Up to 1973, Juan Corona was the serial killer with the highest number of proven victims, but Dean Corll took that title away from him, as he was sentenced for the death of 28 teenagers that he kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed between 1970 and 1973.
Juan Corona, the Machete Killer: His childhood
Juan Corona, better known as the Machete Killer, was born on February 7, 1934, in Autlan, Jalisco, Mexico. When he was 16, he traveled to the United States for the first time, where he worked as a carrot and watermelon harvester. From there, he moved to Marysville, where he married Gloria Moreno, with whom he fathered four daughters.
Maybe a turning point for Juan Corona’s mental health was the 1955 floodings, which took the lives of more than 70 people. After that event, Corona showed signs of schizophrenia and paranoia, and he was also violent.
Juan Corona’s crimes
Unlike other serial killers, Juan Corona had only one modus operandi: He used a machete and a knife, picked his victims and murdered them savagely to then bury them in a peach orchard; at least two of his 25 official victims haven’t been identified.
As a recruiter, Juan Corona had access to information on people and could easily approach them and earn their trust; years later, during police interrogation, Corona declared he had committed the crimes because he thought his victims were crazy and had illegally entered the United States.
Discovery of the bodies
On May 19, 1971, a farmer who had reached out to Juan Corona to hire migrant workers realized that his orchard had a recently excavated hole and that, as soon as the next day, it had been filled. He then reported him to authorities for his supposed criminal activity.
The police found the body of a man who had been stabbed and then they found other bodies. Witnesses of the case said that two of the victims found had been seen in Corona’s van a few days before. With a search warrant, the investigators were able to find a machete, gun, knives and blood-covered clothes, as well as a “death list” that contained the names of all his victims and the dates in which the assassinations had taken place.
A year went by after the discovery of the bodies before Juan Corona could be taken to trial; in that time, his defense team tried to argue that their client’s mental state should spare him a severe sentence. At the same time, the serial killer always claimed that two of the crimes that had been attributed to him had been committed by someone else.
In the first trial, the judge condemned him to 25 life sentences without parole; there was an appeal in 1978 to go over evidence, since Corona’s defense assured that the evidence was not enough to accuse their client and that the real killer was Natividad Corona, a dead migrant who had been accused of attacking a man in Marysville.
The Machete Killer’s last years
Juan Corona’s second trial had the same result as the first one, reasserting his sentence of 25 life sentences without parole, since the defense’s argument that Natividad Corona had committed the crimes was rejected by the jury, which concluded that the man had not spent enough time in Marysville to carry out 25 murders.
In prison, he was savagely attacked and his health deteriorated, which caused him to suffer dementia in his last years. The Machete Killer spent his last days in Corcoran’s State Prison, in California. He died of natural causes on March 4, 2019, at 85.