When a Taos County, New Mexico, deputy tried to serve a judgment in a breach of promise suit, no one answered the door at the home of 69-year old Arthur Rochford Manby. Three days later, he returned, broke in the front door, and made a grisly discovery.

Taos, New Mexico

Authorities found Manby’s swollen, decapitated body on a cot in the bedroom of his rambling Spanish-style adobe hacienda mansion and his head in an adjoining room, July 3, 1929.

The home stood within a twenty-three-acre plot of land enclosed by a wall. Bars covered the windows, and the doors featured multiple locks.

His death ranked as one of the most bizarre cases in the state’s history.

Manby, a 24-year old mining promoter, left England in 1883 and traveled to Taos in New Mexico Territory where he joined a syndicate that owned the profitable Mystic Mine, located less than five miles from the Aztec, one of the richest gold mines in the world.

The Mystic made Manby one of the richest men in the Southwest his two partners, along with his two partners, John C. Ferguson and James Wilkinson.

By luring investors from America and England and through a few questionable maneuvers, including fraud and extortion, Manby acquired the 61,000-acre Martinez Grant of Taos in 1913.

But, along the way, his list of enemies grew.

Some labeled him a swindler and a master manipulator. Others called him a thief and accused him of stealing gold nuggets from the nearby Aztec operation.

Whispers also surfaced about the possibility of his involvement in the deaths and disappearance of his partners.

Three years after Manby took ownership of the Martinez Grant, he ended up almost penniless, and the target of numerous lawsuits accusing him of fraud.

Ravaged by mounting legal fees. Manby sold off most all his estate to pay his debts. 

Reclusive and suspicious, Manby often roamed the sprawling nineteen-room home in the company of two Alsatian guard dogs.

In a bizarre decision, a coroner’s panel blamed Manby’s death on natural causes, adding that one of the dogs chewed off the man’s head because it was hungry and carried the remains to another room.

Manby’s brother objected and pulled some strings to have the body exhumed. Medical examiners found shotgun pellets on the body.

Author Frank Walters, in his book, To Possess the Land: A Biography of Arthur Rochford Manby, wrote that people believed someone murdered Manby. Others insisted the body was not Manby’s. And, there were those who claimed they saw him alive months later in Europe.

New Mexico authorities, unable to determine whether Manby had staged his death, halted the investigation. The case remains unsolved.


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4 comments to “MINES, MONEY, AND MADNESS”

  • You had me at bizarre, unexplained death. Investigators thought one of the dogs chewed off Manby’s head? Seriously? Did the dog shoot the shotgun, too? 😉

    I’d never heard of this guy. Thanks for the education!

  • Tom, I love these stories! I’m thinking if the remains were again exhumed and a DNA sample was obtained and compared with a relative it could be determined if the body was actually Manby’s and maybe even other dna could be recovered found unrelated to Manby indicating another unk person.
    Thanks for writing this! Very much enjoyed!

  • Thanks, John, glad you enjoyed it. I think you’ve got a great idea, given the capability of DNA. It would quite a story if it turned out NOT to be Manby.

  • LOL–yeah. Sometimes you have to wonder where these investigators are coming from. It reminded of a friend of mine who writes crime novels, who once wrote an article about the true story of a Houston Police detective discovered in his office shot twice in the heart and ruled a suicide. Leaves me scratching my head.

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