May 26, 1971: Serial Killer Juan Corona Arrested


Juan Corona (bad time for that last name) was a Mexican serial killer, convicted of murdering 25 migrant farm workers in Sutter County, California in 1971. The bodies were found buried in shallow graves in peach orchards along a river. Though he certainly killed 25 people, his death count could be far higher than that.

Corona was convicted of 25 counts of first degree murder, but he was awarded a new trial on the grounds of incompetent legal representation. Turns out, it wasn't an incompetent lawyer that landed him 25 life sentences, because in his new 1982 trial, he was again found guilty of all 25 murders and sentenced to 25 life sentences again.

He died at age 85 while serving his sentence in a California State Prison on March 4, 2019.


Juan Corona was born in Mexico on February 7, 1934. He entered the United States illegally in 1950, crossing the border into California. He was 16 at the time, and picked carrots and melons for months to make a living before moving to the Sacramento Valley. His half-brother, Natividad Corona, had immigrated to California a few years before Juan, and had settled in Marysville, just across the river from Juan's new digs. He had moved to the Marysville/Yuba City area in 1953 at the suggestion of his half brother.

On October 24, 1953, Corona married his first wife, Gabrielle Hermosillo, but the marriage didn't last. He married his second wife Gloria Moreno in 1959, and the couple had 4 daughters together.

Of his life in Mexico, not much is known.

In December of 1955, a major flood occurred in the Yuba area, one of the most widespread and destructive floods in Northern California history. 74 people were killed and 10,000 acres of land were flooded. Though the article doesn't exactly explain the correlation between the flood and Corona's mental health, it appears that the flood and subsequent trauma may have lead to his first schizophrenic episode. His half-brother, Natividad, committed him to DeWitt State Hospital where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

While committed, he received 23 shock treatments, and was pronounced recovered 3 months later. However, after his release, he was deported to Mexico.

He was in the hospital from January through April 1956, and would have been deported in 1956. In 1962, he returned to the U.S., but this time, he returned legally with a green card. The article says at this time he stopped drinking, so apparently before then, he had been drinking a lot.

Corona was a hard worker, but he continued to suffer from schizophrenic episodes and had a violent temper. He became a licensed labor contractor, and his new job was to hire workers to staff local fruit ranches. This became his hunting ground for killing.


Despite Corona's half-brother being gay and the 2 seemingly having a good relationship, Corona hated homosexual men. This apparently will not be important again.

On February 25, 1970, a guest of Natividad's restaurant, the Guadalajara Cafe, named Jose Romero Raya was brutally attacked with a machete in the restroom of the cafe, not discovered until 1 AM, hacked all over. He survived, called the police, and filed a lawsuit against Natividad. Because he won the lawsuit, Natividad decided to sell his business and move back to Mexico instead of paying the $250,000 fine. Additionally, the attack allegedly occurred after Raya objected Natividad's sexual advances.

Though not clear until WAY further into the article, Natividad was Raya's attacker, and Juan had nothing do with it. Unrelatedly, Corona was again admitted to DeWitt State Hospital later that year, but was released, some time in early 1971.

Between his release and May 19, 1971, Corona was doing some killing. On May 19, a farm owner who had hired Corona to contract field workers noticed a freshly dug hole in his peach orchard, but the next day, it was filled with dirt. He called the police with suspicion, and then the police dug up the hole, they found the corpse of a man who had been "stabbed and hacked".

Though not immediately knowing Corona was the culprit, receipts with his signature were found in the grave, and then police began digging up other grave-like holes, they found more bodies and more receipts and deposit slips with his name on them. Witnesses also corroborated seeing some of the victims in Corona's pickup truck.

On May 26, 1971, the police got a search warrant for Corona's home. There, they found bloodstained knives, a machete, a pistol, and blood-stained clothing. They also found his work ledger that contained 34 names and dates, including 7 of the known murder victims. The prosecution would later allege that all 34 names on the list were victims and the dates they were murdered.

He had been supplying workers to the ranches where he had buried his victims, and housed many of the men who worked for him.

