Born in 1959 and raised in an orphanage, Dorothea Puente claimed a total of four marriages, from which police were able to document two divorces. Her only child, a daughter, was put up for adoption at birth finally meeting her mother - whom she described as a woman with "no real personality" - in 1986. Eight years earlier, Puente had been diagnosed as suffering from "chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia," a condition that sometimes produces delusions. Neighbors recall her fascination with acting, including boasts of non-existent starring roles as "the evil woman" in various feature films. On the side, Puente billed herself as a "holistic doctor," but she earned her income, after 1978, from operation of a boarding house in Sacramento, California. In 1982, Puente was convicted of drugging and robbing strangers she met in various taverns, serving two and a half years in prison before she returned to her rooming house. She spent hours working in the garden, and neighbors described her as "very protective of her lawn." As one told reporters, "If somebody walked on her lawn, she'd cuss at them in language that would make a sailor blush." In 1986, Puente approached social worker Peggy Nickerson with an offer of quality lodgings for elderly persons on fixed incomes. Referring to Puente as "the best the system had to offer," Nickerson sent her 19 clients over the next two years, growing concerned when some of them dropped out of sight. In May 1988, when neighbors complained of a sickly-sweet smell in her yard, Puente blamed the aroma on applications of "fish emulsion." "We couldn't stand it," one resident recalled. "There was a sick smell in the air, and there were a lot of flies in the area." On November 7, 1988, police dropped by the rooming house to check on tenant Bert Montoya, last seen in August. Briefly-satisfied with Puente's explanation - that Montoya had gone home to Mexico - officers returned with shovels five days later, after Peggy Nickerson reported one of her clients as missing. The first corpse was unearthed November 11, with two more recovered the following day. Puente disappeared that afternoon, before she could be taken into custody, and officers kept digging in her absence. By November 14, police had seven bodies in hand, and tenant John McCauley, 59, was charged as an accomplice in the murders. (He was later freed, for lack of evidence .) Detectives shook their heads in wonder as they realized that they were only blocks away from where another clutch of corpses had been excavated, at the home of killer Morris Solomon, in April 1987. No more bodies were discovered at the rooming house, but officers believed there might be other victims , all the same. "We are getting a large number of calls from people with relatives who have stayed here," a police spokesman announced. "There are a lot more than seven names." In fact, as many as 25 former tenants were missing, and police had no I.D. on any of the seven corpses. (At least one had been decapitated , feet and hands removed, to prevent identification.) Detectives believe Puente murdered her tenants in a scheme to obtain their Social Security checks. On November 17, Puente was traced to Los Angeles, fingered by a new acquaintance she met in a bar. Introducing herself as "Donna Johansson," she displayed an unusual interest in the man's disability income, offering to move in with him and "fix Thanksgiving dinner" on short acquaintance. Held without bond, she faces indictment on seven counts of murder, and the investigation continues. By December 10, 1988, Sacramento authorities had identified four of the victims unearthed at the Puente rooming house. Fingerprints and x-rays indicated that the four were 55-year-old Ben Fink, 52-year-old Alvaro Montoya, 65-year-old Dorothy Miller, and 65-year-old Vera Martin. One male victim and two females from the rooming house remain unidentified at this writing, while police have added an eighth victim - a middle-aged male, found January 1, 1986, in a wooden box beside the Sacramento River - to the list of Puente's victims. On December 11, authorities charged 46-year-old Ismael Carrasco Florez as an accessory to murder in the 1986 case, alleging that he built the box and aided Puente in disposing of the body. Puente went on trial in February 1993. Convicted on three murder counts in late August, she was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.