The Land of Enchantment is perhaps America’s greatest secret. Its landscapes and skies are so stunning that it is almost as though you were on some strange, distant planet. But for all of its light and beauty, there is an equal amount of darkness.
While Albuquerque has long been under the thrall of organized crime and the wanton violence that follows it, most of the state is relatively peaceful, most of the time. So when grisly murders do occur outside the big city, there is nothing to blame but unadulterated individual depravity. Perhaps, as native legends have warned, there is something sinister in the land that can possess people of a terrifying inner demon. Or maybe it is just a tradition built on the terrifying genocides that both Spanish and American colonizers unleashed here over the past 5oo years. New Mexico does love its traditions.
1. Arthur Rochford Manby
The mysterious alleged death of the most hated man in Taos is one of New Mexico’s most puzzling crimes. So puzzling, in fact, that it is still not even known whether Manby was the murderer of the decapitated remains found in his home on July 3, 1929, or if he was the corpse.
The circumstances that brought Manby from England to New Mexico are themselves a mystery. But what is known is that once he settled into Taos he earned his nefarious reputation as cruel con man through numerous shady dealings ranging from participation in a notorious massacre to the selling of fake land deeds to unsuspecting pioneers. On top of that he was an abrasive loner, so the only relationships he forged were of the enemy type.
Because of this it was immediately suspected that the murder was staged, and that Manby had either killed the badly mutilated and decomposed body in his home, or dragged it there after someone else did the killing, in order to escape the legal repercussions and vengeance he had spent years building against himself. Even though his dentist claimed the corpse was indeed Manby, the matter was never fully resolved. Neither was the murder, as nobody in the community wanted it solved, believing that the death of Manby was itself the ultimate justice.
2. Phillip E. Jockle
Many people will argue that drowning and burning are the worst way to die, but what really keeps me up at night is an ironic death. One that steals both your life and dignity in the same act. Unfortunately this is what happened to Jockle, who brought a gun to a knife fight, and lost.
On July 2nd, 1981, the lifeless body of Jockle was found lying face up in an undeveloped area of Albuquerque. His pockets were turned inside out, meaning the senseless violence was most likely part of a desperate, botched robbery for whatever walking around money Phillip had on him. His leather belt identified him as ‘Phil J Jr.’, and attached to his belt was an empty gun holster, probably emptied and taken by the robber after stabbing poor Jockle to death.
3. Norma Denise Sahm
Speaking of irony, what could be more horrifying than knowing a person who had taken a vow to serve and protect their community was the same person responsible for the murder of an at risk teen almost twenty years earlier? That is probably what happened to Sahm, whose suspected murderer had since become a deputy of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, part of the same jurisdiction she had been killed in, when authorities were eventually able to link the deputy to the crime.
Unfortunately, as you will also see in a few other cases below, New Mexico law is infuriatingly inept at snaring the most violent of offenders. The unnamed deputy who was suspected, but never convicted, was 14 years old at the time of the crime, which mostly likely took place with an accomplice. In 1987, when the murder happened, New Mexico law dictated that a person must be 15 to be tried as an adult in the state’s courts. In 1996 the law lowered the age to 14, but only for crimes that took place after the law had been passed.
The suspected deputy and his cohort had been the last ones to see Norma alive and were originally considered suspects, or persons of interest in the case, but had likely not been charged given the difficulty in trying minors for murder in the court system. Only 17 years later did new evidence come to light which removed any doubt of guilt in most people’s minds. So justice not only failed Sahm in 1987, but then again years later when her likely murderer became a corrupted agent of justice himself and escaped prosecution a second time.
To add insult to irony, Sahm also became the subject of a bizarre conspiracy theory which claims that she was killed because she was directly descended from the bloodline of Jesus. You know, with all the kids he had, and whatnot.
4. Stephane Murphey
This case, more than any other I read about while researching this article, illustrates a blatant failure of New Mexico law to bring repeat violent offenders to justice and protect the citizens the laws were enacted to keep safe.
On April 15th, 1999 Murphey was last seen alive by neighbors as she left to run some errands. Four days later her body was found in her car, which had been abandoned in an apartment parking lot, where the odor of decay had alerted residents and caused them to notify police. Investigators then confirmed that she had been robbed, raped, and strangled to death by her own workout pants in her home, then driven around for four days by her killer in her car before he callously dumped them both in the parking lot sometime in the early hours of April 19th.
