Juan Manuel de Solórzano

Juan Manuel de Solórzano

By David Ellison

Juan Manuel de Solorzano


“Oh, fortunate you who knows the hour of his death!”


The legend of Juan Manuel had its roots in history, but blossomed into a macabre horror story, a morphing of Othello, Jack the Ripper, and Scrooge.

Juan Manuel arrived in New Spain in 1623, taking up residence on Calle Uruguay 94 in Mexico City. Due to his immense wealth, notable acumen and easy charm, he quickly ingratiated himself with the Viceroy (one of Cortéz’ successors) and became his powerful private secretary. Of course, this earned Juan Manuel many jealous enemies, especially among the Audiencia, or royal court, which served as a check on the Viceroy’s power. They repeatedly tried to bring Juan Manuel down to no avail…until they discovered his Achilles Heel: He was a jealous man. (And this is where the story veers off into an incredible but fascinating tale.)

Juan Manuel’s much younger wife, Mariana, was outrageously beautiful. But she’d failed to provide him with an heir.

Despondent, desperate, Juan Manuel invited his trusted nephew over from Spain to manage his affairs, and then retired to the local Franciscan monastery to beseech God.

Juan Manuel’s enemies cackled in glee. They crafted ingenious, insidious ways to, little by little, convince Juan Manuel that Mariana was being unfaithful during his absence, perhaps even with his nephew.

Juan Manuel seethed with irrational anger and jealousy. He vowed he would murder the man, whoever he was, if only he could learn his identity!

Lucifer was eager to oblige, but the cost would be dear: Juan Manuel’s very soul. Once Juan Manuel had foolishly agreed, the Devil gave him his instructions: Juan Manuel was to leave the monastery late at night, just before 11 pm. He should accost the first gentleman he came upon and ask the time. If that man answered correctly, then Juan Manuel would have found Mariana’s lover.

Dressed in a black cape and a hat with large, dark feathers obscuring his face, Juan Manuel did as he was told that very night. He approached a gentleman and asked him the time.

“Why, eleven o’clock,” the fellow replied amiably.

“Oh, fortunate you,” Juan Manuel blurted out, “who knows the hour of his death!” And with that, he drew his dagger, the blade glinting in the moonlight, and plunged it into the hapless man’s heart.

Juan Manuel returned to his home, cackling with malevolent delight. He’d had his vengeance!

Only, not really. The Great Deceiver, Lucifer, appeared again and, cackling himself, informed Juan Manuel that he’d fooled him. Juan Manuel had killed an innocent man. But, if he continued murdering men, one each night at 11 pm, eventually he’d get his revenge.

Juan Manuel, blind with frustrated rage, did so, each time calling out, “Oh, fortunate you who knows the hour of his death!”

Terror ruled the city; until one morning the police brought to Juan Manuel the body of his own nephew, stabbed in the heart.

Oh, so late, Juan Manuel awoke from his madness. Overwhelmed by horror and remorse, he fled to the monastery.

The friar, after hearing the whole sordid tale, replied, “There is only one way to reclaim redemption. For three nights, you must go to the Plaza Mayor (Zócalo), kneel at the foot of the gallows there, and pray the rosary.”

The first night, as Juan Manuel knelt, a demonic voice joined him in his prayer.

The second, Juan Manuel beheld a funeral procession of evil specters carrying his own coffin.

No one knows what happened on the final night. But one October morning in 1641, the people of Mexico City awoke to find Juan Manuel’s body dangling from the gallows. Many surmised that God’s angels had carried out this ultimate act of hideous atonement. Others claimed it was merely members of the Audiencia, who’d finally had their way.

Regardless, today in Mexico City at Calle Uruguay 94, a plaque identifies the house of Juan Manuel de Solórzano (where, some claim, a man in a dark cape still haunts).

The best time to visit is 11 pm, of course. And, if someone passes by, you’ll know what to say.


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This is a selection from Ellison’s forthcoming book, Niños Héroes: The Fascinating Stories Behind Mexican Street Names.


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