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Dorothea Puente

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Categories: Criminals

Folks looking for a cheap place to stay in Sacramento during the 1980s would often end up at Dorothea Montalvo Puente’s Victorian-style home on F Street. And when the front door opened, potential boarders were greeted by a bespectacled woman who looked like a kind grandmother. Little did they know that Puente was a serial killer who had a habit of murdering her tenants and burying their bodies in the yard.

“She served as a living illustration of the notion that one cannot judge a book by its cover, the epitome of evil without a trace of evil appearance,” former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness told The Sacramento Bee.

Puente first began accepting boarders in 1980. After doing a short stint in jail for drugging her elderly tenants and stealing their Social Security checks, she returned home and reopened the boardinghouse. By 1985, she had developed a reputation as kindhearted landlady who gave the troubled or infirm an affordable place to stay. When she was in a good mood, she even made her tenants home-cooked meals.

Most of her boarders were “shadow people” — alcoholics, drug addicts, the elderly and the disabled — the kind that could go missing without causing much of a stir. So it wasn’t until 1988 that Puente’s actions caught up with her. That was the year social worker Judy Moise became concerned about the disappearance of a mentally impaired man she had referred to the F Street boardinghouse. Moise filed a missing persons report, which prompted the police to pay a visit to Puente’s home. The officers investigating the disappearance were just about to leave when one of the boarders passed them a note saying Puente had told him to lie.

At that point, many in the area suspected something was wrong at the F Street boardinghouse. A foul stench sparked many complaints from her neighbors. Puente would always make excuses for the odor, blaming dead rats and sewage problems. Then she would try to cover it up by pouring lime and bleach in the yard and spraying lemon-scented air freshener throughout the house.

The authorities returned to the house four days later, carrying shovels. They began searching the property and soon made a grisly discovery: Seven bodies had been buried in the yard. Two more bodies, including that of a former boyfriend, were later found at off-site locations.

Puente looked utterly harmless, but the police soon learned that she was cold, calculating and methodical. As the authorities were digging up her yard, Puente politely excused herself to get some coffee from a corner store, then took off. She was captured a few days later in Los Angeles when a man she met in a bar recognized her face and turned her in. Puente had reportedly tried to befriend him after learning he was collecting disability checks.

During her 1993 trial, prosecutors accused the 64-year-old landlady of nine murders. They claimed Puente used drugs to overdose the victims, suffocated them with pillows and hired convicts to bury the remains, just so she could cash their disability and Social Security checks. The scheme earned her at least $87,000, which prosecutors said she spent on plastic surgery, expensive jewelry and tailored clothes.

The defense argued that Puente’s actions stemmed from a rough childhood. Her mother was a prostitute who died when she was 10, her attorney said, and her father threatened to kill himself. Puente married at 16 and had two children but gave them up for adoption. She ran a bordello known for offering cheap blow jobs and wed three other men before opening the illegal boardinghouse. Although she didn’t take the stand at her murder trial, Puente claimed the tenants died of natural deaths. She just didn’t contact the authorities for fear of violating her parole.

After five months of testimony, the jury found Puente guilty of three killings, but deadlocked on the other six murder charges. She was sentenced to life-without-parole for two first-degree murder convictions and a concurrent 15-years-to-life for a second-degree murder conviction. Puente always maintained her innocence for the slayings. Yet in prison, she collaborated with author Shane Bugbee on the 2004 cookbook “Cooking With a Serial Killer: Recipes From Dorothea Puente.”

Puente died on March 27 at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Cause of death was not released. She was 82.

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Kim Hill

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Kimberly Michelle Hill was only three years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia in 1969. At the time, doctors told her family she wouldn’t live to adulthood. But after spending the next three-and-a-half years undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, young Kim defied the odds and survived.

Hill’s father, Fred, who was a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, was so touched by the emotional and financial support he received from his teammates and their families that he decided to dedicate his life to helping other families battle pediatric cancers. With aid from his neighbor, Stan Lane, Fred formed a nonprofit organization called Eagles Fly for Leukemia.

Over the next 30 years, Eagles Fly for Leukemia donated more than $6 million to pediatric cancer and leukemia research. Through its Family Support Fund, the foundation has provided financial assistance to struggling families to alleviate the non-medical expenses related to caring for children with cancer. Each year, the foundation also awards three $1,500 Kim Hill Scholarships to survivors of childhood cancer.

Dr. Audrey Evans of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia saw a need for short-term lodging near the hospital for families of cancer patients, and suggested that Hill allocate some funds for just such a purpose. In 1974, local McDonald’s restaurants decided to help the cause by featuring Eagles players on Shamrock Shakes and donating a portion of the proceeds to the housing fund. When a McDonald’s official offered all the shake proceeds if the house was named after its clown mascot, Ronald McDonald, the charity agreed.

That first Ronald McDonald House became the model for an international network of temporary housing for families of sick children.

Today, Ronald McDonald House Charities operates 302 houses in over 30 countries.

“[Kim] didn’t like being sick, but in a way she was glad she was, because of the good things that happened because of it,” Fred Hill said.

As a child, Kim Hill ran cross-country, sang in the choir and rode horses with her two sisters. She bore a son and studied cosmetology after high school, but eventually worked as a manager at one of her father’s McDonald’s restaurants. When she was well enough, Hill also served as a spokeswoman for Ronald McDonald House Charities, appearing at openings, benefits and other promotional events.

When doctors discovered Hill had developed brain tumors in 1991, she and her family even lived in a Ronald McDonald House while she underwent the first of five brain operations. The tumors continued to grow, however, and eventually she lost her mobility, sight and ability to speak. The last 13 years of her life were spent living in a nursing home.