It was not until 2002 that David Bologh was identified as the killer, which critics say was a result of repeated displays of incompetence evident in the police investigation. It was four years later when he was sentenced on a shoddy plea agreement by prosecutors to 21 years imprisonment for second degree murder, of which less than 9 were actually served.
On January 16, 2015 Bologh was released from prison, despite everyone involved believing he was likely to kill again, due to the inadequacies of laws, enforcers and prosecutors alike. Just months later the supervised parolee became involved in a relationship with an old acquaintance, and by the end of July neighbors had called the police to report what they believed to be an assault in the home the two now shared. By violating his parole he landed himself back in prison by the end of the year, luckily, before he was able to do any greater damage.
However these violations won’t keep him locked up forever, and Bologh will undoubtedly have a few good raping, robbing and killing years left in him when he is eventually released again. Which, given the inability of New Mexico law to protect people from psychopaths like him, probably won’t be too long now.
5. Cindy “Tig” Rivera
Of course, if the law is impotent in keeping the truly bad guys locked away, so too are its enforcers sometimes grossly inadequate at getting them in a courtroom in the first place, even when the killer is well known in the community.
When driving around Las Vegas, New Mexico (The original Las Vegas, you damned Sin City blowhards!), as I am wont to do since I live here, you will see signs posted along major roadways by dedicated family members who refuse to give up on their beloved Tig. Her family and friends can be seen at parades and other local events, keeping the memory of their lost loved one alive, in hopes that eventually somebody will reveal something that makes it impossible to deny the identity of her killer any longer.
Tig’s body has never been found, and some sources suggest it lies buried somewhere remote in the high desert plains of northeast New Mexico. Finding her grave could provide all the evidence needed to make an arrest and conviction of Rivera’s ex-husband, who had shown up drunkenly at the place she was staying on the night she disappeared. There is also plenty of other circumstantial evidence, including a confession the bedraggled killer made to his family after returning home the next day, which made its way back to the victim’s family almost immediately. It is pretty widely accepted in Las Vegas that he was the killer, but police have been unable to find any evidence, and family members believe that their efforts have not been up to par.
As a rule of thumb, women who are murdered are almost always killed by a current or former partner. And in a place like New Mexico where patriarchal traditions run deep, a man who kills his wife can often stand behind the ol’ boys club and get away with it, so long as enough evidence doesn’t pile up to force the male dominated system to act on it.
6. Carlos “Rags” Garver
Women are not the only victims susceptible to the blind spots of justice. The streets of Albuquerque can often be a death sentence for homeless people who become targets of senseless sport killings, as was the sad case for Rags.
In the early morning hours of March 5th, 1988 a fire was reported in an alley, which led to the discovery of the charred remains of a locally well known destitute eccentric. So beaten down by the world and jaded had he become that he had simply laid there dying for hours, not even using his voice to call for help in saving his own life, or stirring from his makeshift home. By the time the fire was noticed and help had arrived, he was already gone.
Even though witnesses later came forward to claim that they had seen teenage boys dumping an unknown accelerant on the victim before setting him on fire and running off into the night, nobody was ever made to answer for his death. In all likelihood the death of a homeless man probably failed to prompt a detailed investigation, and Rags’s death, like his life, was allowed to slip away into the margins where it was easily ignored and forgotten.
7. Barry Scott Brewster
In a state where conservative values are the overwhelming norm you might expect homosexual victims of violence to receive the same kind of public and legal apathy women and the itinerant face, and the case Barry Scott Brewster just might be an example of that.
On July 16, 1998, the 26 year old Brewster’s deceased body was discovered by a jogger, lying naked underneath an Albuquerque bridge. He had been badly beaten, but other than that, we know almost nothing about the circumstances of his death. Whether stalled by a lack of interest or a lack of evidence, the police investigation has failed to provide any clues as to what happened to Brewster.
