Juan Corona

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Juan Vallejo Corona
Corona on March 23, 2018, age 84.
Born(1934-02-07)February 7, 1934
Autlán, Jalisco, Mexico
DiedMarch 4, 2019(2019-03-04) (aged 85)
Other namesCorona
Gabriella E. Hermosillo
(m. 1953, divorced)
Gloria I. Moreno
(m. 1959; div. 1974)
Conviction(s)First-degree murder (25 counts)
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment
Span of crimes
February 1, 1971 – May 19, 1971
CountryUnited States
Date apprehended
May 26, 1971

Juan Vallejo Corona (February 7, 1934 – March 4, 2019) was a Mexican serial killer who was convicted of the murders of 25 migrant farm workers found buried in peach orchards along the Feather River in Sutter County, California, United States in 1971. At the time, his crimes were characterized as among the most notorious in U.S. history. Until the discovery of Dean Corll's victims two years after his own conviction, Corona was the deadliest American serial killer by number of proven victims.

Corona was convicted of 25 counts of first-degree murder in 1973. An appellate court overturned the conviction in 1978 on the basis of incompetent legal representation and granted Corona a new trial. In 1982, he was again found guilty of all twenty-five homicides. He served out a life sentence in California State Prison, Corcoran and died in 2019.

Early life[edit]

Juan Corona was born in Autlán, Jalisco, Mexico, on February 7, 1934, first entering the United States in 1950.[1][2] Crossing the border into California at age 16, he picked carrots and melons in the Imperial Valley for three months before moving on north to the Sacramento Valley.[3] His half-brother, Natividad Corona (c. 1923–May 23, 1973), had immigrated to California in 1944 to work and settled at Marysville, across the Feather River from Yuba City.[4]

In May 1953, Corona moved to the Marysville-Yuba City area at the suggestion of Natividad, finding work on a local ranch. He was first married to Gabriella E. Hermosillo on October 24, 1953, in Reno, Nevada.[5] In 1959, he married Gloria I. Moreno and they had four daughters.[4]

Mental illness[edit]

In January 1956, after suffering what was thought to be a schizophrenic episode,[6] Natividad had Corona committed to DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, California, where he was diagnosed with "schizophrenic reaction, paranoid type."[7] Corona received twenty-three shock treatments before being pronounced recovered and released three months later. He was deported to Mexico upon release.[7][8]

Six years later, Corona was given a green card and returned to the United States legally. Aside from schizophrenic episodes and a reported violent temper, he was regarded as a hard worker. In 1962, the same year he returned to the U.S., he became a licensed labor contractor, being put in charge of hiring workers to staff the local fruit ranches.[9]

In March 1970, Corona was again admitted to DeWitt State Hospital for treatment. A year later, in March 1971, he applied for welfare. His application was denied.[4]


On May 19, 1971, a farm owner who had used Corona to contract field workers noticed a freshly dug hole in his peach orchard[10] which was filled the next day. In the hole was found the body of a man who had been stabbed and hacked.[11]

In one grave, deputies found two meat receipts bearing Corona's signature.[12] In another two graves, there were two crumpled Bank of America deposit slips printed with Corona's name and address. This circumstantial evidence gave an added boost to the case.[13]

Witnesses later told police that some of the victims had been last seen riding in Corona's pickup truck.[14]

In the early morning hours of May 26, 1971, police entered Corona's Yuba City home with a search warrant and arrested him.[15] Evidence indicating his guilt was discovered and seized, such as two bloodstained knives, a machete, a pistol, and blood-stained clothing. There was also a work ledger that contained 34 names and dates, including seven of the known victims. The ledger came to be referred to as a "death list" by the prosecution, who alleged it recorded the dates the men were murdered.[16]

Corona had been supplying workers to the ranches where the victims were discovered. He housed many of the men who worked for him in a bunkhouse on the Sullivan Ranch, where most of the victims were discovered.


All of Corona's victims were middle-aged Caucasian male drifters between the ages of 47 and 64 (except 3), most of them had criminal records and all but one were stabbed or slashed with a knife or machete.

