When people imagine a serial killer, a lot of things come to mind. When people hear “killer,” they tend to go to the most immediate, visceral, and simple version of what it takes to kill someone.

The predominant image is a tall and thick man, a convict with tattoos and a sinister look.

Someone immediately identifiable as a person who’s racked up a body count and could go on to kill many more if not for the bailiff and guards at the trial. But real serial killers can be anyone: even sweet, old ladies.

Dorotea Puente was a serial killer who defied the typical archetype of the modern American killer.

She was a woman, and during the span of her crimes, she was pretty old, in her late 50s and early 60s.

She lived a very long life and led several people to their deaths, all in the effort of cashing in their checks and living off their remaining welfare.

Despite being such a contrary-looking figure, she was every bit as capable of a killer as the life sentence inmates she was sent to join at the end of her trials. Her deceptive looks made her quite a bit scarier.


10 /10 Early Life

She was born Dorothea Helen Gray in January of 1929 in Redlands, California. Her early life, unfortunately, seemed to indicate the path she was destined to take.

Both her parents were alcoholics, and her father threatened to commit suicide in front of his children numerous times.

He died of tuberculosis in 1937, and the mother died the following year after losing custody of her children. She died in a motorcycle accident.

9 /10 Lost Youth

Dorothea suffered sexual abuse in the orphanage where she and her siblings were sent.

She was married at the age of 16 to a WWII veteran and had two daughters – but because of her traumatic past, she sent them both away, one to live with relatives in Sacramento and the other she placed for adoption.

She was divorced after suffering a miscarriage in 1948. So before she was even 20, she went through a whole lifetime of suffering and upsets, which surely tinted her view of the world.

Wikimedia Commons

8 /10 Teya Neyaarda

She was so dissatisfied with her life that she felt the best way to carry on was to start over and create a fake persona of one Teya Singoalla Neyaarda, an immigrated Egyptian Muslim.

She married a merchant seaman named Axel Johansson in San Francisco, but their marriage did not have smooth sailing. She took advantage of his travels to invite other men to their homes and gambled his money.

7 /10 Diagnosis

Gray turned to crime for the first time in 1960 when she was arrested for operating a brothel under the guise of bookkeeping in Sacramento. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

She was then placed in a mental hospital by her husband for her uncouth behavior, where she was officially diagnosed as a pathological liar and an unstable personality. Despite that, she was eventually released.


6 /10 Sharon Johansson

Her switched persona worked well enough to do it a second time and kept her ex-husband’s name after they divorced in 1966. She was now Sharon Johansson, a kindly older Christian lady.

She seemed to make changes for the better as a caretaker and sanctuary provider without charging any of the young women she took in to shield them from abuse.

If the story ended here, it would have made for a heartwarming turnaround.


5 /10 Mrs. Puente

Her final husband was Roberto Jose Puente. Their marriage in 1968 only lasted 16 months before she attempted to leave, citing domestic abuse.

He fled to Mexico to avoid the legality of divorce. Their relationship continued shakily until 1975, when she filed a restraining order against him, formally blocking him from her life.

By that time, she had already become a pillar in her community, providing shelter for addicts, alcoholics, domestic abuse victims, and a charitable giver to Hispanic causes.

She attempted to re-marry again, but her husband left after only a week, never to return.

4 /10 First Troubles

The first signs that something was going on under her prim and proper appearance was in 1978 when she was caught illegally cashing 34 state and federal checks that belonged to her tenants.

She was given five years probation and a restitution fine.

Many of the people she took in the sought shelter but trusted her with all their financial assets as a sort of exchange so she could control their money and not let them spend it on their vices. She used that money on herself instead.


3 /10 Just A Warm-Up

In 1982, the first of many deaths occurred. A 61-year-old woman named Ruth Monroe was found dead from an overdose. Dorothea claimed the woman was suffering from depression, and so her death was ruled as a suicide.

Just a few weeks later, another elderly pensioner accused Dorothea of drugging and stealing from him. She was sentenced to five years in prison, of which she served three, and then returned to her boarding home duties.


2 /10 Death House Landlady

In 1985, the first of her murders began and persisted even under suspicion of parole officers for years.

She hired laborers to build coffins as “junk storage” or had tenants help by digging through her basement and garage to install concrete slabs and never be seen again.

She took elderly and sickly people to her boarding home. She continued to pocket their welfare and social security for “expenses” while detaining them from even speaking with friends or family.

In 1988, the police formally inquired about a missing tenant and investigated the disturbed soil to find another tenant’s body, along with seven others throughout the property.

Sacramento Police Department

1 /10 From Life To Life

Dorothea was arrested for nine murders. Most involved drugging and overdosing. She then wrapped the bodies and placed them in the open pits of her backyard to be buried as “junk” or “storage.”

She initially attempted to flee capture when she wasn’t the main suspect but was seen on TV and turned in by the people she tried to stay with.

She was convicted of three murders, though the jury undecided the rest, and sentenced to life in prison, despite maintaining innocence. She died in March 2011 at the age of 82 of natural causes.

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