The only other fact that stands out is that Barry had been seen earlier in the night at a gay bar, where 4 out of 6 homosexuals killed in the area since 1994 had been present the night before they were found dead. A fifth homosexual murder victim was also a regular guest at the club. This has led many to believe that a serial killer of gay men may be at work, but police deny this claim, stating that the deaths were too different to be related. They also claim to have had the FBI run a profile on the murders, which did not appear to that agency to be the work of a serial killer. The gay community remains skeptical, and many believe that their lifestyle dissuades law enforcement from taking crimes against them as seriously as they should or could.
8. The West Mesa Murders
Regardless of whether a single perpetrator was responsible for the deaths of several gay men, Albuquerque is no stranger to serial killers. In fact the West Mesa Murders are one of the most captivating unsolved serial homicides in the past few decades.
In 2009 the bodies of 11 women who had gone missing between 2001 and 2005 were discovered when an abandoned development project experienced erosion which uncovered skeletal remains. A common trait among the victims was that they had been sex workers, which is also a common theme among men who commit serial killings. However other missing women who fit the killer’s profile had also gone missing in 2006, leading investigators to believe a second burial site awaits discovery.
Earlier this year a new development project unearthed a burial site near where the original shallow graves had been found, leading to hope that the serial killer might have left evidence at the location, but it was shortly thereafter determined that the bodies found were of ancient origin, dating back almost a thousand years, and not victims of the West Mesa Murderer.
There have been several suspects linked to the killings, and compelling evidence for each of them. This suggests it could possibly have been the work of a group of killers, or that there may have been participants that did not explicitly commit the murders themselves. The case has drawn a lot of attention from local, state and federal law enforcement, and the investigation is still very active.
9. The Bowling Alley Massacre
Another grisly homicide which took the lives of multiple victims and dominated headlines, imaginations and law enforcement budgets was the Bowling Alley Massacre, which took place in Las Cruces on February 10, 1990.
That morning began like any other, with employees and the in house daycare center preparing for what they thought would be just another normal day at Las Cruces Bowl. But just as the manager was getting ready to open up, two men came in through the kitchen and rounded up the two women and two teenage girls in the office, where they shot each victim multiples times before collecting several thousand dollars in cash. As they did so another employee arrived with his two children, and the assailants fired upon all three and then attempted to set the place on fire.
Seven victims were shot, and four died from their injuries. One survivor, a teenage girl, had been shot five times, but still managed to call 911 and battle the blaze, saving the lives of two others.
Nobody has ever been arrested in the case, whose investigation was set back by accidental evidence destruction at the crime scene while the victims were being rescued. The owner of the bowling alley, who was not present at the time of the massacre, was known to locals as a shady character, and believed to be connected to organized crime and the local drug trade in some way. Many believe that it is likely he owed money to the wrong people and the robbery was not just an attempt to recoup their losses, but to send a message. The senseless nature of the killing of innocents that included children has haunted the community ever sense, and the predators responsible for this mass murder have continued to walk among them, inspiring anger and fear.
10. Albert Jennings Fountain & Henry Fountain
In 1896, before New Mexico was even a state, what is often referred to by locals as the oldest unsolved murder on the books took place in the White Sands area.
Albert was a Union veteran of the civil war who had attained a degree in law and moved to New Mexico to practice his trade. He defended Billy the Kid in an 1881 murder case, which he was unable to beat, leaving Billy to make a jailbreak to escape the end of a rope. He had taken on many other high profile cases, been involved in newspapers, and had recently won a seat on the territorial legislature. All of these made him a potential target of many of the rogues he had interacted with during his time in the wild west.
On February 1st Albert was travelling home to Messila from Lincoln with his eight year old son Henry when they disappeared near White Sands. All that was left at the scene were scattered belongings, lots of blood, and signs of a struggle, but the two bodies were never recovered.
There is little doubt that the father and son met their end that day, or shortly soon after, but there is plenty of doubt about who was responsible for the killing. Many suspects with both the means and motive were named, and a group of likely outlaws was even chased down by a posse and tried in court, but there was never sufficient evidence to make an acquittal.
The story of Albert and Henry’s assassination has become a centerpiece of New Mexico history and legend, and is a stark reminder that weaved into all of its enchantment is a thread of darkness and violence that is difficult to reconcile with all of the beauty, but even more impossible to ignore.