Bloody Sac

Remembering the killers who called this place home

Richard Trenton Chase

Richard Trenton Chase

David A. Kulczyk is author of California Justice—Shootouts, Lynching and Assassinations in the Golden State, on Word Dancer Press.

Sacramento has been a city for 168 years. That is roughly eight generations of people living, working and dying in Sacramento. If you know where to look, you can’t walk a block in this town without stumbling over an old crime scene. Here are some of the more ghastly cases of Bloody Sacramento.

Pioneer psycho hooker
Ida Brewer was a young prostitute who worked at a bordello on Second Street, between K and L streets. On October 20, 1853, Ida found out that fellow prostitute Mary Lee was dating her favorite client. Ida went into a rage, attacking the demure Mary Lee, slicing her stomach open with a new 18-inch Bowie knife and leaving her to die in a pool of blood on Second Street. Brewer’s two-day trial started on the day after Christmas. The jury must have been in a holiday mood because Ida was acquitted.

Ida’s anger-management problems came to a head two years later on December 12, 1855, when Ida took care of two customers at once by shooting one in the chest and slashing the throat of the other with her trusty Bowie knife. The men staggered out into the street, one of them screaming, “I’m dead,” before kicking the bucket in the muddy, manure-covered street of Old Sac. Ida, the luckiest woman in the Sacramento history, was found guilty, fined and told to leave town. She moved to Dutch Flats and resumed her trade.

The Mad Killer
The bodies of men started appearing on the banks of the Sacramento River in the late summer of 1941. On August 19 that year, Santa Barbara resident John Saunders was found on a West Sacramento roadside with a broken pelvis. Just a few feet away from him was a dead man, later identified as 55-year-old Alfred Reed, a ranch hand from Davis. Saunders was able to tell police that he and Reed had been drinking in Old Sacramento the day before when they hooked up with a man who took them for a ride. The man drove them to West Sacramento, where he beat Reed to death and Saunders to a pulp, dumping them near the river and leaving them for dead. Later that month, 41-year-old Ramon Rivas was found floating in a Natomas area slough with his skull bashed in. Robbery did not appear to be a motive for the murder. Eventually, Reed, Rivas and five John Does were found on the riverbank or in the river between mid August and late September 1941.

Sacramento’s two daily newspapers, The Bee and the Union, came up with sensationalistic names for the killer, such as “the Insane Slayer,” “the Mad Killer” and “the Basher.” Although the Sacramento Police Department claimed to have made the murders a top priority, their investigation turned up nothing. There was no follow up about the status of Saunders or the families of the dead men in the newspapers. The murdered men were ranch hands or migrant workers, and they may have been homosexuals attracted to Old Sacramento, where drugs, hookers, gambling and gay sex were for the taking. A little more than a month later, Japan would attack Pearl Harbor and the murders would stop. The Mad Killer may have enlisted or moved out of town. The crimes were never solved.

Midtown mass murderer
Dorothea Puente was a compulsive liar and a habitual criminal who had been busted multiple times for forgery and prostitution. Although Puente was born Dorothea Helen Gray, she kept her third husband’s last name and pretended that she was of Hispanic ancestry. By the time Puente was 30, she was overweight and looked older than her age.

One of her favorite schemes was to hustle up to an elderly man at a bar, go home with him and slip the unsuspecting admirer a roofie. When the gentleman would wake up, he’d find all of his money and jewelry missing. Puente would also dress up as a nurse, sneaking into nursing homes to rifle through elderly patient’s valuables. In the early 1970s, she ran a home for alcoholics at 2100 F Street. She’d take her tenants’ government-assistance checks and cash them for her own use. Puente looked like a harmless elderly grandmother but was a boozer who hated drunks and wouldn’t hesitate to punch out an inebriated tenant before she kicked them out of her home. Eventually she was run out of business. Later, she got busted after doping a bar pickup and robbing him. She was sentenced to five years in Frontera Women’s Correction Facility, but served only two-and-a-half years.

After Puente was released, she started an unlicensed boardinghouse for the elderly, infirm and alcoholic at 1426 F Street. She quickly got control of her tenants’ Social Security and federal-assistance checks. This time she was even more determined to keep her scheme a secret. When tenants got too troublesome, she laced their food with Dalmane and then smothered them as they overdosed. With the exception of one victim, she buried their bodies in her tiny backyard. The exception was Betty Palmer, whose hands, feet and head had been severed before she was buried in a sitting position in Puente’s front yard.

