The notorious serial killer known as the Machete Murderer—who was convicted in the 1970s of slaughtering 25 farm workers in California—has died.
Juan V. Corona was 85 when he died Monday morning of natural causes at a California hospital, state officials said.
Corona spent most of his life behind bars after being arrested in 1971 for killing dozens of farm workers and then disposing their bodies in shallow graves in orchards, ranches and farms where he had been contracted to hire field workers, according to The Los Angeles Times.
The brutal crimes were discovered after a farmer in Sutter County had noticed that a hole dug in the ground of a peach orchard was covered with fresh dirt the day after it had mysteriously appeared. He contacted authorities and deputies would discover the body of 40-year-old Kenneth Whitacre riddled with stab wounds and missing its head inside the freshly dug grave.
Investigators would soon discover more farm workers in shallow graves along the Feather River north of Sacramento and arrested Corona, who had worked as a contractor hiring fruit and labor workers for the area’s farms.
The bodies were linked to Corona after investigators found a receipt signed by Corona in one of the graves and bank deposit slips with his name on them in two other graves.
Most of his victims had been hacked to death and dismembered, earning him the moniker the Machete Murderer, the Associated Press reports.
“It was a gruesome manner of killing. He hacked these people to death,” Sutter County District Attorney Amanda Hopper told The Associated Press in 2016 after a parole hearing for the convicted killer.
Corona targeted single men whose disappearances were unlikely to be noticed and reportedly raped and stabbed the men before burying the bodies, according to the SF Gate.
After searching his home, investigators found a machete, ax, meat cleaver and ledger that included the names of multiple victims.
He was convicted of 25 counts of murder in 1973 and was sentenced to 25 consecutive life sentences.
But an appeals court would later overturn the conviction after deciding he had received incompetent representation.
The state would retry the case, this time with Corona’s attorney arguing that the crimes had actually been committed by Corona’s late brother.
A second jury would convict him again on all 25 counts of murder.
Although there was never any clear motive in the killings, Corona had struggled with mental health issues in the years before his arrest. After immigrating to California in the 1950s, Corona was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His brother Natividad wrote in a petition for his brother’s institution in 1956 that he believed everyone he encountered was dead after witnessing deadly flooding in the Yuba River, the SF Gate reports.
Corona denied his involvement in the killings but in a 2011 parole hearing said he had killed his victims because they were “winos” who trespassed on his property, according to the Associated Press. He would later again deny the killings.
During his incarceration, Corona lost an eye from an inmate attack and was also stabbed 32 times. He suffered from multiple heart attacks and dementia before his death.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.