Highlighted Crime Story of the Week -
Puente was a diagnosed schizophrenic who 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 nineteen 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 thousands of 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 two dozen deaths. She received a life sentence without the possibility of parole and died in 2011 of natural causes at the Chowchilla Central Women’s Prison facility.
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Michael Thomas Barry is a columnist for www.crimemagazine.com and is the award winning author of seven nonfiction books that includes In the Company of Evil Thirty Years of California Crime, 1950-1980. Visit his website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: