SACRAMENTO, Calif. (September 21, 1998 01:02 a.m. EDT ) —
Shane Bugbee thinks Dorothea Montalvo Puente is a terrific cook.
Never mind that she was convicted of drugging three people and doing ?them in, and suspected of doing the same to six others. Never mind that he’s never even met the 69-year-old former Sacramento boardinghouse keeper, ?let alone tasted her cuisine.
“She’s a hell of a cook,” said Bugbee, a 29-year-old Chicago resident ?who publishes adult comic books and works for a monthly entertainment ?tabloid called “Chicago At Night.” “She told me that one of the reasons her ?boardinghouse was so popular was her cooking.”
But is the world ready for a Dorothea Puente cookbook? Bugbee thinks so.
He’s putting together a collection of recipes he says are from Puente. ?Some of them, he says, have been in her family for more than a century. It’s due to be released on Thanksgiving, which is considerably sooner than Puente is likely to be, since she’s doing life without parole in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Bugbee, who describes himself as a true crime buff, said he began ?corresponding with Puente about a year ago after reading a couple of ?books about the crimes.
“She’s a very enchanting woman, and she wrote me back right away,” he ?said. “She sent me some artwork that she’s done, and I told her, ‘Oh, there’s a store here that might display some of your artwork,’ and that’s how the relationship started out.”
Puente could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Marc Zilversmit, ?said he was not privy to Puente’s correspondence.
“This is the first I’ve heard about a cookbook,” Zilversmit said, “but ?this case always has some interesting aspects.” Bugbee said the cookbook was his idea.
“She was quite flattered, because I kept bothering her for recipes,” he ?said. I’d say, ‘Yeah, I was flipping through this book’ (about the ?murders) and she’d say, ‘Don’t read those books, I hate those books, because they don’t talk to me, they just print stuff.’ And I’d say, ‘All right, just send me the recipe for those tamales, Dorothea.’ “Besides Mexican specialties, Puente is also known for her stews, soups ?and “pumpkin ginger pudding,” Bugbee said.
In addition to the cookbook, the Web site for the 4-month-old tabloid, ?which claims a street-rack distribution of about 50,000 copies per month ?in urban Chicago, also says it has an “exclusive deal” with “California’s ?most notorious landlady” to publish excerpts from her trial diary and ?”letters from Dorothea.”
“When a cold winter season arrives,” reads her first epistle, “it’s time ?to gather the warmth from the heart of your loved ones. As the warm spring ?season arrives, it’s time to bloom to ones (sic) fullest potential and ?give from your heart.”
But that’s not all. Visitors to the Web site also find an order form for
signed photographs ($20- $40) of Puente and earrings ($30), and artwork ?($120) created by her in the prison hobby shop. There are also ?handwritten poems and recipes ($60).
Bugbee said Puente stands to make not a dime from sales of the stuff.
“Dorothea does all this because we have a fun correspondence. She gets ?no money from me for doing this. … I’d be quite happy to give her a cut, ?but she’s said she does this because we’re friends and she’s going crazy in ?there. She was a hard-working person when she was out of jail, a very ?busy person, and she likes to stay busy.”
Whether she could make money anyway is problematical. Under a 1983 state law, convicted felons are prohibited from profiting from the notoriety ?of their crimes, in specific circumstances. Under the law, prosecutors must petition the court to recover any profits paid to the felons, and the ?proceeds go to the victims or the victims’ families.
Matt Ross, a spokesman for Attorney General Dan Lungren, said the office
“would be interested in looking into the Web site” even if Puente isn’t ?profiting from it. Ross said the attorney general has a suit pending ?against Polly Klaas’ killer, Richard Allen Davis, stemming from a 1996 ?interview Davis did with the tabloid TV show “Hard Copy.” In that case, ?Davis himself did not get paid, but a still-undisclosed person was paid ?$4,000 for photos from Davis’ life.
Puente was arrested in November 1988, after Sacramento police dug up ?seven corpses in the yard of her Victorian boardinghouse. She was subsequently tied to two other deaths. In October 1993, Puente was convicted on three of the nine murder charges, and sentenced to life without parole after a jury deadlocked on whether to give her the death penalty.
The case was among the most sensational in Sacramento history, replete ?with a little old lady who had a habit of ripping off her boarders’ welfare ?and Social Security checks; a cop snafu that allowed her to walk away after ?the first body was found and skip to Los Angeles before being arrested a few days later; and a trial that had to be moved to Monterey County because ?of pretrial publicity, with nearly a year passing before she was convicted.
An appellate court affirmed Puente’s convictions last year. But ?allegations of juror misconduct, raised by a juror who held out for acquittal for more than three weeks of deliberations, led Monterey County’s presiding judge, William D. Curtis, to call for an evidentiary hearing next week.
Bugbee said that in the highly unlikely event Puente ever gets out of ?jail, she has a place to go.
“If she were to get out, I told her she could stay with me,” he said. ?”I’ll move her out here and I’d give her a room in my house and she could cook for me.”
By STEVE WIEGAND, The Sacramento Bee