Serial Killer's California Home Is to Die For
The 1930 tan home with navy and white trim, listed for $309,800, is on the Sacramento historic register. A 1,834-square-foot duplex at 1426 F Street, it went through foreclosure in June 2009, with a previous price tag of $335,750.
"It isn't exactly a real estate agent's dream sales pitch: How would you like to live in a house once owned by a serial killer?" wrote David Knowles for AOL News.
But you wouldn't have to live there. The home, with a bay window in Puente's old bedroom, has a history of rental income. "It's a duplex, so it's good for an investor," bank-appointed Realtor Andrew Chechourka of Kraft Realty told the Sacramento Bee. How easy would it be to find renters willing to live in a home were murders occurred?Well, Puente, now 81 and serving a life sentence for three of the murders, was a renter at the home herself. She first rented the top floor in 1980 before leaving in 1982 to serve time for drugging the elderly and then stealing their checks and valuables. She returned to the home in 1985, renting both floors. She resided on the top level and used the first as a boarding house for the disabled, alcoholic and infirmed. Whenever a tenant got too ill or problematic, Puente laced their food with enough of the sedative Dalmane to cause an overdose. If they didn't die quickly enough, the gray-haired woman with a grandmotherly appearance smothered them with a pillow and then buried her victims in the yard, reported the Sacramento News & Review.
The stench of rotting bodies "hovered over the Sacramento neighborhood like a putrid fog, sickly sweet and pungent," wrote Julia Scheeres in her in-depth report for TruTv. "During the summer it got so bad that some neighbors preferred to turn off their air conditioners and suffer the blazing Delta heat rather than have the fans suck the stench into their homes."
"The sewer's backed up," the 59-year-old boardinghouse mistress told people when they complained, TruTV reported. Other times she blamed rats rotting under the floorboards or the fish emulsion she'd used to fertilize the garden.
With a passion for gardening, she didn't appear to neighbors to be a serial killer. But Puente used the rotting bodies of her victims to fertilize her flowers and avocado tree. She poisoned at least six of her boardinghouse tenants and continued to cash their monthly Social Security, disability or private pension checks until alert social workers raised questions about a missing boarder.
Police discovered several bodies Nov. 11, 1988, the nation's first Veteran's Day. Puente was convicted in 1993.
The home has been updated since then. The lower 3-bedroom, one-bath unit has wood and tile flooring, granite counters in the kitchen and new interior paint and appliances (pictured left). The upper 2-bedroom, one-bath unit has a large kitchen with granite counters and black appliances. The units share a laundry and storage area. To see a slideshow of the home then and now, visit ABC News10.
It's been 23 years since the bodies were unearthed, but people haven't forgotten this home's sordid history. Nearly a half-dozen people a day gawk at the home from the sidewalk or their cars, a recent tenant told writer David Kulczyk in 2008 for a piece in the Sacramento News & Review. Hayner told Kulcyk, author of the book "Death in California," that his 2007 article brought out onlookers who stole mail, resulting in deadbolts being installed on the gate of the black wrought iron fence encircling the front yard.
Although Hayner didn't report seeing any ghosts, a local paranormal investigator, Paul Roberts, is said to have recorded an abnormal electronic-voice phenomena saying, "We don't like it here." Although a report in the investigator's own words says he never detected anything paranormal at the home, Roberts cleared that up for HousingWatch, "I did on the second visit."
Tony Ortiz, who used to hire Puente's boarders for yard work and was as shocked as anyone when she was arrested, laughed at the very idea of spirits. "I don't think so," he told San Francisco Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan in 2002. "That ghostly stuff is just rumors."
The owners of the home at the time of the murders, Ricardo and Veronica Ordorica, sold the home in 2002 for $155,000, according to property records. It had been listed for $199,000, down from $229,000, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The buyer, Richard Vasquez, updated the home, painting the interior and exterior, refinishing the floors and paving the side yard where the bodies had been discovered. Prior to his purchase, the home had sat vacant off and on after the murders. Only Ordorica relatives would occupy it.
Vasquez sold the home in 2005 for $500,000 to John Burdette III; and Burdette flipped the home to Tom and Lissette Decarli for $560,000 only six months later that August, records show. The property currently has a county assessment of $356,564.
Listing agent Chechourka will tell potential buyers that the home "has a notorious history," he said, even though by law, as HousingWatch has reported, he doesn't have to disclose since the murders occurred more than three years ago. "It is what it is," he told HousingWatch.
Sheree R. Curry is an award-winning business journalist who resides in a Minneapolis suburb.