Henry Debosnys (1836-1883), a convicted murderer, left behind four cryptograms, which  are unsolved to date. Breaking them could shed light on the many mysteries that surround this case.

The cryptograms left behind by New York State Henry Debosnys (1836-1883) represent one of the most intriguing mysteries in crypto history. Nevertheless, they are still relatively unkown, even among crypto enthusiasts. Only few crypto experts have occupied themselves with these cryptograms so far, so chances to solve them are good.

I have reported on Debosnys and his encryptions several times before on Klausis Krypto Kolumne in German. I hope the following FAQ will draw some attention on this fascinating mystery in the English-speaking world, too.


Who was Henry Debosnys?

Henry Debosnys was alledgedly born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1836. Of French origin, he emigrated to the United States. In 1882, he settled in Essex County, NY, where he immediately started courting a widow named Elizabeth Wells. After only a few weeks, the two married. A few months later, Elizabeth Debosnys’s was found murdered.


Henry Debosnys was the main suspect in this murder case. After the local law court had found him guilty, he was hanged on April 28, 1883 in Essex County.


Henry Debosnys’ skull is on display at the Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown, NY. Debosnys had the appearance of a highly intelligent man, who was well educated and spoke several languages. He wrote poems and drew pictures. However, he was also described as a manipulative, lazy egoist, or even as an outright psychopath.


How do we know about Henry Debosnys?

The Debosnys case was almost forgotten for more than a century. The story was neither mentioned in the crypto literature nor in any true crime book. It was brought back to public attention by historical true crime author Cheri Farnsworth in her book The Adirondack Enigma (published in 2010). The information given in this FAQ is mainly taken from this book.


Was Henry Debosnys guilty?

There’s much evidence supporting that Henry Debosnys was the murderer of his wife. However, the prosecutors could not  present any eyewhitnesses or irrefutable proofs. Debosnys asserted his innocence. If the presumption of innocence had been applied properly, Debosnys had to be acquitted.

Elizabeth Wells was Debosnys’ third wife. There are doubts about his earlier spouses, too. Both of them died young and in strange circumstances. It is therefore well possible that Debosnys was a triple wife-murderer.

On court, Debosnys himself said that “Henry Debosnys” was not his real name and that he lived with a false identity. It is not clear whether he said the truth in this respect.


What about the cryptograms Debosnys left behind?

While in prison, Henry Debosnys created a number of texts, poems and pictures. Four parts of the writings he left behind are encrypted. None of these cryptograms has been to date. While it is far from sure that these encrypted messages contain anything useful, it is hoped that the cleartexts shed some light on the open questions of this case.


How does the first Debosnys cryptogram look like?

Cryptogram number 1 is a six line text written in an alphabet consisting of simple symbols.


How does the second cryptogram look like?

Here’s cryptogram number 2:



How does the third cryptogram look like?

Cryptogram number 3 is the shortest one:


How does the fourth cryptogram look like?

Cryptogram number 4 resembles an encrypted poem:



Some of my blog readers have posted interesting facts about this alledged poem. Check here for details (in German).

Further reading: An extraordinary encrypted book: George Orwell’s “1984” enciphered in color

Kommentare (9)

  1. #1 Thomas Ernst
    15. August 2016

    D’s French mistakes are phonetic, not dialectal or regional; after all, French was not his first language: participle “écouté” instead of the infinitive “écouter” (line 2), likewise “pleuré” instead of “pleurer”, “regrêté” (with an unnecessary circonflèxe) instead of “regretter”), singular “dure” for plural “dures” in line 7, “veut” statt “veux” in line 12, unnecessary grave with “nuàge”. Two specific biblical references are “vanitas”-oriented: “Le passé pour moi ne fut qu’un nuage” (Job 7, 9), “Que le vent emporte” (Salomo 5, 15).

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    15. August 2016

    David Oranchak via Facebook:
    Thank you for taking the time and effort to post English versions of your articles. Are you aware of any transcriptions of the Debosnys ciphers?

    • #3 Klaus Schmeh
      15. August 2016

      I’m not aware of a transcription. However, Olivia von Westernhagen wrote that she was working on statistical analyses of the Debosnys cryptograms. I will send her a mail and put you on cc.

  3. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    15. August 2016

    David Oranchak via Facebook:
    I’m very interested to learn what she thinks about them. I saw that Nick Pelling pointed out the difficulty in transcription, since there are many “decorative” symbols that seem to occur in clusters.

  4. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    16. August 2016

    Matt Coleman via Facebook:
    I love the Lego diorama. Many masonic symbols in the code shown.

  5. #6 Klaus Schmeh
    16. August 2016

    David Oranchak via Facebook:
    At first glance it appears that there are far too many unique symbols within the cipher texts. Even if it is a simple substitution cipher, the ratio of unique symbols to cipher length might be too high to find a unique solution. Jarlve’s AZdecrypt autosolver (https://zodiackillersite.com/viewtopic.php?f=81&t=2435) can crack substitution ciphers with ratios up to nearly 0.50.

    A good transcription may help settle this point. If the ratio is below 0.50 there’s a chance AZdecrypt or similar autosolver can crack it.

  6. #7 Klaus Schmeh
    16. August 2016

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:
    A very interesting post Klaus. Thank you for sharing and for the english version. It is interesting to see the symbolic rhymes in the poem but the high unique symbol count is rather intimidating. The fact the auther was fluent in many languages suggest that a symbol represents a linguistic phonic rather than a letter/word association.
    Also the lego is an awesome touch. 🙂

  7. #8 Renederberserker
    19. August 2016

    Guten tag. Mir ist aufgefallen dass der Würfel in cryptogram Nr.2 Fehlerhaft ist. Die gegenüberliegenden Zahlen ergeben bei einem Spielwürfel immer 7. Bei diesem Würfel liegt die 1 neben der 6. 🙂

    • #9 Klaus Schmeh
      19. August 2016

      Stimmt, das entspricht nicht einem üblichen Spielwürfel.