Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Juan Corona: Rush to Judgment?

Death Nest

Sheriff Whiteaker
Sheriff Whiteaker

They referred to the place later as "Graveyard Lane." As they unearthed more corpses in this area, the Sutter County District attorney, G. Dave Teja, came out to have a look. He'd always wanted the challenge of a first-degree murder case and now he had a whopper. He discussed an arrest warrant for Corona with Sheriff Whiteaker, but Whiteaker hesitated. He wanted better evidence than two receipts and some vague stories about the man's violent temper. The fire department set up floodlights so the digging could continue, with the hope of getting something else along the lines of those signed receipts. If a man were that careless to let something fall from his pocket, it was likely that he'd left behind other things that could be linked to him. Off-duty cops and part-timers came to lend a hand, as well as to see this bizarre and grisly find for themselves. They were used to sporadic violence in the area, but nothing like this. A few men shed tears and some got physically ill from the sights and the overwhelming odor.

Paul Allen, victim
Paul Allen, victim

As each new body was discovered and photographs taken, the diggers made bets on just how many they would find. No one even came close. It was a nightmare, as if they'd come across someone's personal cemetery. Worse, the evidence of outright molestation kept raising its ugly head, as men were found with their trousers around their ankles, their genitals exposed, or nude from the waist down. This had not just been murder for money; it had a much more unsavory sexual connotation. The diggers never knew what they'd find next.

Sometimes they accidentally cut off a body part with the sharp edge of a shovel, and the deeper they went, the worse the stench of decomposition became. A few bodies had been in the earth so long, without benefit of embalming or a box, that they just fell into pieces when lifted out. As best they could, the crew put individual victims into zippered body bags and left them for pick-up by local morticians. Frasier indicates that this area produced a total of eight corpses. So to that point, there were nine known victims.

Melford Sample
Melford Sample

In the mortuary, the bodies were laid out, one next to another, to facilitate identification, as well as to try to create a time-line based on decomposition rates. It appeared that all had been migrant workers, and certainly all had been murdered with a similar type of bludgeoning or stabbing. A few had been shot as well, and Frasier indicates that there was evidence of anal intercourse (although this evidence was never brought into the trial, so it may not have been evidence so much as speculation based on rumors and erroneously passed along as fact). Many were old and worn out.

Sheriff Whiteaker kept looking for more evidence, cautioning the diggers to be careful. The meat receipts were good, but they needed something that clearly linked Corona to one or more of the victims. If it was not forthcoming in the graves or on the men who were being pulled out, then it would have to come from whatever people might know about these men. And that would be a much more difficult task.

 

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