Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

Bone Yard

Corner of Dorothea Puente's home
Corner of Dorothea Puente's home

Hearing the commotion, Puente walked into the corner of the yard and peered down into the hole herself. When Cabrera told her that they'd found what appeared to be a human corpse, she acted shocked and slapped her palms to the sides of her face.

The men stopped digging when they found a shoe with a piece of foot still wedged in it and decided to return the next day with proper equipment.

The next morning, a Saturday, a team of forensic anthropologists, officials from the coroner's office, and a county work crew equipped with heavy machinery descended on the property.

The first person they dug from the yard was the body the officers had stumbled across the day before, a small female with gray hair that had rotted into a skeleton.

A crowd of onlookers and reporters watched the proceedings from the other side of the high fence, the Los Angeles Times reported. Boys shimmied up trees for a better view. The mood was party-like until a fresh body was unburied and carried to the coroner's wagon, and the crowd grew solemn. 

As the team drilled through a slab of concrete and prepared to excavate beneath it, Puente walked into the yard and approached Cabrera, wearing a cherry red overcoat, and purple pumps, and carrying a pink umbrella.

She asked the detective if she was under arrest. He said "No." She asked if she could go to the Clarion Hotel — a few blocks away — to have a cup of coffee, and he said, "yes," escorting her past the reporters and curious onlookers before returning to the yard work.

In rapid succession, the team found three bodies under the slab of cement and a fifth under a gazebo in the side yard, the Sacramento Bee reported.

But by the time authorities noticed that the white-haired landlady hadn't returned from the hotel, four hours had passed, and Dorothea Puente was hundreds of miles away.


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