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    Fredericton , N. B.

   Hon. J. E. Hetherington ,
Provincial Secretary Treasurer,
New Brunswick.

By Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Province of New Brunswick, bearing date the eleventh day of October, A. D., 1922, I was appointed a Commissioner under Chapter 12 of the Consolidated Statutes of New Brunswick, 1903, respecting Investigations by Commission, and Departmental Inquiries, and was authorized and required by the said Commission to investigate and enquire into the matter of the execution of Bennie Swim and the conduct of officials taking part therein, which Commission is annexed to this report.

   Upon receipt of the Commission, I appointed Thursday, the second day of November, A.D. 1922 at ten o'clock in the forenoon at the County Court House at Woodstock , New Brunswick, as the time and place for entering upon the investigation.

   I obtained a list of the persons present at the execution of Bennie Swim and summoned or requested the following persons to be present and give evidence:-


   The investigation was held at Woodstock on November second and third, A.D. 1922 and the witnesses above named appeared and gave evidence.

   I obtained from Sheriff Albion R. Foster , the names given to him by the two hangmen employed for the purpose of carrying out the death sentence. The names given were, M. A. Doyle and F. G. Gill . I attempted to communicate with these men by letter with a view to having them attend the investigation and give evidence. After my return from Woodstock I found that my letters to these men had been returned to Fredericton while I was in Woodstock.

   While at Woodstock on the second day of November, I received the following telegram:-

   " Montreal No. 2nd-22

   J. Dickson
Woodstock, NB



   The Canadian Pacific Railway train leaves Montreal for the east at 7 P.M. If the sender of this telegram had taken that train he could have arrived in Woodstock on November third at about 1 P.M. I kept the investigation open until the afternoon of November third, but the hangman Doyle did not appear and I am fully convinced that he did not arrive in Woodstock on that day. Before leaving Woodstock I stated to the press that I would hear the evidence of either of the hangmen at Fredericton if they would appear before me there. I have had no word from either of them since.

   Hon. W. P. Jones , K. C. appeared as counsel for Sheriff Albion R. Foster and T. C. L. Ketchum , Esquire, appeared as counsel for the Canadian Prisoners' Welfare Association .

   The stenographic report of the evidence and proceedings if returned herewith.

   When Bennie Swim was sentenced to hang, the Sheriff at once proceeded to secure the services of a hangman. He states that he first endeavored to secure the services of Arthur Ellis , who has been carrying out the death sentence in different parts of Canada for some years and who has become looked upon as the official hangman of Canada. He was unable to secure the services of Ellis. Ellis recommended a man named Holmes, who has also been the official hangman at many executions in Canada. The sheriff endeavored to secure the services of Holmes but without success. He then appealed to the Sheriff of Montreal and on the recommendations of the Sheriff of Montreal and of the Governor of the Gaol at Montreal, he employed a man, who gave his name as M. A. Doyle to carry out the execution. To make sure that a capable man would be on hand he employed a man named F. G. Gill as a substitute. Gill was also well recommended. I am fully satisfied that the sheriff did all in his power to have a capable man on hand to carry out the execution.

   Both hangmen, Doyle and Gill, arrived in Woodstock several days before the day set for Swim's execution. Gill stayed at the gaol and Doyle stayed at an hotel in Woodstock. On the evening before the execution Doyle went to the gaol and both hangmen stayed there until after the execution the next morning.

   All of the witnesses examined by me were agreed as to the main facts regarding the execution. I will outline the facts concerning which there was no dispute and will later deal with certain matters which require special attention.

   At about five o'clock on the morning of October sixth, Sheriff Foster notified the persons who were assembled at the gaol, that the time had arrived for carrying out the execution. The hangman Doyle went to Swim's cell and placed the handcuffs on Swim. Swim then walked to the scaffold with Doyle and Gill on either side of him and Deputy Sheriff Mooers following. Doyle, Gill, and Deputy Sheriff Mooers went up to the scaffold with Swim. Doyle placed the black cap on Swim, arranged the noose about his neck and sprung the trap. After two or three minutes the door of the pit was opened and Dr. Thomas W. Griffin, the gaol physician, Drs. L. DeC. McIntosh and N. P. Grant, who had been requested by the Sheriff to be present, and a visiting doctor, entered the pit. Doyle, Gill, Deputy Sheriff Mooers and some others also went into the pit. Swim's body was hanging suspended by the rope with the feet about a foot from the ground, Swim was unconscious. The doctors proceeded to examine the body. After they had made an examination Gill cut the rope by which the body was suspended. I will refer to the circumstances under which the rope was cut later. Deputy Sheriff Mooers supported the body in his arms as the rope was cut. This would be about two or three minutes after the doctors had entered the pit and between five and eight minutes after the trap had been sprung. The body was then carried out to the corridor of the gaol and placed on a cot. It was there examined again by the doctors. It was found that Swim's neck had not been broken by the fall and that he was breathing. Dr. McIntosh and Dr. Grant remained with Dr. Griffin for between twenty and thirty minutes after the body had been placed on this cot. During this time the body was examined by the doctors from time to time and their opinion is that the pulse was beating stronger and the breathing improving. Dr. Griffin remained there and continued to examine the body from time to time and came to the conclusion that Swim would live or that there was a chance of recovery. He notified the Sheriff of his decision and Swim's Body was carried to the scaffold again by Deputy Sheriff Mooers and the hangman Gill. The noose was placed about his neck by Gill and the trap sprung. The neck was badly broken by this second fall. After about nineteen minutes the lifeless body was cut down and delivered to relatives for burial. Between three-quarters of an hour and one hour elapsed between the first and second hanging. Swim never regained consciousness from the time the trap was first sprung until his death.

