Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

Grim Harvest

Dorothy Miller
Dorothy Miller

Ultimately, the grisly harvest of Puente's garden would be seven people who had checked into her boarding house and never checked out alive:

Alvaro "Bert" Montoya, 51, a retarded schizophrenic who argued in Spanish with the voices inside his head and called Puente "Mama," found under a newly planted apricot tree in the side yard.

Dorothy Miller, 64, an American Indian with a drinking problem who liked to recite poems about heartbreak, found with her arms taped to her chest with duct tape. The last time her social worker saw her, she was sitting on the front porch, enjoying a cigarette.

Betty Palmer
Betty Palmer

Benjamin Fink, a 55-year-old alcoholic found dressed in striped boxer shorts. Shortly before he disappeared, in April, 1988, Puente told another boarder that she was going to "take Ben upstairs and make him feel better."

Betty Palmer, 78, whose remains - missing the head, hands and lower legs — were found in a sleeveless white nightgown below a statue of St. Francis de Assisi, a few feet from the sidewalk at the front of the house.

Leona Carpenter, also 78, who was discharged from the hospital to Puente's care in February 1987 and had spent several weeks agonizing on a sofa before disappearing. She was buried near the back fence, and it was her leg bone that Detective Cabrera mistook for a tree root.

James Gallop, a 62-year-old who survived a heart attack and brain tumor surgery, but not Dorothea Puente. Vera Faye Martin, 64, whose wristwatch was still ticking when she was unearthed.


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