By Claire Booth
Tom Williams and Barbara Holmes live in a lovely Victorian just north of Sacramento's downtown, only about eight blocks from the state capitol. It became the most infamous house in the nation in late 1988, when its resident, Dorothea Puente, was arrested for murdering nine people, seven of whom were found buried in the yard.
Tom and Barbara hosted a tour of their home recently (see last week's post), and they cheerfully agreed to a Q&A with me, because of course, I wanted to know more. What's it like living there? Are there ghosts? Read on to find out - and I think you'll agree, Tom and Barbara would make great neighbors!
How long have you lived in the house?
We have lived in the house 6 1/2 years. We took possession on Halloween 2010.
Do you know how long it was on the market before you bought it?
The house had been on the market about 2 years. It was a foreclosure.
Tell us how you came to buy it. Had you been looking for a house and just came across this one for sale? Or had you always had your eye on this house in particular? Did you both agree on the house at the same time, or did one of you need convincing?
We'd been living in a small mountain town, not anything like the South Park (urban area of Sacramento), and we were bored out of our heads. Added, Barbara's job continued to included a lot travel. We started out looking in the Bay Area, but were priced out of it. So, we eyed Sacramento.
About ten house tours in, we came across 1426 F Street. Modern people to a fault, we Googled to get the price and up popped Dorothea Puente. We were immediately hooked, for different reasons. Tom is the kind of person who takes Charles Manson tours in LA and is sometimes obsessed with the Zodiac Killer. So, 1426 F was something he latched onto. In her eighties, Barbara's mother lived in a small mountain town even less like South Park and we knew she'd be better off with us around in her twilight years. With the added perk of having a spot in the yard for her when things went really bad. No convincing needed for any of us.
Did you live in Sacramento when Dorothea was caught? What do you remember thinking about her (and her house) at that time?
We did not live in Sacramento when the Dorothea Puente story hit, but it did show up on Tom's radar. Not Barbara's. She was raising her family. Tom actually believed Puente's story about how she just buried the the poor people after natural deaths. A good detective, he would not make.
How long did it take to renovate the house? Were all the renovations practical ones, or did you do any based solely on getting rid of any Dorothea-ness in the house (if there was any left)?
The house had been remodeled a few times over the years and there was nothing left from Dorothea's time except her reputation and ghosts. It took about six months of heavy lifting and pounding hammers to get the house to a point where we sorta kinda had what we wanted. The yard tacked on several more months. We took down a couple walls inside and Ikea'd the hell out of the place. Barbara is always practical when remodeling, but she likes things fun. Tom goes where he is pointed and has become a fine Ikea installer.
How has it been for Barbara’s mother living in the downstairs unit? She saw a ghost at one point?
Barbara's mom LOVES living downstairs. If she wasn't so reserved, she'd giggle a lot. She sees ghosts. We believe her. For us, we don't actually disbelieve that ghosts are here, they just don't bother us. Barbara's Mom is open to it. We take it all with a grain of salt. We owned a bookstore in Placerville once and it was definitely haunted. Again, though, we didn't give it much attention.
The yard is beautiful. I noticed that it is mostly hard surfaces – flagstone and synthetic turf. Was that a deliberate choice, considering what the yard had been used for before?
When we bought the place it came with eight inch deep cement over most of the yard. We thought it was overkill and were left with the choice of knocking it all out, or paving over with slate. Slate was cheaper. The synthetic lawn turn was to soften the driveway. As an aside, weeds grow on the fake grass where one of the bodies was buried.
Do you get people coming up to your door, asking about Dorothea?
People do come to the door to ask about Dorothea. Unless they are obnoxious, we chat with then. The house is, necessarily, a piece of Sacramento's history and their interest is understandable.
Your house has been featured on several television shows. Can you tell us which ones? Dorothea Puente has been chronicled in numerous Discovery ID Channel versions, but we're not sure of the titles. To our everlasting shame, the house was featured on Ghost Adventures. It shows quite often on the Travel Channel. It is . . . interesting. We were also contacted by a documentary filmmaker who seemed to think us buying the house would make a good documentary. He was right. The House Is Innocent played in 70+ film festivals and won numerous awards along the way. We were even on the extremely long list for an Academy Award at one point. We lost.
You both have a great sense of humor. Do you think someone could live in the house who didn’t have such a good sense of humor about its past?
People say to us that we were exactly the right people at the right time to buy the house. We're not generally given to cosmic controls, but we'd have to agree. It definitely took a sense of humor to turn the place from house of horror to somewhat amusing.
Is there anything else that would be fun for readers to know – either about you or about your completely unique house?
There are numerous signs around the property which, hopefully, lighten the atmosphere of the place. When we first bought the place the negativity pointed at the house seemed too unfair. The house hadn't done anything, but was taking blame. It seemed very unfair, so Tom put up a sign that said:
It was that horrible woman who did it.
Don't blame me.
It got laughs and, maybe, made people think twice about blaming an inanimate object. The laughs were the problem, though. Never laugh with Tom. The next sign could have said: KEEP OUT!, but that seemed kinda rude, so Tom went with:
Trespassers will be drugged and buried in the yard
Tacky, but well received. More signs showed up.
Keep Out From Under the Grass
Please don't park across the driveway.
The Ghosts need to get out to
terrorize the neighborhood
So now you know. Special houses need special owners, and the House on F Street found the perfect people. Thank you, Tom and Barbara, for your time!