Victims (charged)
Number Name Age Death Date Method of Killing
1 John Joseph Haluka 52 February 25, 1971 – May 11, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
2 Sigurd E. "Pete" Beierman 62 February 25, 1971 – May 11, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
3 John Doe (4th victim found) Unknown February 25, 1971 – May 11, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
4 John Doe (7th victim found) Unknown February 25, 1971 – May 11, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
5 William Emery Kamp 62 February 26, 1971 – May 12, 1971 Shot in the head w/ a 9 mm.
6 Clarence Hocking 53 February 26, 1971 – May 12, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
7 John Doe (10th victim found) Unknown February 26, 1971 – May 12, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
8 John Doe (12th victim found) Unknown February 26, 1971 – May 12, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
9 Albert Leon "Scratchy" Hayes 58 February 27, 1971 – May 13, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
10 Warren Jerome Kelley 62 On or around March 30, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
11 John Henry Jackson 64 May 3, 1971 - May 14, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
12 Joseph J. Maczak 54 April 26, 1971 – May 21, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
13 Mark Beverly Shields 56 On or around April 28, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
14 Donald Dale "Red" Smith 60 April 30, 1971 – May 11, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
15 James Wylie Howard 64 May 1, 1971 – May 13, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
16 Sam Bonafiede (a.k.a. Joe Carriveau) 55 On or around May 6, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
17 Edward Martin Cupp 43 May 9, 1971 – May 13, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
18 Charles Levy Fleming 67 On or around May 11, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
19 Jonah Raggio Smallwood 56 On or around May 12, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
20 Elbert J.T. Riley 45 On or around May 12, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
21 Lloyd Wallace Wenztel 60 May 14, 1971 – May 22, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
22 Paul Buel Allen 59 On or around May 15, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
23 Raymond Reand Muchache 47 On or around May 18, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
24 Kenneth Edward Whitacre 40 On or around May 19, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.
25 Melford Everett Sample 59 On or around May 21, 1971 Stabbed/slashed w/ a knife or machete.

Legal proceedings[edit]

Corona was provided legal aid and assigned a public defender, Roy Van den Heuvel, who hired several psychiatrists to perform a psychological evaluation. Although the sheriff, Roy Whiteaker, said the prisoner was in no apparent or immediate danger from his fellow townsmen, Corona was moved to the new and larger county jail in Marysville, on May 30, 1971, for "security reasons."[17]

On June 2, Corona was returned to Sutter County for arraignment, which was closed to the media and public. A plea of not guilty was entered and a date was set for Corona's preliminary hearing.[18]

By the time the search was terminated on June 4, a total of 25 male victims had been discovered. Four of them were unidentified.

On June 14, Van den Heuvel was replaced by Richard Hawk, a privately retained defense attorney.[19] In return for his legal representation, an agreement was made granting Hawk exclusive literary and dramatic property rights to the defendant's life story, including the proceedings against him. Under the agreement, Corona waived the attorney–client privilege. Shortly after taking over the defense, and even before seeing Corona's medical record or reading any of the reports, Hawk decided against having him plead not guilty by reason of insanity and fired the psychiatrists.[20]

Corona complained of chest pain from his cell in Yuba City, on June 18, and was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with having had a mild heart attack.[21] The grand jury returned a 25-count murder indictment against him on July 12.[22] In early August, Corona was hospitalized again after complaining of chest pain and saying he had not been able to sleep because of it.[23]


It took over a year after the murders were discovered for the case against Corona to come to trial. The California Supreme Court voided the death penalty in the state on February 18, 1972, ruling it unconstitutional, cruel and unusual.[24] Therefore, it would not be a capital case. Hawk succeeded in getting a change of venue from Sutter County, to Solano County.

