TYLER (CBSDFW.COM) – Imagine being a pen pal to one of California’s most notorious serial killers and not even knowing it? That’s what a Tyler woman discovered about her friendship with an elderly inmate.
Dorothea Puente was convicted of drugging, killing and burying people in her Sacramento boarding house yard in the 1980’s. Calling herself ‘Dottie,’ she has been writing to ‘Norma’ in Tyler for the past seven years.
Norma is a mother and grandmother with a contagious laugh and polite manner who just wanted to do something nice for an older woman, for someone behind bars serving time.
“Four thousand prisoners and I picked one,” says Norma.
She picked “Dottie” because she was in her 70’s. “I just wanted some plain little old lady to write to perk up her days.”
They exchanged two to three letters a month. In the letters, Puente opens up about everything from prison life to where she feels she’ll go after she dies.
Dottie told Norma a lot of intimate details. Puente says she was molested as a child, got married early, and lived on the streets. She never says why she was in prison and her pen pal never asks.
Sometimes the letter came with a request. “She wanted peanut butter and coffee, creamer and cookies, things like that.”
Dottie never discussed her crimes, and Norma never asked. She says she never judged her pen pal. “I was her friend, not her judge and jury.”
But all of that changed after she got a letter from Dottie last month. In her “deathbed” letter to Norma, Dorothea Puente says she’s dying of colon and liver cancer.
Norma decided to call her long time pen pal, to hear her voice before the end. That’s when she learned the truth about her friend.
“I looked on the internet, and here’s her name… Dorothea Puente, boarding house murderer, I thought, ‘What!?'”
The more Norma learned, the more her shock turned to anger.
Norma read how police found the bodies of seven elderly victims buried in Puente’s yard.
Dottie mentioned in one letter how her family disowned her after she went to prison, but never talked about the crimes, and only once mentioned any regrets. “So I’m trying to make amends with all to make sure I’m right with God” Norma reads from one of the letters.
Dorothea Puente did ask for one final favor, she asks for money to help pay for her cremation. She also says when she dies, she’s looking forward to seeing her friends in heaven.
But Norma never sent the money. Instead she sent one more letter. “I told her, well, Dorothea, I found out why you’re in prison.”
Norma waited for a response, and the answer she received gave her the chills, as if a killer were taunting her. “I was told not to discuss my case in these letters, but I thought you’d know.”