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Death House Landlady Got Drugs From Doctor, Prosecutors Contend

March 25, 1989|VIRGINIA ELLIS and LEO C. WOLINSKY | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — State prosecutors contend in a series of new court documents that Dorothea Puente induced her psychotherapist to prescribe tranquilizers so she could use them to "stupefy and kill" seven of the elderly tenants of her boarding house.

The documents said the drug Dalmane, which was found in each of the seven bodies exhumed in the yard of the F Street boardinghouse, was prescribed to Puente by Dr. Thomas Doody, a Sacramento psychotherapist, and later another physician in an aggregate amount that was "more than she needed for herself."

Affidavits said Doody also prescribed the drug for Alvaro (Bert) Montoya, the only one of the seven tenants Puente has formally been accused of murdering. A source close to the prosecution said one month before Montoya disappeared Puente sent Montoya to Doody with a note asking that he prescribe Dalmane "for sleeping."

Special Hazards

Dalmane is especially dangerous when used in combination with alcohol and poses special hazards for the elderly.

The new evidence that sketches out the prosecution's case against Puente appears in a memorandum filed by Deputy Dist. Atty. Timothy M. Frawley to support his request for a warrant to search Doody's records.

In the documents, prosecutors say that Doody is not a suspect in the murders but they fault him for prescribing tranquilizers to Puente who had a history of "drugging and stealing from elderly victims."

"We make the argument that he should have realized Puente was a danger," Frawley said in an interview.

Frawley said Doody became Puente's psychotherapist in 1978 when she was accused of forging 30 Social Security checks belonging to the residents of her boardinghouse. She was eventually convicted of one count of forgery and ordered as a condition of probation to participate in a mental health program. To meet that condition, she began seeing Doody, the documents said.

Convicted of 4 Felonies

In 1982, Puente was convicted of four more felonies that involved the drugging of elderly victims.

"He was very familiar with the circumstances and her history and the type of people she victimized and that these were people who had been drugged . . . but I don't think that he knowingly did anything to aid and abet a murder," Frawley said.

In an affidavit attached to the search warrant, Steven M. Lack, a special agent for the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, quoted a former tenant of the F Street boardinghouse as telling him that Puente used to claim that she dated Doody and boast that "she could call him up anytime and obtain any drug she wished."

The affidavit said the tenant, Brenda Trujillo, an ex-convict who had once shared a cell with Puente at the California Women's Institution in Frontera, observed Puente telephoning Doody and overheard her "ask him for . . . Dalmane."

However, Michael Sands, Doody's lawyer, said that Doody's relationship with Puente was purely professional.

Bragged About Friends

"You have to consider the source of the information . . . an ex-convict narcotic abuser," he said. As to the claim that she dated Doody, Sands said, "Puente has been known to brag about all sorts of contacts she's had with well-known and famous people."

Nevertheless, documents filed by prosecutors say: "It may fairly be inferred that Dr. Doody knew the risk Puente posed to elderly and infirm persons over whom she had influence. Under these circumstances, Dr. Doody had a duty to disclose to the appropriate authority Puente's request for drugs with which she could stupefy and kill her victims."

Shortly after the discovery of the bodies, friends of Puente remembered her bragging that she had been the fiancee of the Shah of Iran.

Frawley said he believes that Trujillo's recollection of Puente's statements was accurate but he agreed with Sands' characterization of Puente. "I don't think that she had a non-professional relationship with Dr. Doody. I see no evidence that would support such a claim. She was just bragging," Frawley said.

Fraud Investigation

Lack had been investigating Puente to determine if she had committed fraud against Medi-Cal in obtaining the Dalmane. Medi-Cal, the program that finances medical care for the poor, paid for the drugs provided to Montoya and Puente, the documents said.

Puente's lawyers have attempted to block the seizure of Doody's records on the grounds that Puente's and Montoya's medical histories are confidential.

In a hearing this week, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ronald W. Tichterman ruled that Montoya's records could be disclosed because the doctor-patient privilege does not apply to the dead. He scheduled another hearing April 6 to determine if Puente's records can be disclosed.

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