Matt Sleeper was fighting against the current of the Kennebec River when he lost sight of his best friend, Mark Henry. The men were in trouble and struggling to survive during a July boating accident in Anson.

Sleeper, 63, and Henry, 72, were looking forward to a cool ride on a hot July day. They’d try out Henry’s new fan boat, which was equipped with a 500-horsepower motor and docked within sight of Henry’s river house in Anson. A fan boat has a flat bottom with a large propeller that’s powered by a car motor.

Henry was at the controls when the boat went out of control, casting both he and Sleeper into the river. They drifted away from each other as the boat took on water and began sinking in the mayhem.

“The boat was dangerous; it wasn’t right,” Sleeper said in a recent interview. Henry had just gotten it and didn’t have a lot of experience with it, according to Sleeper.

He regrets that neither of them were wearing life vests.

Henry died in that July 5 accident, when he was “doing what he loved,” according to his obituary.


With his “River House” at his back, owner Mark Henry enjoys the shade and view over the Kennebec River as a worker repairs the roof in Anson on June 21. Henry, a Vietnam veteran, hosted karaoke and a donation-only bar at the property. “You don’t see a Uhaul behind a hearse and you can’t take it with you,” said Henry, who would die 15 days later in a boating accident. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

I just so happened to visit Henry 15 days before the accident.

“You don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse,” Henry lamented while soaking in his view over the Kennebec River. The river runs next to Route 8, below Henry’s beloved “River House” in Anson. A red canopy over Henry provided him cool relief against a muggy June day. He was having roof work done and looking forward to hosting guests for karaoke or a cold beer.

I was curious, so I stopped in to say hello and ask to shoot a few photos. Henry was happy to show me around. We started inside by his Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was parked by the karaoke machine next to the bar. Drinks were served on a donation-only basis said Henry as we walked around.

He showed me the trail that runs along the old railroad bed behind the River House. It’s very popular with the snowmobilers, Henry said. Motorcycles line the grassy parking areas during warmer months, he pointed out with pride. Henry welcomed all.

Before I drove away, I thanked him for the photos. He’d hoped I’d return for karaoke or a ride on his boat. The photos and memory were quickly filed away before Henry became the subject of a news story about the tragic incident.



Mark Henry’s ashes are scattered over the Kennebec River by his son, Rick Cody, during a celebration of Henry’s life in Anson on July 15. In the background, from left, are Henry’s son, Chris Bothwell, along with friends Matt Sleeper and his wife, Kathy Sleeper, Henry’s girlfriend Debbie Brewall and Henry’s niece, Kathie Casey. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel


Sleeper recently recounted details of the ordeal. Weighted down by his steel toed work boots, and bound by wet clothing, Sleeper tried to swim back for his friend, but the water was too powerful. It pulled Sleeper down and took him in the opposite direction.

“I looked for shore and it was a long ways off,” he said. “I thought of my wife, Kathy. And I thought this is not going to happen. I barely made it to shore that day. I turned around and looked but Mark was gone.”

He first tried to back-paddle back to Henry, but it felt like he had a brick on each foot. He was forced to spin around in the current, let his feet dangle and used his hands to paddle downstream. Sleeper angled toward the river’s edge and strained to grab a low hanging tree branch that he’d use to pull himself out of the water and up the steep bank. A 911 call had already been made.

Friends and family members of Mark Henry look at photos and share stories July 15 during a celebration of his life at the American Legion in Madison. From left are Susan Roy, Cathie Casey, Liz Pratt, Tonya Clark and Rick Cody. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“Mark was a great friend of mine. He was my best friend. Me and him was buddies, like two peas in a pod,” Sleeper said.

The pair shared a common interest in cars and trucks. They’d made plans to look at a car the following day in Greenville. Sleeper would look the vehicle over and make sure it was OK, then Henry would make a deal with the seller. Sleeper wouldn’t take money from Henry. Lunch and beer were always payment enough.


Sleeper was sitting in his Pontiac GTO at the VFW in Madison when Henry pulled up in a big four-wheel drive truck. It was souped-up, Sleeper remembers. It was the first time they’d met.

Hey, you want to race that for the keys?” Sleeper recalls Henry saying. “And after I take your GTO, I’ll go in and buy you a beer.”

Sleeper declined to race but went in and had a cold beer on Henry, anyway.


More than 100 friends and family members of Henry gathered recently at the American Legion in Madison and at the River House in Anson to celebrate his life.

Henry wasn’t afraid to be himself. He lived life in the moment and to the beat of his own drum. His friends and family understood; however, that doesn’t make losing him any easier. It wasn’t even unexpected that he died doing what he did best, enjoying life.


Family members of Mark Henry take photos during a celebration of his life July 15 at the American Legion in Madison. From left is Tammy Drake, John McElrath, Debbie Brewall, Rick Cody, Judi Croteau, Tonya Clark and Susan Roy. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“Mark and I were very close, we fought constantly as kids, then we got close and loved each other,” said his older sister, Judi Croteau.

After serving as a pararescue soldier in Vietnam, he moved to Florida. He was there for 50 years. The family grew up in a house above the river by the firehouse in Anson. An inheritance enabled Henry to buy the River House about four years ago.

“He always wanted to come back to the river,” Croteau said. “He liked to do his own thing. He had a heart of gold. He’d help anybody. He couldn’t stand to see a veteran in need. He’d let people stay at the River House in Anson while he wintered in Florida.”

Henry was a gifted mechanic and could fix almost anything, family said. As a teenager, he maintained three motorcycles and held a job at a gas station, remembers his younger brother, John Henry.

John said he would take Mark’s motorcycles out for rides while he was gone, leaving Mark to wonder why the fuel levels were low.

Mark Henry was on the road most of the time and was always trying to make some money. He owned bars, auto body shops and towing companies. He was an auto technician and did body work.


Daughter Tonya Clark said Henry had five children, each from a different woman.

“This is ‘Jerry Springer Maine,’” chuckled Henry’s son, John. “He was good looking and had game.”

Henry made sure the kids and mothers knew each other and it was a positive thing, said Clark. A photo of the siblings was taken at the River House to mark the occasion.

It was the first time they’d all been together at the same time.

Rich Abrahamson is a Morning Sentinel photojournalist. 

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