   The evidence of the doctors can leave no doubt in one's mind that life was nearly extinct at the time the rope was cut and that Swim would have died from strangulation within a few minutes if allowed to remain hanging. The question at once arises, under whose authority did Gill cut the rope? Dr. McIntosh states that while he was talking with Dr. Grant he heard someone say "Cut him down." The voice sounded like Doyle's. He turned around and Gill was cutting the rope. Others state that they heard Doyle make other statements such as, "He's dead as a door- nail" about this time. Dr. Griffin states that he gave no order to cut the body down and none of the persons present heard such an order given by Dr. Griffin or by any other person except Doyle. It appears that Doyle was very officious at this time and it was necessary for the Sheriff to request him to go to the gaol. I have come to the conclusion that it was on Doyle's order that the rope was cut. One can readily understand how some incident or some remark overheard by him may have led him to the conclusion that the doctors had agreed that Swim was dead. However, he should have obtained definite instructions from Dr. Griffin, the physician in charge, before giving such an order.

   Nothing was disclosed at the investigation to throw discredit on any other person taking part in the execution.

   Many reports regarding the execution have been circulated, some entirely false and others gross exaggerations of the true facts, and I feel it encumbent upon me to deal with several of these reports.

   The report has been widely circulated that Doyle was drunk when he attempted to hang Swim and that it was on account of his drunken condition that the first attempt proved unsuccessful. Eighteen of the witnesses examined by me saw Doyle at the time of the execution or just previous thereto. Of these, only one witness, Dr. N. P. Grant, was at all certain that Doyle was intoxicated. Dr. Grant states that he saw Doyle when he went to Swim's cell and at once came to the conclusion that he was intoxicated. He also saw Doyle on the way to the scaffold and noticed him stagger. Three other witnesses, Rev. H. Bragdon, Deputy Sheriff Mooers and Manzer Clark, suspected that Doyle had been drinking but were not sure. Rev. Mr. Bragdon, when asked if Doyle showed any signs of intoxication at the time of the execution, said, "Well, I can't say. I was impressed that probably he was under the influence of liquor but I do not know it." Later, when questioned on the same subject, he said, "Well in our conversation I thought he was rather an autocrat and was impressed that perhaps he was drinking. I expected he was drinking, maybe that helped me to think he was. I expected anyone that hangs a man to be drinking," and when the question was asked, "It is taken for granted, I suppose, a man ought to have a little stimulant and you were rather pre-disposed to think that he had been drinking", his answer was "I must confess it." Deputy Sheriff Mooers stated that he saw Doyle stagger once going through the hall and it struck him that there was something wrong with Doyle. Manzer Clark, when asked if Doyle appeared intoxicated at the time of the execution, said, "Well, I don't know. I met him going down the stairs. I was at the foot of the stairs. He went down all right but he looked to me like a man that was drinking maybe. I never met him before and I cannot tell you whether he was or not." All of these witnesses, including Dr. Grant, when questioned as to the extent of Doyle's intoxication, stated that he appeared perfectly capable of carrying out the death sentence. The other fourteen witnesses saw no signs of intoxication about Doyle at this time. These witnesses included Sheriff Foster, who saw and talked with Doyle frequently during the night; Dr. Griffin, who was in Swim's cell when Doyle prepared Swim for the gallows and who saw Doyle at different times during the execution; Dr. McIntosh, who talked with Doyle for two or three minutes at about one o'clock in the morning and who saw Doyle at different times during the execution; Rev. Perley Quigg, who was in Swim's cell when Doyle arrived; S. L. Lynott, the Editor of the Carleton Sentinel, who talked with Doyle for about twenty-five minutes between one and two o'clock in the morning; Moses Moore, death watch; Gladstone Perry, Warden of the County of Carleton; Edward Caldwell; Fred Seeley; Burril Hatfield; Avon Nevers; Harry Bell; and Charles Clark; all of whom saw Doyle at some time during the execution. From the evidence of these witnesses I have come to the conclusion that if Doyle had taken any liquor he did not show signs of it to any marked degree on the morning of the execution. It certainly had not affected him to such an extent as to interfere with his carrying out the execution.

