Authorities unearth a corpse buried in the lawn of 59-year-old Dorothea Puente’s home in Sacramento, California. Puente operated a residential home for elderly people, and an investigation led to the discovery of six more bodies buried on her property.
Puente struggled with mental illness and had already been in trouble with the law. She had previously served prison time for check forgery, as well as drugging and robbing people she met in bars. After her release, she opened a boarding house for elderly people. Beginning in 1986, social worker Peggy Nickerson sent 19 clients to Puente’s home. When some of the residents mysteriously disappeared, Nickerson grew suspicious. Puente’s neighbors, who reported the smell of rotting flesh emanating from her vicinity, validated Nickerson’s concern.
Although all the buried bodies were found to contain traces of the sedative Dalmane, the coroner was never able to identify an exact cause of death. Still, during a trial that lasted five months and included 3,100 exhibits, prosecutors were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Puente had murdered her boarders, most likely to collect their Social Security checks. Though she was formally charged with nine counts of murder and convicted on three, authorities suspected that Puente might have been responsible for as many as 25 deaths. She died in prison in 2011.