There’s something about a machete that makes it inherently more menacing than the average blade. The curved edges, frightening sharpness, and small size of an average machete all make them terrifying implements of torture under the right (or wrong) circumstances. Granted, the vast majority are actually used for everyday tasks like chopping meat or performing yard work, but this hasn’t stopped a few creatively vicious individuals from using machetes to injure, maim, or even kill. Particularly vicious minds have even made serious habits out of such actions.
While the blade in question was merely one of several weapons he utilized in murdering 25 California men throughout the early 1970s, Juan Corona will forever live in infamy as the Machete Murderer. Regardless of his terrifying instrument of death, Corona was also known as the most prolific serial killer in American history at the time of his arrest (only counting murders that could be confirmed by police, of course). To this day, few monsters have matched Corona’s sheer destruction, especially when considering how quickly, ruthlessly, and randomly his victims were chosen.
Corona has been appropriately stuck in a jail cell for more than 45 years now, and chances are, he’ll never again see the light of day. Just recently, the vicious killer finally admitted to his crimes, albeit in a manner that would never meet the requirements for parole. In fact, he’s already been denied such many times, a pattern that doesn’t seem likely to change. The qualification Corona has always lacked and still fails to understand is remorse, a fact that hurts the families of his victims to this day. To learn what it is he should feel guilty about, keep reading for 15 horrifying facts about “The Machete Murderer” Juan Corona.
15 A Devastating Flood Caused Him To Suffer Hallucinations
Any attempt at fitting Juan Corona in with the serial killer trend of being sparked by childhood trauma of some kind is almost impossible, as not enough about Juan Corona’s early life is public knowledge to make a claim like this about his murders. That said, an event taking place in Corona’s early 20s would dramatically alter his life forever and could be seen as the point when his issues in life began. In December 1955, Corona and his brother were living in Yuba City, California, where a massive flood killed 38 people. Corona immediately began suffering hallucinations, believing himself and all other survivors to have actually died, referring to them as ghosts. Corona’s brother had him committed to the DeWitt State Hospital, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a condition that may well have played a huge role later in his life.
14 His Schizophrenia Was “Cured” By Electro-Shock Therapy
Mental illness is an incredibly difficult demon to understand, and that’s in 2017, after psychologists and criminologists have been studying the subject for over a century. Back in the 1950s, the field was far less advanced than it is today, as evidenced by the then-commonplace practice to shoot electricity into people’s brains and hope for the best. In Juan Corona’s case, specifically, this meant 23 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. DeWitt State Hospital then declared his paranoid schizophrenia “cured,” followed by his release three months later. All sources would indicate that Corona indeed stopped believing he was a ghost, but this doesn’t quite translate to the idea shock therapy completely ended his illness. The best case scenario is that he merely laid his demons to rest for a short while, and without proper watch and care, Corona was basically a ticking time bomb waiting for his next mental break.
13 He Had Anger Issues, Especially Toward Gay Men
For the most part, very little of Juan Corona’s life prior to the murders has been revealed. Outside of his stint in DeWitt State Hospital around the age of 22, all that has been reported on Corona were his moving patterns, first entering the US illegally, then getting deported and returning the proper way, with a green card. In this time, Corona also met a woman named Gloria with whom he fathered four children. Their life together was modest but normal, with Corona described as a loving family man by most contemporary sources. However, he did have one highly negative quality in a severely violent temper. His anger was at its worst in relation to gay men, painting Corona as homophobic and viciously so. This is despite or perhaps because of the fact his half-brother, Natividad, was openly gay. In any event, Corona’s feelings toward homosexuality would play a huge role in his crimes.
12 He Found Victims Through Work As A Labor Contractor
One of the most efficient and prolific serial killers in American history, Juan Corona didn’t achieve his infamy through sheer luck. Though his true motives remain rather unclear, Corona clearly premeditated his actions from the moment he chose his career. If not that, in the very least, he eventually realized his profession would be a perfect way to pick out victims who could disappear without a trace. Whether intentionally or not, Corona found work as a labor contractor, meaning his job was to find men looking for work as farm hands. In other words, Corona sought out desperate men who needed money fast and were willing to do anything to make it. Corona’s connections made it easy to get these men jobs working on giant fields for farmers who always needed extra help. Little did the people he was “helping” realize, these fields were also a perfect place to hide bodies.
