cover image Disturbed Ground

Disturbed Ground

Carla Norton. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (415pp) ISBN 978-0-688-09704-2

In August 1993, Dorothea Puente of Sacramento, Calif., charged with nine murders, was found guilty of three, with the jury hung on the other six. Norton ( Perfect Victim ) masterfully portrays a white-haired, grandmotherly woman who, affecting compassion for her city's mentally ill, alcoholics and other down-and-outers, ran a model boardinghouse known for its cleanliness and good food. She was finally unmasked as a killer motivated by greed for the Social Security and disability checks of her boarders. Concern on the part of social workers and employees of a detox center for a sweet, mentally slow drifter helped reveal the horror, and seven bodies were eventually dug up from Puente's yard. The most striking thing about Norton's book, besides the incomprehensible verdict which found the jury able to agree on just three of the murders, is its illustration of the contention that U.S. jurisprudence is concerned with winning, not justice, in allowing the other six murders to remain unresolved. Puente is now serving a life sentence. Photos not seen by PW . (June)