The trial began on September 11, 1972, at the courthouse in Fairfield, California, more than 60 miles (100 km) from Yuba City. Jury selection took several weeks, and the trial another three months.[25]

Though Corona denied culpability, he was not called to the stand to testify in his own defense and no defense witnesses were called. The jury deliberated for 45 hours and returned a verdict, on January 18, 1973, finding Corona guilty of first-degree murder on all 25 counts charged.[26] The judge, Richard Patton, sentenced Corona to 25 terms of life imprisonment, to run consecutively, without the possibility of parole.[27] Despite being sentenced to so many consecutive terms, the Department of Corrections said that Corona would be eligible for parole in seven years, citing section 669 of the penal code, which mandates that when a crime is punished by life imprisonment, with or without the possibility of parole, then all other convictions shall be merged and run concurrently.[28]

Corona was first incarcerated at Vacaville's California Medical Facility, nine miles (14 km) from Fairfield, because of the heart irregularities. In 1973 he was stabbed 32 times in his cell because he had bumped into a fellow inmate in a corridor and failed to say 'excuse me.' Of the five men questioned, including the one involved in the bumping incident, one identified as the man's[who?] sexual partner and three inmates identified as friends of the partner, four were charged with assault with a deadly weapon.[29][30]

Corona was transferred to Correctional Training Facility (CTF), in Soledad, California. In 1974 his wife filed for divorce.[31] It was granted on July 30.[32]

Second trial[edit]

On May 18, 1978, the California court of appeal granted Juan Corona a new trial based on his Appeal and Petition for the Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by his lawyers, Alan Exelrod and Michael Mendelson. The Appeals Court based its decision on two primary issues raised by appellate counsel; first, trial counsel did not do the requisite legal and factual investigations required; second, trial counsel's obtaining publication rights as part of his fee created an impermissible conflict between trial counsel and Corona.[citation needed]

The second trial began on February 22, 1982, in Hayward, California.[33] Corona's defense posited that the real murderer of the ranch workers was most likely Natividad Corona, a known homosexual who was accused of attacking Romero Raya at his cafe in Marysville, and, after losing the lawsuit Raya filed, had fled back to his native Mexico.[34] Natividad had died eight years earlier in Guadalajara.[35]

This time around, more than 50 defense witnesses were called to the stand by Hallinan. Corona was called in his own defense. He was asked only two questions, through an interpreter, taking only two minutes. "Do you understand the state has accused you of killing 25 men?" "Yes", Corona answered, almost inaudibly. "Did you have anything to do with killing those men?" "No", Corona replied. Hallinan then turned Corona over to the prosecutor, Ronald Fahey, for cross-examination. Startled prosecution attorneys requested a brief recess to gather their wits and prepare some of the more than 630 exhibits for their cross.[36] Later, Fahey questioned Corona about various vans and cars he used at the ranch where he worked and where he lived, in which some weapons were found.

The trial lasted seven months. Corona was again convicted of the crimes on September 23, 1982, and returned to prison after the strategy failed to persuade the jury, which deliberated for 54 hours over a two-week period, of his innocence. Afterward, the foreman told the press that the most incriminating piece of evidence against Corona was his work ledger, for which the labor contractor had "no reasonable explanation."[37] He said the jury had dismissed the defense contention that Natividad committed the murders. "He wasn't in Marysville enough to have committed the bulk of the killings", he said.[38]

Later years and death[edit]

Corona was transferred from CTF at Soledad to Corcoran State Prison, Corcoran, California, in 1992, where he served a life sentence in the Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY), because he had dementia.[39] He was denied parole eight times.[9]

