By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Juan Corona, a serial killer found guilty of murdering 25 farmworkers whose bodies were found buried in Northern California orchards, died on Monday at the age of 85, state prison officials said.
Corona, who had been serving a life prison term since his 1973 conviction on 25 counts of first-degree murder, died of natural causes at an outside hospital, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.
The number of murders were a U.S. record at the time and authorities have speculated that additional victims may have been slain and never discovered or tied to Corona.
Corona, who was born in Mexico, migrated to the United States as a teenager in the 1950s and suffered a mental breakdown following deadly floods along the Yuba River in 1955, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
He was committed to a California mental institution suffering from schizophrenia, but returned to agriculture in the Yuba City area following his release, where he began hiring farmworkers, the paper reported.
It was those men whom Corona was convicted of targeting, raping and stabbing, sometimes hacking at their heads with a machete.
In May 1971, a local farm owner found human remains buried in a peach orchard near the Feather River in Sutter County, California, leading ultimately to the discovery of two dozen more bodies.
The murders were linked to Corona through bank slips found with his name on them and because they had been hired through his labour contracting business.
Corona was found guilty of the murders in January 1971, but that conviction was later overturned by an appeals court. He was convicted again at a second trial in 1982. He was denied parole eight times and was next eligible in 2021.
In 1973, Corona survived a stabbing by another inmate, losing the sight in his left eye in the attack, according to the corrections department.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)