It is unknown the exact date of many of the murders, and many of the names of the victims remain unknown. However, here is the list of the men who fell victim to Juan Corona. All were stabbed or slashed with a knife or machete, except one, who was shot. (All dates are 1971)


John Joseph Haluka, 52

Sigurd E Beierman, 62

John Doe (4th body found), age unknown

John Doe (7th body found), age unknown


William Emery Kamp, 62 (victim was shot in the head)

Clarence Hocking, 53

John Doe (10th body found), age unknown

John Doe (12th body found), age unknown

Albert Leon Hayes, 58, killed between 2/27-5/13

Warren Jerome Kelley, 62, killed on or around 5/30

John Henry Jackson, 64, killed on or around 4/15

Joseph J Maczak, 54, killed between 4/26-5/21

Mark Beverly Shields, 56, killed on or around 4/28

Donald Dale Smith, 60, killed 4/30-5/1

James Wylie Howard, 64, killed 5/1-5/13

Sam Bonafide, 55, killed on or around 5/6

Edward Martin Cupp, 43, killed 5/9-5/13

Charles Levy Fleming, 67, killed on or around 5/11

Jonah Raggio Smallwood, 56, killed on or around 5/12

Elbert J.T. Riley, 45, killed on or around 5/12

Lloyd Wallace Wentzel, 60, killed 5/14-5/22

Paul Buel Allen, 59, killed on or around 5/15

Raymond Reand Muchache, 47, killed on or around 5/18

Kenneth Edward Whitacre, 40, killed on or around 5/19

Melford Everett Sample, 59, killed on or around 5/21

There are so many more well-known serial killers who killed a fraction of the people Corona killed over months, even years. Though the exact death dates couldn't be determined for any of his 25 confirmed victims, it is clear that he took the lives of 25 men in less than 4 months.

Because the men he killed were migrant workers who were willing to get in someone's car to be taken to a job, it is apparent that some of them were not missed. It wasn't uncommon to stay at the home of the person you were working for, so being picked up and not seen for some time wasn't raising alarm bells. He was picking victims, older men who were looking for honest work to support themselves and likely their families, who may not immediately be missed.


Corona was provided legal aid and was given a public defender. His public defender, Roy Van den Heuvel, hired several psychiatrists to perform evaluations to determine his state of mind. Corona was moved to a larger county jail on May 30, 1971 for "security reasons", though it is unclear if he was in danger, or if he was the danger.

On June 2, he was returned for arraignment, which was closed to the media and public. He plead not guilty and a date was set for a preliminary hearing. On June 14, his public defender was replaced by a privately retained defense attorney named Richard Hawk. Hawk took the case for free, in exchange for exclusive literary and dramatic property rights to Corona's life story, waiving his attorney-client privilege. (Hint: If your lawyer wants to retain the rights to your life story, he probably thinks you are super guilty.)

In a very 1970s Trumpian move, Hawk fired all of the psychiatrists and decided to have him plead not guilty by reason of insanity without even reading any of the medical reports.

It took more than a year after the discovery of the murders for the case to come to trial, which actually doesn't seem that long compared to some other cases. The death penalty was ruled cruel and unusual in the state in early 1972, so they could not seek the death penalty against Corona. The venue was changed to a new county to avoid bias.

The trial began on September 11, 1972, more than 60 miles away from where he committed his crimes. Jury selection itself took multiple weeks, and the trial took another 3 months.

Corona was not called to the stand, and the defense presented no witnesses. One has to wonder what happened in the trial becuse the jury deliberated for 45 hours before returning a guilty verdict, were he was charged with all 25 counts of murder. He was sentenced to 25 consecutive life sentences, without the possibility of parole.

Corona was originally jailed in Vacaville's California Medical Facility, as he continued to have heart episodes. In December of 1973, he was stabbed 32 times for running into an inmate and not saying "excuse me", but he survived the attack. He was transferred to the Correctional Training Facility.

In January of 1974, Corona's wife and the mother of his 4 children, Gloria, filed for divorce citing "irreconcilable differences". (LOL. Those differences being that he wanted to kill 25+ people and had to spend the rest of his life in jail and she did not want to do that.) The divorce was granted 6 months later.