Hill died on March 5 of brain cancer. She was 44.

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Harry Fogle

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Harry Lee Fogle, who is believed to be the last surviving worker to help build the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, died on Feb. 10 of congestive heart failure. He was 97.

Fogle was born on a Wisconsin dairy farm that lacked electricity. When the bank foreclosed on the property, he became a painter for the railroad and worked his way from the Midwest to California.

In 1935, Fogle landed a job painting the towers and supporting cables of the Bay Bridge. It was during the Great Depression, and he felt “lucky” to have a job working hundreds of feet in the air — without a safety net — for $11 a day. Dozens of men died during the construction of the Bay Bridge. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, a fatal accident occurred nearly every six weeks.

The next year, Fogle was hired to paint the main cables and the 746-foot-tall towers of the unfinished Golden Gate Bridge. Eleven workers perished during the construction of the 4,200-foot-long suspension span, including 10 in February 1937 when their scaffolding fell through a safety net.

Once completed, the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge span in the world. The bridge opened to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937, and since then, more than 2 billion cars have traversed its span.

Although Fogle also painted portions of the Carquinez Bridge, he continued working, on and off, as a painter and foreman on the Golden Gate Bridge for over 40 years. After decades of dealing with dangerous working conditions, including heights, fog and wind, he retired in 1976.

His final years were spent remodeling his home and traveling. Fogle is survived by his wife, Marie, two daughters, a son, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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Susana Chavez

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Susana Chavez spent the final years of her life trying to halt feminicide in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Earlier this month, she ended up joining the ranks of the town’s many victims.

Located across the border from El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juarez has become one of the world’s deadliest cities as the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels battle for control of smuggling routes. But even before rampant drug violence took over the headlines, the city was infamous for a series of murders. Since 1993, hundreds of women and teenage girls have been raped, killed and dumped in the desert. More than 3,000 are still missing.

Several men have confessed to the slayings, and two were convicted, but the vast majority of the cases remain unsolved. From 2003 to 2006, a federal commission studied the cases, in hopes of uncovering the truth behind allegations of state police corruption and incompetence. However, no additional charges were filed after the inquiry ended — mostly due to lack of evidence. In 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Mexican government negligent on preventing violence against the women of Ciudad Juarez.

Born in 1974, Chavez began writing when she was only 11 years old. She grew up in Ciudad Juarez, became a well-respected poet, published the book “Song to a City in the Desert” and studied psychology at the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez. She was also a human rights activist and a prominent member of May Our Daughters Return Home, a group comprised of the family and friends of the slain women and girls.

Chavez was determined to stop the killings and frequently blasted local authorities for failing to end the feminicide and bring the killers to justice. She even coined the phrase “Ni una muerta mas” (“Not One More Dead”), which became a popular rallying cry at demonstrations against the continued violence.

On the night of Jan. 5, Chavez, 36, was reportedly hanging out with three young men when an argument ensued. The men attacked her, covering her face with tape and drowning her until she suffocated. The trio then used a saw to cut off her hand and dumped her body on the street.

Authorities later arrested three suspects, who are all members of the local drug gang Azteca. According to Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, the suspects said they found it “easy” to kill Chavez and forgot that they had left her hand back at the house.

The Mexican Congress’ Standing Commission and the National Commission on Human Rights have condemned the Chavez murder. And Amnesty International has called on authorities to conduct “a prompt, impartial investigation that is in keeping with international standards.”

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Geraldine Doyle

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Before World War II, 12 million American women worked outside the home, usually in traditionally female and poorly paid occupations, like the service sector. The rest of the female population generally married, raised children and volunteered for social and religious organizations. But when the fighting in Europe and Japan called men away from their jobs, 6 million additional women left the home and supported the war effort by entering the work force.

One woman who answered the call was Geraldine Hoff Doyle of Lansing, Mich. After graduating from high school, the 17-year-old cellist took a job at the American Broach & Machine Co., a metal-processing plant in Ann Arbor. Doyle was wearing a red and white polka-dot bandanna and leaning over a piece of machinery one day when a United Press International photographer took her picture. That image inspired J. Howard Miller, a graphic artist at the U.S. War Production Coordinating Committee, to illustrate a poster featuring a woman wearing a similar bandanna and the motto: “We Can Do It!”.

The woman in the poster became known as a “Rosie the Riveter,” after a 1942 song of the same name, and she helped to encourage women to find jobs and achieve their economic independence. When the war ended and the men returned home, women were generally expected to return to their domestic lives, but Doyle’s famous poster empowered some to buck tradition and take control of their own destiny.

Doyle actually left her factory job shortly after the photograph was taken because a co-worker had badly injured her hands while toiling at the machines. Fearing a similar fate, Doyle took safer jobs, like working at a soda fountain and a book store. She wed Leo Doyle, a young dental school student, and together they raised six children. Over the course of their 66-year marriage, the couple also ran a successful dental practice in Lansing. He died in February 2010.

Doyle didn’t realize her place in women’s history until the early 1980s when she saw an article in Modern Maturity magazine, and connected the UPI photo of her younger self with the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster. The image also appeared on the cover of the Time-Life book “The Patriotic Tide: 1940-1950.” The “We Can Do It!” poster was later used by the feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s and appeared on a 33-cent stamp issued in 1999 by the U.S. Postal Service.

Another Michigan woman, Rose Will Monroe, who was featured in a promotional film about women factory workers, was also a well-known “Rosie.” When people would call Doyle a “Rosie the Riveter,” she would always correct them and say she was the ‘We Can Do It!” girl.

Doyle died on Dec. 26 from complications of severe arthritis. She was 86.

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