One day in 2021, a married couple looking to buy a 27,000-square-foot former Buddhist monastery in Boulder asked the sellers about a disturbing rumor they had heard.
A neighbor had grown irate, the story went, and poisoned the monastery’s water well. But it was only a tall tale — “a false threat from environmental activists” — the couple was told.
Fifteen minutes northwest of downtown Boulder, at 500 Arroyo Chico Road, is one odd mansion. Built by an eccentric inventor and entrepreneur to be an off-the-grid monastery, it includes a 30-car garage, 7,000-square-foot deck, solar panels, cistern and greenhouse.
That appealed to Nicholas and Tatiana Becker, a health-conscious couple with two young children in search of rural living. Especially important to them was clean water — specifically, water free of chlorine. They had reason to believe the monastery would be ideal.
For one, the founder of a water purification company built the monastery. Howard Selby III, who goes by Binx, created the word processor company NBI in a Boulder garage in the 1970s. Among his many other later companies was PureCycle, which makes purification systems. He is also the author of dieting books and runs a nutrition clinic in Arizona with his wife, Linda Jade Fong.
Selby bought hundreds of cheap acres in Boulder’s Fourmile Canyon while a student at the University of Colorado, then sold or developed them for decades after. In the 1990s, he built the monastery at 500 Arroyo Chico over the outcries of an environmentalist group called Residents Against Inappropriate Development, or RAID, that he accused of using radical tactics.
As the Beckers toured that monastery with Selby, Fong and realtors in 2021, there were red flags, the Beckers said in a recent lawsuit. A realtor refused to say why a prior sale fell through. Selby and Fong drank bottled water inside. And, of course, there was that poisoning rumor.
But the sellers and their agents assured the Beckers that all was well with the water, the couple recalls. When Nicholas Becker found a disconnected water filtration system in the monastery, Selby told him the water there was so good, filtering was unnecessary, according to the lawsuit.
So, the Beckers bought it for $2.5 million in September 2021. And then they got sick.
Numbness, then pain, in their hands and feet; headaches, stomach aches and nausea; sore throats that wouldn’t go away. Their third child, born last year, has cognitive delays.
In April 2023, when the Beckers had the water below their monastery mansion tested, the causes of their agony were found: “extremely dangerous levels of arsenic and unsafe levels of uranium,” they say. A filtration system alleviated some symptoms. Others remain.
“Each of the Beckers face increased risk of cancer for the rest of their lives,” their lawyers wrote in a lawsuit Sept. 8, “based on their 20 months of arsenic poisoning.”
The couple is suing Selby, Fong, two Compass real estate agents, the agents’ manager, and Compass itself for allegedly lying about the water at 500 Arroyo Chico. Their lawsuit, filed in Boulder, does not say how much money the Beckers believe they are owed. It also doesn’t theorize on whether the arsenic occurred naturally or was dumped there.
RAID, the anti-Selby environmentalist group, was led by Naomi Rachel, an activist and professor at the University of Colorado. Reached by email this week, Rachel said any suggestion that her group poisoned the well at 500 Arroyo Chico is untrue.
“Do you know anyone who has uranium in their tool shed?” she asked rhetorically. “Arsenic in their pantry?”
Phone calls, text messages and emails sent to Selby, Fong and their clinic were not answered.
A corporate spokesman for Compass declined to comment. The three Compass agents being sued — Eva Marie, Brenda Eisinga and James David Keith — did not return emails.
The Beckers are represented by lawyers Eric Olson and Abigail Hinchcliff with the Denver firm Olson Grimsley Kawanabe Hinchcliff and Murray, which was founded this month.
This story was reported by our partner BusinessDen.