Henry Debosnys: madman? Genius? Murderer? The truth, incredibly, is still out there.
A pictographic language inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics. A blend of six languages, among them Latin, Portuguese, and Greek. A collection of strange and mournful sketches, possibly hiding clues to his life—and to his sordid past.
The crime was grisly enough. His newlywed wife, married just two months earlier in June 1882, found dead in the woods near Westport, New York, garroted straight across her neck. And though he denied it, Debosnys was seen leaving the scene of the crime, hiding from the main roads, acting in a most unusual way.
Can you crack the code of a killer? Read now.
Found, arrested, and tried shortly thereafter, it didn’t take long to convict him—only a mere nine minutes. But what has taken historians much, much longer is sifting through the bizarre, often impenetrable shroud surrounding Debosnys’ life. In her book Adirondack Enigma: The Depraved Intellect & Mysterious Life of North Country Wife Killer Henry Debosnys , author Cheri L. Farnsworth explores the mysterious life of this secretive stranger, but importantly, leaves a portion of the mystery for the rest of us.
Born in France, Debosnys emigrated to the United States as a young man, but reports of his origin and upbringing offer little clues to who he was or how he was raised. What is clear is that he seems to have left a trail of dead wives in his wake—Betsey Wells was, in fact, his third, a well-to-do widow whom he apparently married out of greed, then murdered out of anger that she refused to share her estate with him while she lived.
But here’s the thing: once in prison, not only did Debosnys repeatedly proclaim his innocence, and mourn his lost love, but he began to produce a body of work that defies the imagination. His oeuvre, completed before he was executed for the crime (the last man to be hanged in Essex County), includes bizarre sketches, long and passionate poems, and most famously of all, the puzzling ciphers that still elude us today—ciphers that far transcend the other codes criminals have used.
Such codes are rarely impenetrable, even if they take years to decipher. Farnsworth, passionate about the story, has tried a few different approaches, but calls on the readers of her book to help—such efforts are much more likely to succeed with a team of minds working on the problem. The question is, what could lay inside his scribblings? A confession? A map to evidence proving his innocence? Until the code is cracked, it’s impossible to say.
What do you think? Take a look at the samples we’ve excerpted here, and see for yourself if you can make any sense. For more examples, and for a recap of previous efforts, Farnsworth’s book has all the details—as well as the incredible account of how his papers survived so many years, forgotten in a New York attic. We’re as eager as you are to get to the bottom of this—so happy codebreaking, and don’t’ forget to let us know what you find!