U.S. Deputy Marshal Jim Martinez from Santa Fe pounded on the door at the home of 69-year old Arthur Rochford Manby to serve a judgment in a breach of promise suit. No one answered, and he left. Three days later, July 3, 1929, Taos County, New Mexico, authorities returned. This time, they broke in the front door and made a grisly discovery.


(Photo: The Taos News. Date and Photographer Unknown)

The lawmen spotted Manby’s swollen and decapitated body on a cot in the bedroom of his rambling Spanish-style adobe hacienda mansion. They found his head in an adjoining room.

The residence stood on a twenty-three-acre plot of land enclosed by a wall. Bars covered the windows, with multiple locks on the doors of the home. 

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.

The mine was located less than five miles from the Aztec—one of the most productive gold mines in the world.

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

Manby acquired the 61,000-acre Martinez Grant of Taos in 1913 by luring investors from America and England through fraud and extortion.

His less-than-honorable maneuvers led to a crowded list of enemies.

According to a 2017 article in the Taos News, some people characterized Manby a “swindler and a master manipulator.”

“Others branded him a thief, accusing him of stealing gold nuggets from the nearby Aztec operation,” writes Scott Gerdes. “Manby was not very well liked. That’s no secret – and that is probably putting it lightly. Some people even deemed him as the most-hated person in Taos at the time.”

Gerdes also reported that Manby “swindled people of their land and sold parcels he had no rights to (and) made shady backroom deals regarding land grants, mines and water rights, with some accounts claiming he had corrupt Santa Fe politicians in his back pocket.” 

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, he 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.

He stated 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 many believed someone murdered Manby.

Others insisted the body was not Manby’s. And, some 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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