"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, June 17, 2013

Murder and the Mystic Mine



Taos, New Mexico, is in an area of the world that has hosted many strange happenings. One of the eeriest involves the so-called “Mystic Gold Mine” and the impressive body count associated with the site. The mine was in an area long believed by the native population to be cursed. As events were to prove, they very well may have been right.

The Mystic was found in 1863 by a man named Stone, who, two years later, took a John C. Ferguson as his partner. In 1882, Stone disappeared from the scene. Whether he left on his own free will, or, as seems more likely, he was murdered, is unknown.  Several of the mine's employees died in bizarre and unexplained ways.  One particularly luckless worker was found at the bottom of the mine shaft, decapitated.

However, The Weird only really kicked into high gear when, in 1895, an English mining promoter named Arthur Rockfort Manby entered into a gold-hunting syndicate with Ferguson and another miner named James Wilkinson.

The Mystic proved extremely profitable. It was only five miles away from the Aztec, then one of the richest gold mines in the world, and it was suspected that Manby—who seems to have been one of Nature’s born grifters—had somehow found a way of stealing nuggets from this other site. In any case, the trio quickly became exceedingly wealthy. And then in 1915, Wilkinson vanished. Although ominous rumors circulated about his disappearance, no one knew for sure what became of him. Not long after this, Ferguson ended his days in a mental hospital, tormented by visions of angry ghosts and decapitated bodies. His daughter Teresita inherited his share of the mine.

In 1921, Wilkinson, who had long been given up for dead, suddenly reappeared on the scene, only to quickly vanish again—this time for good.

In 1929, it was Manby’s turn to meet his fate. On June 30, a deputy sheriff came to Manby’s home to serve a judgment in a breach of promise suit filed against him. When he was unable to contact Manby, he returned three days later with backup and broke down the front door. When this search party broke into the house, they made a dreadful discovery. Manby’s decapitated corpse was discovered in a bedroom of his home. His brutally mutilated head was discovered in an adjoining room. The front door of the house, it was noted, had been locked from the inside.

Manby and his mansion had a sinister reputation long before his gruesome death. He had become a strange recluse who lived in great fear of something—fears that were certainly eventually justified. His 20-room estate had bars on every window and multiple locks on every door. He insisted on cooking all his own food, to guard against poisoning. His only companionship in the sprawling, lavishly-decorated hacienda was a pair of fierce Alsatian dogs who guarded him everywhere he went. He was periodically seen on his roof, using colored flags to send who-knows-what signals to who-knows-whom. All in all, his neighbors were quite happy to leave him to his own devices.

The coroner’s jury, faced with this grim and puzzling demise, responded with one of the most astonishing verdicts on record. They decreed that Manby died of natural causes. One of his dogs, crazed with hunger, then chewed off his head and carried the body to the other room.

This bit of absurdity was just too much for anyone to stomach. Manby’s brother back in England put pressure on Washington to arrange a less deranged investigation into Manby’s death, with the result that a detective, Henri Martin, was dispatched to Taos. When he had the body exhumed, he discovered that the gold tycoon was riddled with shotgun bullets. The assassin then, for some unknown reason, carefully removed the head. The mystery of who shot and decapitated Manby—not to mention the puzzle of what that coroner’s jury was thinking—remains unsolved to this day.

Martin received some interesting, if ultimately unhelpful, information about the other peculiar deaths associated with the Mystic Mine. He discovered that over the years, at least half a dozen men associated with Manby had been mysteriously murdered--with several of them being decapitated.  A woman who had been Wilkinson’s housekeeper told the detective that her employer had been killed by his business partners. She claimed the body—like Manby, full of bullets and decapitated—had been placed in her room one night. She directed Martin to a certain place where she said Wilkinson was secretly buried. The spot was exhumed, and a skeleton was found, but it was uncertain if it really was the vanished Wilkinson. At least nine other beheaded bodies were found in that area. Martin also heard from locals that Ferguson, who had become a drug addict, was so terrified of…something…that he killed himself in the asylum.