11 He Killed 25 Men And Buried Them In Shallow Graves
Notwithstanding virulent homophobia and a brief stint in a mental institution, the first 37 years of Juan Corona’s life were relatively normal and showed no indication of the murderous man existing within him. In 1971, Corona’s life took a drastic and sudden turn for the terrifying, when he murdered 25 men over the span of five months, never once raising any suspicions. The only reason Corona got caught is that a Japanese peach farmer named Goro Kagehiro noticed a mysterious hole dug on his property one evening, then found it had just as strangely been filled overnight when he checked on it the next morning. When police dug up a body, Corona was the first suspect, as his crew of laborers had recently been working on Kagehiro’s farm. Soon, similarly freshly filled-in holes were found on dozens of farms Corona had worked on, ultimately leading to the discovery of 25 bodies.
10 There May Have Been S------l Motives To His Crimes
For many decades, Juan Corona denied any connection to the 25 bodies found buried farms he and his laborers had regular access to. Because of this, it’s hard to fully understand his motives, although the specifics of how he killed and positioned his victims post-mortem may present something of an answer. Corona would stab his victims in the chest, then slash the back of their heads with a machete, forming a cross. Many victims were also found with their pants down, and some were found with gay pornography nearby. Whether or not this necessarily means Corona had sex with his victims or that his crimes were motivated solely out of a homophobic rage is unconfirmed, although it would certainly look like, at least, the latter is the case. While no evidence of sexual assault nor Corona’s DNA was ever found on the scene that could prove anything either way, various receipts with his name on them were discovered en masse, a key piece of evidence in proving his guilt.
9 He Tried Arguing His Brother Did It
Technically speaking, Juan Corona has never gone anywhere near giving a real explanation for the 25 murders he committed. However, from a psychological standpoint, the various defenses he used during his legal trials plus the earlier homophobia he exhibited might give the answer for him. According to Corona’s lawyers, he couldn’t have possibly committed the crimes due to the blatant gay overtones, as Corona was “hopelessly heterosexual” and in love with his wife. Conveniently, though, there was another Corona out there who was gay, Juan’s half-brother Natividad, the same man who earlier had him committed to a mental hospital. Of course, another explanation could simply have been that Juan was repressed and killed his lovers out of self-loathing and to hide his shameful secret. It’s also possible the gay angle wasn’t really an issue, but Juan himself was the one who repeatedly had his lawyers bring it up, so it’s not like we’re grasping at straws here.
8 A “Death Ledger” Was Found In His Home
Let’s forget about Juan Corona’s motives for a second and get back to how police proved he committed the 25 murders he was accused of undertaking. In addition to the various receipts with Corona’s name on them found near the bodies, plus the fact all 25 victims had recently been under his employ, investigators later found several key pieces of evidence in his home that made it clear Corona was directly involved in the killings. Most damning amongst Corona’s possessions was a notebook containing 34 names, seven of which were known victims. It’s entirely possible others on the list were also his victims, and had Corona not been captured, there’s a good chance his final victim toll would be 9 bodies larger, if not more. There were also dates next to select names, which prosecutors assumed denoted when Corona ended their lives.
7 Police Also Found Multiple Blood-Stained Weapons
As though a victim list weren’t all police needed to prove Juan Corona was responsible for the bodies found in shallow farm yard graves scattered throughout California, several other items in his home would further implicate him in the crimes. First of all, there was mysterious blood on almost everything the man owned, most notably his home, rugs, carpets, boots, and van. There were also two blood-stained knives, a 9-mm. pistol, a meat cleaver, a double-bladed axe, and true to the Machete Murderer’s name, the serrated weapon in question. Corona’s defense attorneys would later argue the blood found throughout his property was never officially connected to any of his victims, but all this did for most people was introduce the idea he had far more victims than anyone had been aware.
6 Many Of His Victims Were Never Identified
A large part of how Juan Corona got away with his crimes for the several months he did relates to how his victims were chosen. For the most part, Corona chose his own staff, but his influence as their boss was hardly the only thing giving him power over his prey. Corona also made sure to select desperate men with little family, making it extremely unlikely anyone would come looking for them if they disappeared. Of the 25 bodies that were discovered, four of them have never been identified, not matching the reports of any missing persons nor having any state ID on their persons when found. Even amongst those who were identified, an additional 14 were never officially claimed by their families, showing just how isolated and disconnected from society these poor migrant workers were. Many were also alcoholics, homeless, or addicted to drugs -- all signs Corona had thoroughly planned his attacks and had carefully chosen whom he murdered.
