Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dorothea Puente, Killing for Profit

Lifelong Criminal

Under the guise of the benevolent grandmother lurked a lifelong criminal, and diligent reporters carefully pieced Puente's life story together and published it.

She was born Dorothea Helen Gray on January 9, 1929 in Redlands, California, and although she claimed to be the youngest of 18 children, her birth certificate showed she was her mother's sixth child, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Hers was a childhood marred by tragedy, with her father dying of tuberculosis when she was 8 and her mother dying in a motorcycle accident a year later.

Her relatives told the Bee that the Gray children were farmed out to different homes and according to census records, she lived in the city of Napa at age 13. School records show she was a student in Los Angeles at 16, but less than a year later, she moved to Olympia, Washington, where she called herself "Sheri," and worked in a milkshake parlor during the summer of 1945.

She met Fred McFaul, a 22-year-old solider back from the war in the Philippines, that fall, Wood writes. She and a friend were living in a motel room — and turning tricks there as prostitutes.

"She was a good-looking female," McFaul told the Bee. "She knew how to make a buck when she wanted to."

When the couple were married in Reno a few months later, the 16-year-old Puente said she was 30 and called herself "Sherriale A. Riscile," information duly recorded on the marriage certificate.

McFaul soon found out that Puente was an inveterate liar. Not only did she love to adorn her body with expensive clothes — silk stockings and flirty dresses — she also loved to embellish her background. When she was young, she lied to make herself seem more interesting, and it was a habit that stuck for life. Sources close to her said she claimed to have lived through the Bataan Death March in World War II (when she was 13), and the bombing of Hiroshima. She was the sister of the ambassador to Sweden, she told people, and a close friend of Rita Hayworth.

McFaul and Puente set up house in Gardnerville, Nevada and had two daughters. Shortly after the birth of their second daughter, McFaul told the Bee, Puente went to Los Angeles. She became pregnant several months later.

She miscarried the baby, Norton writes, but McFaul left her anyway, and the couple's daughters were raised by other people — one by McFaul's mother, and the other adopted by strangers.


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