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Mysterious wife killer once again a topic

April 2, 2010
ERIC VOORHIS, News Staff Writer

     LAKE PLACID — Two years ago, Cheri Farnsworth visited the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown to photograph two pieces of their collection — the decaying skull of murderer Henry Debosnys and the rope used to hanged him on April 28, 1883.

    Farnsworth, who had been to the museum countless times to do research on the subject, was trying to get a good image of Debosnys skull for her new book, “Adirondack Enigma: the depraved intellect and mysterious life of North Country wife killer Henry Debosnys,” which she had been working on for the last eight years. The book was released by the History Press in March.

    Henry Debosnys, at the center of this true historical crime book, was a visitor to the North Country, arriving by yacht into Essex in the spring of 1882. The mysterious foreigner, of French origin, quickly convinced a widowed mother of four named Elizabeth “Betsey” Wells to marry him. Only two months after they wed she was found dead, shot twice and her throat slashed.

    Debosnys was arrested for the murder, of which he was almost certainly guilty, and was sentenced to hang.

    The most compelling parts of “Adirondack Enigma” described what followed — the strange and twisted story of a genius, who could speak six different languages and was a master cryptographer, revealing himself to the public through poetry, sketches and a short biography, all written from his jail cell.

    According to Farnsworth — who will appear 4 to 6 p.m. this Saturday at the Bookstore Plus for a signing — the tale and mystery of Debosnys is not well known in the area, although, at the time, it was covered with astonishing detail by local and national newspapers.

    In her new book she has taken everything she could find about the case, including newspaper clippings, first-person accounts of the events, never-before-seen evidence and reproductions of Debosnys’ poetry and unsolved cryptograms, and structured them into a narrative, spanning the time of Debosnys arrival in Essex to his death.

    “Adirondack Enigma” isn’t a horror book. It’s not meant to shock the reader or induce nausea, but rather to lay out, for the first time ever, all the facts about Henry Debosnys.

    The book leaves enormous questions unanswered, such as the most fundamental of all: Who was Henry Debosnys, really?

    But Farnsworth never claims to have all the answers. Just the opposite.

    “My job isn’t to play a mediator and determine which source is more accurate,” writes Farnsworth in the introduction, “but to provide as many details as feasible from the earliest possible sources.”

    In a recent interview, Farnsworth said her hope with the book was for someone to pick up where she left off and discover more about Debosnys.

    “My goal was to lay out all the facts as comprehensively as possible,” Farnsworth said. “I want someone out there to figure out exactly who he was.”

    The biggest clue of all, according to Farnsworth, may be the cryptograms left by Debosnys, the hundreds of symbols and drawings he created in jail that link him to the Free Masons or perhaps the French military. The cryptograms remain unsolved but the back cover of the book echoes “The DaVinci Code,” a popular Dan Brown novel, asking: “Who will solve the Debosnys code?”

    Farnsworth works full time as a secretary, and said she enjoys writing and researching as a hobby in her free time, “especially the research.” She also said she came to admire the intellect of Debosnys, got in his head at times, but didn’t write the book to glorify him.

    “I didn’t do this because he’s a great guy,” Farnsworth said. “But you can’t ignore how interesting a case it is.”




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