5 His Family Was Openly Hostile To The Prosecution
How the family of a suspected serial killer reacts generally hinges on whether or not they believe the accused is guilty. In the case of Juan Corona’s family, it would appear they firmly believed his story he was innocent despite the fact he was trying to pin it on his half-brother during the trial. Unlike many murderers who find themselves solitary and abandoned by their families in court, Corona’s children were reportedly present for the entire duration of the proceedings, and their father would look in their direction for support on a regular basis. Corona’s sister was also usually there, and her support took a more physical form. According to the District Attorney assigned to the case, Dave Teja, Corona’s sister, twice tried to assault him. First, she pushed Teja down the stairs, and later, she attempted to hit him with her car. Even if she truly believed her brother was innocent, this hardly helped the family appear rational during the trial.
4 He Was Sentenced To 25 Consecutive Life Sentences
Regardless of how many people serial killers murder, they typically only get charged with one or two of them at a time so things are easier for a jury to understand. Defying convention, the prosecutorial team decided to go big or go home, and Juan Corona was charged with all 25 murders at once. The result was an extremely expensive albeit highly thorough trial, which ended with DA Dave Teja getting Corona convicted on all charges. The presiding judge ruled that Corona would receive one life sentence for each murder, a punishment so lengthy it allegedly elicited gasps from the court room. Obviously, consecutive life sentences are largely symbolic and related to issues of parole, yet the message was still clear that everybody involved in the trial firmly agreed on the matter of Corona’s guilt.
3 He Was Spared The Death Penalty On Technicality
Without weighing in on the death penalty positively or negatively, we’re simply going to acknowledge that in the case of Juan Corona, it almost feels strange that capital punishment was never on the table. Of course, that confusion is easily done away with after a brief explanation of the California legal system. In most parts of the world, an unrepentant serial killer like Corona would indeed face the threat of lethal injection, yet it has always been a hotly debated issue in the Machete Murderer’s state. Just one year prior to his actions, California declared the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment and decided it would never again be used in the state. Though this decision has since been reversed, it meant any criminal caught until the state changed its mind was spared the concept of mortal retribution. On the other hand, instant death might have been better than Corona’s fate, than being an entire life in solitude behind bars.
2 He’s Been Denied Parole Eight Times
Despite how open-and-shut Juan Corona’s case appeared on paper, he soon discovered grounds for retrial on the basis his lawyer had been “incompetent.” In actuality, Corona’s attorney, Richard Hawk, may have done a subpar job in getting his client off by not once mentioning his past struggles with schizophrenia, but the ultimate result was going to be the same either way. This became clear when the second trial went the exact same way as the original, wasting thousands of state dollars in the process. Ultimately, that second failed trial was the closest Corona would come to freedom for the rest of his life, as all subsequent attempts at parole have been flatly denied. The main issue preventing Corona’s release is a lack of remorse, as he refused to even admit culpability in the crimes until his seventh try at earning release. In what's probably a good thing, the nature of his confession means this trend won’t change anytime soon.
1 He Finally Admitted His Guilt (Kind Of) 40 Years Later
No matter how long it takes a criminal to confess to murder, when they finally do, there's an unquestionable sense of closure felt by the families of their victims. This feeling of relief could easily be shattered should that confession be marred in confusing lies, however, which happens to be the circumstance with Juan Corona’s ultimate admission of guilt in the Machete Murders. In 2011, forty years after his crimes were committed, Corona was up for parole for the seventh time. Finally accepting he would never get released without admitting what he did, Corona decided to come clean on all 25 murders, but there were several catches to his confession that almost made it irrelevant. For one, Corona still showed no remorse for what he did, and beyond that, he blatantly lied about the motives, claiming all of his victims were trespassing “winos” who thus deserved their fate. If there’s any upside here, it’s that the parole board knew this story was nonsense and will never let the Machete Murderer roam free if he keeps telling it.
Sources: The LA Times, Daily Breeze, CBS News, The New York Times