Juan Corona, who gained the nickname "The Machete Murderer" for hacking to death dozens of migrant farm laborers in California in the early 1970s, has died. He was 85. Corona died Monday at an undisclosed hospital, Vicky Waters of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported. He had been serving a life sentence in state prison, the AP reports. A labor contractor who hired thousands of fruit and vegetable workers for Northern California farmers, Corona killed 25 of them, according to authorities who arrested him in 1971. The bodies were buried in shallow graves on farms and orchards along the Feather River north of Sacramento. Most had been brutally hacked to death and dismembered, possibly with a machete or meat cleaver. One was shot in the head.
He was arrested after a peach farmer who had contracted with him for hired pickers became suspicious upon finding a hole that had been freshly dug, then filled in. Authorities found the body of a man whose head had been cleaved open and his torso riddled with stab wounds. Nine more bodies were recovered in another orchard five days later, along with receipts made out to Corona, who was immediately arrested. He was convicted of 25 counts of murder in 1973, the most until John Wayne Gacy of Chicago was convicted of 33 in 1980. An appeals court overturned Corona's conviction in 1978, ruling he had received incompetent representation from his attorney, but he was ultimately convicted again on all 25 counts. His motive has remained largely a mystery; at his final parole hearing in 2016 Corona said he couldn't recall killing anyone. For a time in the 1950s he had been commited to a mental hospital after, his family said, he was traumatized by a deadly flood that struck Northern California and started saying he saw ghosts. (A man who has confessed to killing 90 is sketching his victims for police.)