On October 17, 2008, the long running Travel Channel show “Ghost Adventures” first aired. The reality based show which combines history, Sci-Fi, and thrilling moments was created by Zak Bagans and Nick Groff. Bagans, initially a non-believer in ghosts, changed his mind after his own supposed encounter with one. The ordeal gave him such a fright that it prompted him to team up with Groff to set out to prove that ghosts aren’t a figment of the imagination brought to convincing light by novelists and Hollywood. Bagans is joined on his adventures by fellow investigator Aaron Goodwin, and audio / visual technicians Billy Tolley and Jay Wasley. During each hour long episode, the members of the paranormal investigative team travel to a notoriously haunted locale within the continental United States, or they journey to a foreign country, to document places where repeated sightings of ghosts, or tragic events that are said to be linked to demonic activity have occurred. (As an aside: Nick Groff is no longer part of the show, he left in 2014).
The episode begins with “Ghost Adventures” team leader, Zak Bagans walking down a street in Sacramento, California. He is giving background information on Dorothea Puente. He asks the question: “Who would suspect a sweet, little old lady of being a serial killer?” The answer – nobody – until it was already too late. Puente was small in stature, and fifty-eight years of age at the time of her arrest, but she was anything but sweet. Instead, she was a lifelong criminal, who before being charged with multiple murders, had years earlier, among other times she was incarcerated, served three years of a five year prison sentence for drugging a seventy-four year old man, Malcolm McKenzie, and stealing his pension.
After Puente was released from prison for the crimes she committed against McKenzie, she returned to her pale blue, Victorian home at 1426 F Street in Sacramento. Her house is located just several blocks away from California’s state capitol building. Puente opened up a boarding house for elderly and disabled tenants. Before drugging them with the prescription medication Dalmane (flurazepam), which was her ‘weapon’ of choice, she read their mail, removed any checks or cash they received from family, and had them sign over their social security checks to her, so she could cash them on their behalf. Puente, who was making upwards of $5,000 a month off her tenants, used the stolen money to, amongst other things, have a plastic surgeon give her a facelift, use a taxi service everywhere she went, buy expensive perfume and dresses, and to create a well stocked bar with top shelf liquor.
Parole agents came to check up on Puente over a dozen times in the two years leading up to her arrest. Despite her being in clear violation of the terms of her release, which stated that she was not allowed to live with elderly and infirm people, or handle government issued checks, she was never taken into custody. The death of Alvaro ‘Bert’ Montoya is what led to her downfall. Montoya was a developmentally disabled and schizophrenic individual, who had a social worker that truly cared about his well being. After Puente paid someone to pretend to be Montoya’s brother-in-law, call the social worker, and leave a message stating he had taken Montoya to live with him out of state, the ruse was up. The man, who Puente paid to fabricate the story, left his real name on the social worker’s answering machine. The social worker, worried and very suspicious, alerted authorities, who after they arrived at Puente’s home and began searching the property, saw that the soil in her yard had been recently moved. Police eventually unearthed the remains of seven bodies. Puente would be charged with the murders of nine people in total. Puente was found guilty of three of the nine murders she was prosecuted for, and sentenced to two life sentences with no possibility of parole. She served her time at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla until her death in 2011; she was 82 years old. (As an aside: The side effects of Dalmane, can cause people to have trouble standing or walking, feel dizzy or tired, and when combined with alcohol, which Puente always gave to her tenants before killing them, it causes a person to have severe problems breathing; a large enough dose can prove to be fatal, especially when taken by an elderly person. The drug enabled Puente to kill without having to contend with too much of a struggle).
The ghost adventures team has been called to the Puente house, where supposed paranormal activity has taken place. The first person that Bagans speaks to is Lead Homicide Detective (Retired), Sgt. John Cabrera. He talks about the bodies that he and his fellow officers dug up in Puente’s yard and how, when he initially struck something with his shovel he mistook it for a tree root, only to discover, upon pulling the obstruction out with his hands, that it was a human femur bone. Next, Cabrera has the cameras follow him to a room in Puente’s house that he has dubbed the ‘death room.’ The room, he informs Bagans, was where Puente would take the bodies’ of her victims in order to get them ready for burial. Years earlier, when he first investigated Puente as a murder suspect, he recalls pulling back the carpeting, and finding the floor boards underneath stained with blood. He speculates that some victims might have remained in the room for several weeks before Puente buried them. This led to neighbors complaining about a rancid smell emanating from Puente’s home, but still the police weren’t alerted to anything until years after the fact. Peggy Holmes, the current occupant, who resides on the first floor of the Puente house, claims to have seen the ghost of Dorothea Puente, which caused her nephew to reach out to the team on her behalf. Holmes, claims she has seen an older woman, with a blood stained nightgown, who also smells of blood, in her room. She says that the woman has a smile on her face, but lacks any kind of warmth in her eyes. Holmes states that recently, the ghostly spirit of Puente was so close to her while she was in her bed, that it could’ve reached out to touch her. Bagans asks Holmes what questions she would like to ask Puente if she is listening. Holmes wants to know the following:
What do you want?
Why are you here?
Using enhanced audio, responses come through for each of the questions, on the device Bagans is holding. In answer to the first question, the response is: “to die.” As to the second question, the reply that comes through the device is: “you’re dead.”
Next, the ghost adventures team is joined by a husband and wife team, who go by the names Michael and Marty. They have been flown in, and are transported to the house while blindfolded. The two are not told where they are being taken, and any sign that the house belonged to Puente has been removed. Michael’s talent, is supposedly being able to communicate with sprits, while his wife, who is able to see the ghost that he is talking to, sketches how the ghost appears. One thing I did find interesting, and of course I have no way of knowing if Michael was tipped off, is that while he claimed to be communicating with the ghost of a man Puente murdered, he reveals information that the police never released to the public. In one portion of the house, there used to be a wall, separating two of the downstairs rooms that has since been removed by the new owner. The ghost claims to be confused because the wall is no longer where he remembers it. Furthermore, when Holmes is shown the sketch that Marty has drawn of the other ghost Michael is trying to communicate with, that of an uncooperative woman, Holmes states that it is who she saw in her bedroom. The sketch is that of Puente, and when taken and superimposed over a picture of Puente from 1985 it lines up.
The remainder of the episode is spent by the team attempting to capture voices of the deceased victims and Puente, using state of the art technology. The equipment includes a microphone which can hear up to 40Hz, which the team had never used prior to the episode. Additionally, a device – which supposedly allows spirits to select words from a database – is used, as well as an SLS Camera (Structured Light Sensor Camera) which uses an infrared laser grid to visually detect apparitions.
What voice or imagery does the team capture with its equipment? Do the questions they ask the ghosts, line up with the responses they receive? Has the team perhaps discovered that Puente, in fact, murdered more than nine people? Could the true number be as high as fifteen? Are the grisly remains of more poor people yet to be unearthed on the property? (As an aside: In addition to the seven people whose remains were discovered by police on Puente’s property, two of the nine, were dumped elsewhere, including the body of Everson Gillmouth, who was discovered in a wooden coffin, that Puente and a handyman, she was paying off to keep quiet, had placed alongside the Sacramento river).
I have watched a number of “Ghost Adventures” episodes over the years, and I can’t say I ever found any of their shows to be boring. This particular episode was no exception, and held my interest from start to finish.