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Crime News Murders At The Boarding House

‘The House Is Innocent’: Inside The Property Where Dorothea Puente Killed And Buried 7 People

Dorothea Puente’s “Murder House” in Sacramento attracts visitors to this day, thanks to its eccentric appearance and the macabre stories surrounding the property.

By Becca van Sambeck

If something horrific happens, does the location where it occurred retain any negative energy?

That’s the question people have been asking for decades about 1426 F Street in Sacramento, California — which was the boarding house that grandmother Dorothea Puente ran in the 1980s, and where she buried seven tenants she’d murdered, as seen in the upcoming two-part special, “Murders At The Boarding House,” airing at 7/6c on Saturday, April 17 and Sunday, April 18 on Oxygen.

Puente took in many people as tenants that included older individuals, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and others with mental illness — then she would embezzle money from their Social Security checks. She then poisoned some of her tenants and buried them in the yard to keep that income flowing. It’s believed she killed at least nine people between 1982 to 1988, and that there may have been even more victims, the Sacramento Bee reported in 2017. After she was convicted of three murders, she spent the rest of her life in Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla; she died in 2011 at the age of 82. 

But her story lives on through her former property’s macabre reputation. 

The rumors about ghosts roaming the two-story Victorian-style home have become so widespread, Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” dedicated an episode to the property in its 13th season, which aired from 2015-2016. In the episode, host Zak Bagans discusses the possibility of a ghost with an older woman named Peggy, who at the time of filming was living in a lower part of the home. She insisted she feels a presence in the room every night while she sleeps, and explains she once awoke to see the ghost of an elderly woman staring and grinning at her.

Bagans and his crew also insisted they encountered a presence from the other side while in Puente’s former home; the TV host claimed he was attacked by an unseen force, and others say they feel the presence of both an older woman and a large man in the house.

Of course, it’s up for debate whether Peggy and the “Ghost Adventures” group really experienced anything supernatural. Meanwhile, the property’s current owners have their own take on whether or not it’s haunted.

Tom Williams and Barbara Holmes brought the residence in 2011 at a public auction for $215,000, local station KCRA reported in 2013. They were fully aware of the home’s history at the time, knowing it had long been nicknamed “The Murder House.” That didn’t scare them, they said.

“I thought we could put a fresh coat of paint on and make people forget,” Holmes says in a short documentary about the home, “The House Is Innocent,” according to a 2018 The Atlantic article.

Of course, because Puente’s string of murders is one of the darkest pieces of Sacramento history, that’s unlikely. The house is regularly included on ghost and history tours of the Northern California city, after all.

Holmes and Williams said they eventually decided to lean into the house’s sordid past with some macabre details. They’ve covered the shower curtain with crime tape and added fun signs to the home’s exterior, KCRA reports. One sign reads, “It was that awful, awful woman who did it! Don’t blame me! – The House,” while another one warns motorists against parking nearby, reading, “The ghosts like to get out to terrorize the neighborhood.” Another sign reads, “The House Is Innocent” — which was the inspiration for the title of the Oxygen special.

In the property’s back yard, a mannequin with a pink coat and gray wig meant to resemble Puente is staged holding a shovel, KCRA reports. The property has become something of a tourist attraction, with visitors pulling over to revisit the history and admire the visual gags.

“I like attention,” Williams admitted, according to The Atlantic. "Sometimes I think I make too much light of it and I'm going to offend some people, but you know, you just have to take a chance.”

So, do Williams and Holmes see ghosts in their murder house? They told KCR in 2013, "If they're here, they like us. They don't say anything.”

However, Holmes’ mother, Juanita Holmes, who lives in a downstairs apartment at the property, apparently did have a supernatural experience. She said when they first moved in, a ghost woke her while she slept.

"It was a woman, I felt, and she had really heavy perfume," she explained to the outlet.

The couple and their historic home recently resurfaced again on the short-lived mobile streaming platform, Quibi. The house and couple were the focus of the first episode of “Murder House Flip,” a docuseries about redecorating homes that were the site of horrific crimes.

Williams and Holmes told the “Murder House Flip” team they wanted to turn the backyard — once a makeshift burial ground — into a kid-friendly play area for their grandchildren, as was reported in a 2020 Apartment Therapy article. A new turf, a gazebo, and a playground were added to the yard.  

For more on Puente and her house of horrors, watch the upcoming two-part Oxygen special, “Murders At The Boarding House,” airing on Saturday, April 17 and Sunday, April 18 at 7/6c on Oxygen.