my life."

Puente went to elaborate lengths to cover up Montoya's death. She paid Donald Anthony, a local halfway house resident, to help her flush out her story. Anthony called Montoya's social worker, posing as his brother-in-law, told her that Montoya had gone to live with his family out of state.

But in a message left on the social worker's answering machine, Anthony mistakenly used his own name instead of the brother-in-law's — the blunder which prompted Detective Cabrera's visit to the boarding house, and the subsequent excavation of the yard.


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