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Landlady Charged With 8 More Murders : New Counts Bring Total to 9; Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty

Times Staff Writer

Prosecutors charged boardinghouse landlady Dorothea Montalvo Puente with eight additional counts of murder Friday and asked the court to impose the death penalty in the case.

In a brief appearance in Municipal Court, the 60-year-old, matronly Puente pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Puente has been held without bail since November, when she was charged with a single murder, as local authorities tried to determine the identity of seven bodies found buried in the yard of the F Street boardinghouse that she managed.

The new counts bring the number of slayings she has been charged with to nine. If convicted of two or more of the murders, she would face a minimum sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole and could be sentenced to death, Sacramento County Deputy Dist. Atty. Timothy M. Frawley said.

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Bodies Found

In addition to the deaths of the seven tenants whose bodies were found buried in the yard, Puente was accused Friday of killing two other boardinghouse residents: 77-year-old Everson Gillmouth, whose body was discovered along a river bank in Sutter County in 1986, and 61-year-old Ruth Munroe, who died in 1982 from an overdose of a prescription pain-killer.

Frawley said a witness, Ismael Florez, told police that he helped transport Gillmouth’s body in a casket-like box from the Victorian boardinghouse to the river.

The cause of Munroe’s death was not determined at the time but was believed to be either an accidental overdose or a suicide. Her death is now considered a homicide because of the other deaths at the F Street house, Frawley said.

The prosecutor said all of the missing boarders have now been accounted for and that his office is unlikely to file any additional charges.

Authorities are re-examining the circumstances of the death of one other tenant of the boardinghouse, Eugene Gammel, who died of an overdose of alcohol and an antidepressant in 1987 and whose death was considered a suicide. However, Frawley said there is probably “no reason to change that designation,” in part because Gammel was depressed at the time over charges of child molestation that he faced.

While the coroner here has said that the exact cause of death may never be determined in several cases, significant amounts of the drug Dalmane were discovered in all seven of the bodies found buried near the boardinghouse, Frawley said.

“We will be able to prove that Puente had access to that drug,” he said.

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Skeletal Remains

The seven bodies unearthed near the boardinghouse have been identified through fingerprints and X-rays of their skeletal remains. These include: Leona Carpenter, 80; Betty Palmer, 80; Dorothy Miller, 65; Vera Faye Martin, 65; James Gallop, 64; Benjamin Fink, 55, and Alvaro Montoya, 52.

In court documents filed last week, prosecutors said Puente was able to get Dalmane prescriptions from local physicians in an amount that was “more than she needed for herself.”

Last November, when authorities began unearthing the first of the bodies, Puente was able to slip away. She was captured a few days later in a motel near downtown Los Angeles.

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Despite her well-dressed, benign appearance, Puente proved to have a lengthy criminal record, including convictions for forging the Social Security checks of others and drugging elderly victims in order to steal from them.


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