Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

Taste of Death

Excavation of the garden
Excavation of the garden

The bodies were all severely decayed, and in several cases the internal organs had melded together into a leathery mass. Handling the rancid bodies and other items from the crime scene proved too much for police clerk Joy Underwood, who was sent to the morgue one night to help a technician label the evidence.          

She told Associated Press that afterward, she vomited every time she saw a news report about the case and began to shower compulsively, feeling like she could never get clean.

I still have the taste of death in my mouth," she told reporters. "I can't eat vegetables grown in the ground because they have dirt around them, like the people dug up in Puente's yard — and I'm a vegetarian."

Remains removed from yard
Remains removed from yard

In his book, Wood writes that Puente indulged her champagne tastes with her dead tenants' income. When she was arrested, her face was still unnaturally tight from a face lift, and in her room, detectives found $110 bottles of Giorgio perfume and silk chiffon dresses.

Details of the case emerged slowly. Puente had been renting out the first story of the Victorian to old and alcoholic boarders and using the second story as her living quarters.

A search of the boardinghouse had turned up a note on which Puente had scrawled the first initial of each victim and the amount she was getting from forging their disability and Social Security checks, the Sacramento Bee reported. Before her arrest, she was making $5,000 a month off her dead tenants, the paper reported.


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