Tranquilizing Drug Found in All Bodies at Boardinghouse

Associated Press

Traces of a drug used as sleeping pills and tranquilizers have been detected in all seven bodies unearthed from the yard of a downtown boardinghouse, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Sacramento Union, citing an unidentified source, identified the drug as benzodiazepine. Valium and Dalmane are types of the drug, which can be lethal, especially when taken in combination with alcohol or a sedative. The Union said it is still unknown whether the drug, a combination of drugs or something else caused the deaths.

Police believe that the boardinghouse landlady, Dorothea Montalvo Puente, 59, poisoned her elderly tenants for their Social Security checks. Puente has been charged with only one count of murder, but a prosecutor said he plans to file more charges at a Jan. 18 court hearing.

No Official Comment


Sacramento County coroner’s officials declined to comment on findings of toxicology tests of the bodies. Robert Bowers, chief deputy coroner, said autopsy and toxicology reports probably will become final within three weeks. State Department of Justice officials, who conducted the toxicology tests, also declined comment.

Kevin Clymo, one of two assistant public defenders representing Puente, refused to discuss details of the case. “I have no official confirmation yet from the coroner’s department,” he said.

Benzodiazepine presents significantly higher risks when taken by elderly people or along with other sedatives such as alcohol, said William H. Phillips, a Justice Department forensic toxicologist.

“It would not be the thing I would use to kill someone because it takes so many of them (pills) to suppress the central nervous system to the point where you died,” except when combined with other variables, Phillips said.

The Union quoted the source as saying that tests detected “the presence of various drugs” in the bodies and that “some or all” of the victims had been on other medications.