Juan Corona was a labor contractor who hired migrant workers for produce fields in California. In a murder spree lasting six weeks, he raped and murdered 25 men and buried their machete-hacked bodies in the orchards owned by local farmers.
Diagnosed With Schizophrenia:
Juan Corona (born 1934) moved from Mexico to Yuba City, California in the 1950s to work as a produce field-worker. Corona, diagnosed with schizophrenia, managed to work up through the ranks despite his illness. In the early 1970s, he moved from the field into a contractor’s job and hired workers for the local Yuba City growers.
The Hired Help:
Married with four children, Corona succeeded in providing a comfortable life for his family. He had the reputation as being a tough person in his interactions with the workers he hired. Many of the workers were down-and-out men, homeless alcoholics, old and unemployable. Few had family ties and most lived nomadic lives.
Corona In Full Control:
Corona offered the workers housing on Sullivan Ranch. Here the migrant workers and itinerants worked daily for little pay and lived in a dismal prison-like environment. Corona had control over the their basic needs of food and shelter and in 1971, he began to use that power to satisfy his sexually sadistic needs.
For men to vanish without anyone taking notice was common on the Sullivan Ranch. Corona took advantage of this and began to select men to rape and murder. Their sudden absence did not cause concern and went unreported. Knowing this, Corona made little effort to destroy evidence linking him to the murdered men.
A Pattern of Murder:
His pattern was the same. He dug holes, sometimes a few days in advance, picked his victim, sexually assaulted and stabbed them to death. He then hacked at their heads with a machete and buried them.
Discovery of a Grave:
Corona’s carelessness eventually caught up with him. In early May 1971, a ranch owner discovered a seven-foot freshly dug hole on his property. When he returned the following day he found the hole filled. He became suspicious and called authorities. When the hole was uncovered, the mutilated corpse of Kenneth Whitacre was found three feet in the ground. Whitacre had been sexually assaulted, stabbed and his head split opened with a machete.
More Graves Uncovered:
Another farmer reported that he also had a freshly covered hole on his property. The hole contained the body of an elderly drifter, Charles Fleming. He had been sodomized, stabbed and his head was mutilated with a machete.
The Machete Murderer:
The investigation turned up more graves. By June 4, 1971, authorities uncovered 25 graves. All the victims were men found laying on their backs, arms above their heads and shirts pulled over their faces. Each man had been sodomized and murdered in a similar fashion – stabbed and two slashes in the shape of a cross on the back of their heads.
A Trail Leads to Corona:
Receipts with Juan Corona’s name on them were found in the victims pockets. The police determined that many of the men had last been seen alive with Corona. A search of his home turned up two bloodstained knives, a ledger with seven of the victim’s names and the date of their murders logged, a machete, pistol and bloodstained clothing.
Corona was arrested and tried for the 25 murders. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 consecutive life sentences, leaving him no hope of parole. He immediately appealed the verdict.
Many believed an accomplice had been involved in the crimes but no evidence supporting the theory was ever found.
In 1978, Corona’s appeal was upheld and he set out to try to prove the lawyers during his first trial were inept because they never used his schizophrenia to plead insanity. He also pointed the finger to his brother as being the real killer.
Corona’s half brother, Natividad, was a cafe owner who lived in a nearby town in 1970. Natividad sexually attacked a patron and left his beaten body in the bathroom of the cafe. He took off to Mexico when he found out the victim was going to sue him.
There was no evidence found linking Corona’s brother to the crimes. In 1982, the court upheld the original guilty verdicts. Meanwhile, Corona was involved in a prison fight and received 32 razor cuts and lost an eye.
Six Weeks of Murder: Corona’s killing spree lasted six weeks. Why he decided to begin killing is a mystery and one that many psychologists pondered. Most believe he probably had a past of sexual assault and victimizing the helpless individuals who he hired. Why it escalated to murder has been explained by some as his need for supreme control of his victims.
Today: Juan Corona is alive and lives in Corcoran State Prison.