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8:35am — Magdalena Man Found Dead in Mine Shaft

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cause of death still unknown, but police believe 53-year-old’s death was accidental.

A 53-year-old Magdalena man was found dead at the bottom of a 65-foot mine shaft in Patterson Canyon about 4 1/2 miles south of Magdalena, El Defensor Chieftain is reporting.

The body of David E. Heiss was recovered from the bottom of the Iron Mask Mine around 6 p.m. Friday by a State Police dive team, Magdalena Marshal Larry Cearley told El Defensor Chieftain.

Cearley told the paper that autopsy results weren’t immediately available, but he said he suspected Heiss’ death was accidental.


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“He was trying to work the mine and may have filed a claim, or was about to file a claim,” Cearley said. “I think he probably got down in the mine and couldn’t get out.”

People present when the body was recovered thought Heiss may have been dead about a month, Cearley told El Defensor Chieftain.

Cearley said that on July 22 two people spotted smoke in Patterson Canyon and when they went to investigate, they found a man who appeared agitated by their presence and he ran them off, the paper reported.

When Cearley, Deputy Ed Sweeney and two investigators with the District Attorney’s Office in Truth or Consequences, went to investigate, they met Heiss, who told them he planned to file a claim on the mine and showed them a frame over the mine’s opening from which he hung a rope by which he would lower himself, El Defensor Chieftain said.

Because the Iron Mask Mine is located in the Cibola National Forest and is public land, the party left him to go about his business, Cearley told the paper.

“I think he just wanted to be left alone,” Cearley said. “He had put up signs he had painted warning people to stay away.”

Family members told Cearley it wasn’t unusual for Heiss to disappear for extended periods of time, but when Heiss’ truck was found stuck in an arroyo near the mine in mid-August and when Heiss’ home in Magdalena was found locked with a padlock, search and rescue teams from New Mexico Tech and from around the state began an organized search.

“Friday, at 6 a.m., we lowered a guy into the mine in a basket, and he found the body about 65 feet floating in about 8 to 10 feet of water,” Cearley told the paper.

The mine once had been used by the Clarence Barrett Mining Corporation, but had been abandoned for decades — just one of hundreds of mines in the Magdalena Mountains that hadn’t been sealed off after being abandoned, Cearley said.

Heiss, a longtime resident of Magdalena who was married with three children, may have been mining for gold, but copper, zinc and lead are more common minerals found in the area, the marshal told El Defensor Chieftain.