In due course, Puente had murdered Palmer, Alvaro Montoya, James Gallop, Ben Fink, Dorothy Miller, Vera Faye Martin, Everson Gillmouth, and Leona Carpenter. Puente managed to slip away from the police while they were digging up her yard, but was caught in Los Angeles after a week on the lam. Three years later, she was convicted of three of the murders and received life in prison.

The Vampire of sacramento
Richard Trenton Chase spent his formative years torturing small animals and setting fires. He was killing cats by the time he was 10. He killed and disemboweled rabbits, eating their entrails raw while still a youngster. He ended up with blood poisoning from injecting rabbit blood into his veins.

Chase was committed to a mental hospital, escaped once and was recaptured. He was eventually released and lived in his own apartment. In no time, Chase was off his medication. He bought a gun and started breaking into people’s homes, sometimes urinating into a drawer of baby clothing or defecating on a child’s bed. On December 29, 1977, Chase shot 51-year-old Ambrose Griffin as he was unloading his car in his driveway at 3734 Robertson Avenue.

On January 23, 1978, Chase entered 22-year-old Teresa Wallin’s home at 2630 Tioga Way and shot the pregnant woman twice. Chase fired another bullet into her temple, point blank. Wallin’s husband found his wife later that night and what he saw was worse than any horror movie. Her clothes were pulled over her head and around her ankles. Her left nipple was cut off and her chest and abdomen were splayed open with her spleen and intestines pulled out. She was stabbed repeatedly in the chest. Her pancreas was cut in two and her kidneys removed and placed back inside her in the wrong place. Chase drank her blood out of a yogurt cup and stuffed her mouth with animal feces.

Four days later and a mile from the Wallin home, Chase walked into a home at 3207 Merrywood Drive, where Evelyn Miroth was babysitting her 20-month-old nephew. Miroth’s 51-year-old friend Dan Meredith was visiting and Miroth’s 6-year-old son, Jason, was also home. The next day, friends found Meredith in the hallway, shot in the head. Miroth was found naked in her bed, also shot in the head. Her legs were spread, her abdomen was cut open and her intestines were pulled out. Chase had anal sex with her and stabbed her in the anus and uterus multiple times. He also slit her neck several times and tried to cut out an eye. There was evidence that some of her blood had been consumed. Jason was found in the bedroom, shot twice in the head. The baby nephew was missing, his crib splattered with blood. Meredith’s car was also missing.

Seasoned detectives lost their dinner while investigating the crime scene. They had no idea who committed the butchery, but bloody shoeprints matched the ones left at the Wallin murder. Evidence also confirmed that the missing toddler had been killed in his crib and brought into the bathroom, where his head was split open, spilling some of his brains into the bathtub.

People started calling in tips to the police about an odd hippie-type character lurking around the neighborhood before the murders. All the descriptions matched Chase.

The authorities closed in on Chase and raided his bloodstained Watt Avenue apartment. What they found was mind-boggling. There was a gore-covered blender that contained small pieces of bone. A bowl of brains jiggled in the frig. A calendar had the dates of the Wallin and Miroth murders circled with “Today” written on them. Forty-four more days were circled in the months ahead.

Police found Dan Meredith’s wallet in Chase’s pocket, but what a janitor found March 24 in a cardbox box near the back of the Arcade Wesleyan Church parking lot was more disturbing: the partially mummified remains of Miroth’s baby nephew. His decapitated head was tucked under his body and he was shot between the eyes. Meredith’s car keys were in the box.

Crazier than a shit-house rat, Chase was not declared insane but instead charged with six counts of murder. Pretrial publicity moved his trial to Santa Clara County, where on May 8, 1979, after only five hours of deliberation, a jury found Chase guilty of six counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death in the San Quentin gas chamber, but on December 26, 1980, Chase was found dead in his cell. He overdosed on the drug Sinequan that he had been prescribed for hallucination and depression and had been hoarding.

The addresses were changed on the houses where the slayings took place, except for the Miroth home. It was torn down and a new house was built in its place.