On May 18, 1978, just about 7 years after he was apprehended for his murders, he was granted a new trial, essentially because his lawyer was not great. Apparently, obtaining the rights to your life story creates a conflict between lawyer and defendant. Go figure.

His new trial began on February 22, 1982. His new defense team brought about a new suspect: Natividad. He was a known homosexual who had a history of attacking men who denied his sexual advances. However, he had returned to Mexico after losing his lawsuit against Raya, and had also died 8 years before the 1982 trial in Mexico. A bit far fetched, don't you think? (I guess their argument was he went back to Mexico, snuck back into the U.S., killed men who conveniently all worked for Corona, stopped as soon as Corona was arrested, went back to Mexico, and died.)

As opposed to the 0 witnesses called in the first trial, the defense team called 50 witnesses to the stand this time around, including Corona. The prosecution brought over 630 exhibits for their cross examination.

This trial lasted more than double the length of the first trial, clocking in at 7 months long. But despite a second try at freedom, he was convicted again on September 24, 1982, and returned to prison. The jury had deliberated for 54 hours. They claimed his work ledger with the list of names and dates was the most incriminating evidence, as Juan had no reasonable other explanation for the list. They also denied Natividad's involvement, saying he was not in the area for enough time to have committed most of the murders.

Corona was transferred to Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California in 1992, and he served his life sentence in the Sensitive Needs Yard, due to his dementia. He applied for parole 8 times, but was denied every time.

He died just last year on March 4, 2019 at the age of 85.

I am shocked that I have never heard of this serial killer. Ted Bundy killed a confirmed 35 people, John Wayne Gacy 33 people, Jeffery Dahmer 16 people, Son of Sam 6 people. These are some of the most well-known serial killers in the world, yet he killed more than 2 of them, and close to the same amount as 2 of the others.

Realistically, it is about the victims, and the strange, gross, or otherwise memorable ways the victims were killed. Ted Bundy completely changed the view of what a serial killer looks like, being attractive, approachable and charming. He also killed young, white women. John Wayne Gacy killed children, and was an area clown and popular guy in the neighborhood. Jeffery Dahmer ate his victims. And Son of Sam killed young couples in public places and taunted the police. Serial killers are remembered more if there is something about them. A hot serial killer is memorable. A clown serial killer is memorable. A dude who eats his victims is memorable. A man who taunts police is memorable. (2)

Additionally, people who kill high profile victims are memorable. There are plenty of serial killers who have killed more people, or killed them more brutally, who don't have as recognizable names. Gary Ridgeway is a popular name for True Crime fanatics, but perhaps not the common person. He killed 49 people, but they were primarily sex workers. Patrick Kearney killed 21 people, primarily young gay men or male hitch-hikers. Robert Lee Yates killed 16 prostitutes. Robert Hansen killed 15 people, letting them go in the wilderness and hunted them like animals... but they were sex workers. (2)

All of this to say, when you kill young boys in a well-to-do area or beautiful (white) women on a college campus, you're going to get more press than someone who targets people living "high-risk" lifestyles, even if there are more murders, and those murders are more brutal.

Juan Corona took the lives of 25 older men who were innocently looking for work. He took advantage of their trust, hacked them up and buried them on the properties he worked at. A 67-year-old impoverished, Mexican male being murdered should get the same press as a 17-year-old rich white female, but that just isn't how it works. And so, even as a true crime fanatic, this is the first time I've heard of Juan Corona, and maybe the first time you've heard of him, too.

So I'll say this. Juan Corona was a terrible person who deserved to spend his life in prison. He may have had extreme mental health issues, but other people have the same conditions and don't murder 25 people. He killed fathers, husbands, brothers and friends. Many of the victims had nicknames listed with them. Albert Leon Hayes was called "Scratchy", Donald Dale Smith was called "Red", Sigured Beierman went by "Pete". These men were loved, and they were certainly missed.

Juan Corona was arrested 49 years ago today, and the world became a better place for it.




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