Image: Dorothea Puente in court at 1993 trial
Paul Sakuma  /  AP file
Seven bodies were found in the yard of Dorothea Puente in 1988. She was found guilty on two counts of first degree murder and one count of second degree murder in 1993. She died in prison Sunday, March 27.
updated 3/27/2011 10:25:02 PM ET 2011-03-28T02:25:02

A California woman who was convicted of killing her elderly tenants and burying them in the backyard of her boarding house died Sunday in prison, authorities said. She was 82.

Dorothea Puente ran a boarding house for elderly and disabled residents out of a rented two-story Victorian. She was known to give her tenants gifts and home-cooked meals.

But authorities said she was in fact drugging them and stealing their money. She was sent to prison for three years on those charges in the early 1980s, but reopened the boarding house after her release.

Police began investigating her again in 1988 after a social worker told them she suspected something was wrong at the home, The Sacramento Bee reported. The social worker, Judy Moise, had referred Alvaro Montoya, a 51-year-old mentally disabled homeless man, to the boarding house. Moise filed a missing persons report with Sacramento police when Montoya disappeared after a few months.

Days later, investigators began unearthing bodies in Puente's backyard. Puente, however, escaped to Los Angeles during the digging. She was spotted in a bar there and arrested a few days later.

Authorities would eventually find seven bodies in her backyard.

Puente was convicted in 1993 of three murders — the jury did not reach verdicts on six other murder counts. She was given two life sentences and a concurrent 15-year-to-life sentence.

Puente died at around 10:15 a.m. Sunday of natural causes at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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