It also came out that a few years before, Manby and Teresita Ferguson—who had a very close relationship until, so she said, he cheated her out of all her money--organized a shadowy organization known as the “United States Civil Secret Service Society.” Men were persuaded—or, more often, compelled--to invest in this group, which was presented as a clandestine society working with the U.S. Secret Service. In return, investors would share in the reward money earned when the organization captured criminals. In reality, of course, it was one of Manby’s many swindles. However, the general fear that the group was Manby’s private criminal gang, responsible for many unsolved robberies and murders, scared many people from seeking justice against him. (The hints that the "society" also practiced black magic undoubtedly added to the general unease.)  Perhaps, it was suggested, one of the men he had defrauded with this scheme finally got his bloody revenge.

Or perhaps the killer was one of the many other people Manby had cheated during his astonishingly busy career? Or did Teresita Ferguson, the one person to come away from the Mystic alive, have something to do with the death of her former business partner/lover? And what of Margaret Waddell, the Los Angeles woman who successfully brought the breach-of-promise suit against Manby? Through his typically shady, complex business maneuvers, he engineered it so she would be unable to collect her $12,000 damages. Did she obtain a less lawful payback?

Or was this mutilated body really Manby’s? Some observers insisted the skull found in his house was far too small to be his. The body was too decomposed to permit a positive identification. Many were convinced that the old crook, ever fearful for his safety, staged his own “murder,” and escaped to a new life. This idea has been largely ignored, but with a story like this, it’s hard to believe anything is impossible.

What was it that reduced both Manby and John Ferguson to such a state of mortal terror?

The knowledge we have about the long, twisted history surrounding the Mystic Mine is bad enough. It seems likely that the details hidden from us were far, far worse.

[A footnote: The strange goings-on of the Mystic crowd did not end with Manby’s death—or, if you prefer, “death.” In 1930, not content with looting Manby’s mansion, Teresita Ferguson, her common-law husband Carmel Durand, and her nephew George Ferguson, were tried and convicted for committing  a series of burglaries (and at least one arson) in Taos. The trio got four to six years in prison.  After her release, Teresita was, for whatever reason, given a full pardon by the Governor.  In 1955, she was charged with witchcraft and fraud.  She had obtained $100 from a Santa Fe couple on the claim they were "bewitched" and she could cure them.  She also told them that--for additional funds--she would lead them to $25 million worth of buried treasure hidden on their property.  Her run of peculiarly good luck continued when she was acquitted.  Perhaps the fact that her son, Columbus, was a former Taos sheriff (!) had its influence.  Teresita Ferguson died at the age of 91 in 1979.  And, oh, the stories that must have died with her.]


12 comments:

  1. Yes, i had an opportunity to know and visit with Teresita Ferguson. I remember a distinct environment as my mother would take me with her to visit Teresita. I was practically born in the home of my great grandmother Teresita. I am Mark Timothy Flores Sr. the great grandson of Teresita Ferguson. It is said also that Arthur Rockford Manby was my possibly my great grandfather. I do testify that she (Teresita) was a Sorcerer and a vehicle of Witchcraft. I do testify to the absolute destructive nature of the paradigm of the occult influence that she had upon several generations. I have seen my mother (Bonnavita M. Ferguson) and several family members struggle with demonic possession and oppression as a direct result of the curse of generational witchcraft. doglord@live.com - mfdoglord@gmail.com

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    1. If you don't mind me asking this question--what did your family think about Manby's end? Do they really think he was killed in 1929, or did they believe he faked his own death?