Corona died on March 4, 2019, aged 85, from natural causes.[2][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silverman, Ellie (May 26, 1971). "Juan Corona, 'machete murderer' convicted of killing 25 migrant workers, dies at 85". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Stout, David (March 4, 2019). "Juan Corona, 85, Convicted as Killer of 26 Farm Workers, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  3. ^ "Serial Killer Timelines | Radford University" (.pdf). www.radford.edu. Radford University — Department of Psychology. 2005. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Kneeland, Douglas E. (June 16, 1971). "For Yuba City Suspect, Early Prosperity Ended in an Unsuccessful Plea for Welfare". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  5. ^ Washoe County Clerk, Reno, NV, Marriage License No. 386376.
  6. ^ "Juan Corona". Latin American Studies. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Wade, Tony (August 7, 2015). "Juan Corona mass murder trial moved to Fairfield in '72". Daily Republic. McNaughton Newspapers, Inc. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  8. ^ Kidder, Tracy (1974). The Road to Yuba City. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-02865-3.
  9. ^ a b Times, Los Angeles (November 11, 2016). "Juan Corona, California serial killer convicted of killing 25 farmworkers, is again denied parole". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  10. ^ Katherine Ramsland. "Juan Corona, a Homophobic Serial Killer's Story — A Turbulent Year — Crime Library on truTV.com". truTV.com. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. Archived from the original on December 10, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  11. ^ Katherine Ramsland. "Juan Corona, a Homophobic Serial Killer's Story — Grisly Discovery — Crime Library on truTV.com". truTV.com. Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. Archived from the original on December 4, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2018.
  12. ^ Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1972, "The State --- Corona Receipts Found in Grave, Trial Told," p. A2
  13. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Juan Corona". Archived from the original on August 19, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  14. ^ "Jurors deliberating in the mass murder retrial of Juan..." UPI. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  15. ^ "People v. Superior Court (Corona)". Justia Law. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  16. ^ "Lincoln Journal Star from Lincoln, Nebraska · 3". Lincoln Journal Star. September 24, 1982. p. 3.
  17. ^ Los Angeles Times, May 31, 1971, "Suspect in Mass Murders Moved to Marysville Jail," p. 1
  18. ^ Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1971, "Yuba City Mass Murder Suspect Pleads Innocent," p. 1
  19. ^ "Attorney Dismissed in Mass Murder Case". Los Angeles Times. June 15, 1971. p. III-19. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  20. ^ Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1971, "No Plea of Insanity Planned for Corona,'" p. 32
  21. ^ Los Angeles Times, from Yuba City (UPI), June 30, 1971, "Mild Heart Attack Suffered By Corona," p. 18
  22. ^ Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1971, "Jury Raises Corona Murder Counts to 25," p. 18A
  23. ^ Los Angeles Times, from Yuba City (UPI), August 9, 1971, "Corona Hospitalized 2nd Time After Complaining of Chest Pain," p. 3
  24. ^ Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1972, "No Death Penalty — Cal. Court Voids It; Appeal Likely — Punishment Ruled 'Cruel and Unusual,'" p. 1
  25. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "Juan Corona: Rush to Judgment?". truTV.com. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  26. ^ Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1973, "Corona Guilty --- Convicted of All 25 Murders --- Courtroom Stunned by Verdict," p. 1
  27. ^ Nelson, Doug (May 2, 2002). "Valley of death". News & Review. Archived from the original on April 7, 2008. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  28. ^ Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1973, "Corona Held Eligible for Parole in 7 Years --- L.A. District Attorney's Office Calls 25 Consecutive Prison Term 'an Idle Exercise,'" p. 3
  29. ^ Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1973, "The State --- Bumping Incident Linked to Corona Stabbing," p. B3
  30. ^ Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1973, "Four Inmates Charged in Corona Attack," p. A12
  31. ^ Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1974, "The State," p. OC2
  32. ^ "Corona's Wife Gets Divorce". The New York Times. August 11, 1974. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  33. ^ Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1982, "Corona Retrial Begins," p. A1
  34. ^ Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1982, "Corona Kin May Be Killer, Lawyer Hints --- 'Maniacal Half-Brother Suggested as Murderer of 25 Laborers,'" p. B3
  35. ^ Los Angeles Times, from Guadalajara (UPI), June 8, 1973, "Corona Sister Tells of Three Family Deaths," p. F8
  36. ^ Los Angeles Times, from Hayward, California, July 21, 1982, "Corona Takes Stand, Denies 25 Slayings," p. OC22
  37. ^ Los Angeles Times, from Hayward, California, September 24, 1982, "Corona Found Guilty Again --- Convicted of Killing 25 in 1971," p. 1
  38. ^ "'Death list' deciding factor in Corona conviction". UPI. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  39. ^ "Serial Killers Fast Facts". CNN Library. Cable News Network. December 24, 2018. Retrieved December 25, 2018. During a 2011 parole hearing, he confessed to killing the men. Corona, who was 77 and suffering from dementia at the time of the hearing...
  40. ^ "Serial killer Juan Corona dies at 85", kmph.com. Accessed December 11, 2022.

Further reading[edit]