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    2. Sorry, but this is a difficult subject for me. My family is divided as to their opinions regarding the death of the Duke, Arthur Rockford Manby. It was said and talked about much (growing up) that Manby was seen alive in England years later. I recently had lunch with my mother, Bonnie Furgason and tried to tactfully share your article since it is a sensitive subject with her. She seemed to be inspired but her shame and disgust surfaced. She said with confidence and certainty that Manby's death was faked and that he lived on. She said it in such a way as to defend this man; as if she had some kind of connection with him. The tone of her words and her insistence that Manby was not the gentleman who introduced Teresita to Back Magic. Teresita was only fifteen when she began a relationship with Manby. She had three children out of wedlock. The rumor amongst the community at that time was that the children were manby's. When she finally did go to prison the children went to an orphanage. When she got out of prison, my grandfather Columbus went back to live with Teresita.

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    3. Thanks for sharing what you know about this story. Yes, I can imagine it's a difficult subject for anyone who had ties to it.

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    4. Mark, my name is Katie Hildebrand. My dad, Mark and his two brother's were adopted. Their biological father was Christopher, I believe. His mother was a woman named Joy. I know his father is deceased, but his biological mother is still alive (they have met). Teresita was his grandmother. I am extremely interested in finding out more about my heritage. I have a copy of To possess the land. I have just begun my research into my dad's biological family. I would love to learn more if any of you are willing to help. My dad was the youngest of the 3 boy's. I have no idea if anyone remembers them? He was not adopted until 9. His two siblings were adopted before him and they were kept together. Please email me if you would like to help. I would greatly appreciate it.
      Thank you so very much,
      Katie
      mumawk@aol.com or mumawk@gmail.com

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    5. Mark, my name is Katie Hildebrand. My dad, Mark and his two brother's were adopted. Their biological father was Christopher, I believe. His mother was a woman named Joy. I know his father is deceased, but his biological mother is still alive (they have met). Teresita was his grandmother. I am extremely interested in finding out more about my heritage. I have a copy of To possess the land. I have just begun my research into my dad's biological family. I would love to learn more if any of you are willing to help. My dad was the youngest of the 3 boy's. I have no idea if anyone remembers them? He was not adopted until 9. His two siblings were adopted before him and they were kept together. Please email me if you would like to help. I would greatly appreciate it.
      Thank you so very much,
      Katie
      mumawk@aol.com or mumawk@gmail.com

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    6. Hi Katie, you are welcome to contact me regarding our possible family relations. I would enjoy speaking with you. My e-mail is doglord@live.com

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    7. Mu grandad arthur manby born 3/1/1926.im unsure of mums name or dads he never mentioned them

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  2. Mark, My name is Jon Anaya and my mother is a Ferguson, daughter of Edward Wilbur Ferguson, niece of George Ferguson who were the nephews of Teresita Ferguson. My mother recalls meeting Teresita on one or two occasions and recalls seeing a crystal ball covered by a black cloth. Several years ago, I came across the book entitled 'To possess the Land' after researching New Mexico family history. The book is written about Manby and Teresita's involvement in the mines.

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    1. Hi Jon, at one time i owned a copy of 'To Possess The Land'. I have only read parts of the book. My mother does speak of the crystal ball. I understand that Teresita (my great grandmother) was not flippant about her use of the crystal ball or tara cards etc. but when implored she would share the 'craft' with my mother and my aunt Emma. Although after seeing the face of Benjamin Franklin in the crystal ball, upon request, my aunt Emma was said to have never returned to the house. I have done my share of research into my family background and history. I could tell you stories that would give you nightmares or chills up and down your spine. Although i do not know everything about Teresita, i could tell you things that you don't want to know or wouldn't believe. As a practitioner of Demonology & Exorcism i've come to terms with who i am and where i come from...

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  3. One AA Cummins, who claimed to have known Manby for 30 odd years, was reported in a contemporary newspaper as saying that Manby had faked his own death, and was waiting to get a fake passport made so that he could return to his native England. The flag waving on the roof is a bizarre part of the whole story.

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    1. My grandad was arthur manby born 3/1/1926

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