   A report had been circulated to the effect that Doyle was brutal in his treatment of Swim. This brutal treatment consisted in his springing the trap before Swim had finished praying, in his handling of Swim and his remarks to him. It would appear from Swim's last words that his prayer was finished at the time the trap was sprung. It would not be expected that Doyle would notify Swim just when he intended to spring the trap. In reference to Doyle's handling of Swim, Rev. Mr. Bragdon states, "I considered him very gentle, a little rough in speech but his treatment in the handling of Bennie seemed rather gentle." No witness present saw anything out of the way in this respect. In reference to the remarks made by Doyle to Swim it is impossible for me to come to any conclusion from the remarks as quoted by the witnesses. It would depend upon the attitude of Doyle and the manner in which he uttered the remarks. I have come to the conclusion that Doyle was not as considerate of Swim's feeling as he should have been under the circumstances. The fact that after the trap was sprung he desired to measure the distance between Swim and the floor and generally so conducted himself that it was necessary for the Sheriff to request him to go into the gaol, lends me to the conclusion that he did not look upon the affair in a proper light.

   Another report has been circulated to the effect that there was more or less hilarity among those present at the gaol on the night preceding the execution and that the whole affair was not carried on with fitting solemnity. This report would appear to be altogether false. Again I quote Rev. Mr. Bragdon on this point. When asked the question, "Was the affair conducted in a reasonably serious manner without frivolity or commotion," he answered, "I admired it for the solemnity and order and still quietness." The evidence all the witnesses was to the same effect. My conclusion is that the Sheriff should be commended for the order kept, especially after the first attempt to hang Swim proved unsuccessful.

   While not a part of my duty, I feel that having been in close touch with the facts regarding this regretable affair, it would be well for me to deal briefly with our system of capital punishment. The sentence of the court is that the prisoner be hanged by the neck until he is dead. The duty of carrying out this sentence is placed on the sheriff. He receives no instructions from any official source as to how the details of this gruesome task are to be carried out. As our sheriffs have no knowledge of hanging and as no official information is available, they are obliged to secure the services of a professional hangman and this procedure has become almost universal in Canada. But the sheriff's difficulties do not end with the decision to employ a professional hangman. There is no official of this description. He must employ some person on the recommendations of others without any responsibility in the matter, and, quite naturally, dependable citizens are not making their living by hanging. The wonder is that there are not more affairs of this nature.

   Again, our Criminal Code provides that the execution take place within the walls of the prison. In most of our prisons nor provision is made for the execution of prisoners and this section is interpreted to mean that the execution must take place on the prison premises. Many of our prisons are situated in the residential section of our cities or towns. There is nothing to obstruct the view of the residents or the public from what takes place there. The gaol at Woodstock is a striking example of this. The yard is small, bordering on the street and there is nothing to obstruct the view of the public from what takes place therein. The Swim hanging would have been hardly more public if the scaffold had been erected on the street.

   This state of affairs might well be remedied by providing that executions take place at some central prison under the supervision of a competent and experienced man and where proper equipment has been provided.

   I have the Honor to be, Sir:

   Your obedient servant,
(signed) J. Bacon Dickson

 À propos de la version électronique
[Report: Commission to Inquire into the Execution of Benny Swim].
[ressource électronique]
New Brunswick. Commission to Inquire into the Execution of Benny Swim.
Création d'un e version lisible par machine: Anne Crowell, University of New Brunswick Libraries.
Création d'images num&e acute;riques: Troy Stanley, University of New Brunswick Libraries.
Conversion à un langage be balisage conforme au format TEI.2: Anne Crowell, University of New Brunswick Libraries.
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Note: Images have been included from the print version.
 À propos de la version imprimée
[Report: Commission to Inquire into the Execution of Benny Swim].
New Brunswick. Commission to Inquire into the Execution of Benny Swim. 1922 Print copy consulted: Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, PANB RS641/2.
Note: Digital image scanned from the typescript copy held by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Records of Independent Agencies and Commissions, RG30, Series RS641/2, Royal Commission on the Execution of Benny Swim.

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  • Executions and executioners -- New Brunswick.

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    Abstract: Commission to Inquire into the Execution of Benny Swim , 1923

       On Friday, 6 October 1922, Benny Swim was hanged by the neck until he died. Twice.

       Benny Swim had murdered both Olive and Harvey Trenholm . There was no dispute about the crime; Swim had confessed to committing the murders. What was in dispute, however, was Swim's state of mental health and the circumstances surrounding his execution. Though both points of contention were mentioned in the enabling legislation, only the latter was pursued in the investigation.

       The story of Swim's execution is full of drama: reports of a drunken hangman; reports of indelicate treatment of the condemned until the final moment of the actual hanging, when Doyle, the hired hangman, was accused of springing the trap door beneath Swim's feet before the condemned was finished praying; reports that on the night prior to the hanging "there was more or less hilarity among those present at the gaol"; and, central to the investigation by Commissioner J. Bacon Dixon , a botched execution attempt, which ultimately had to be repeated.

       Though Dixon dismissed some of the reports of wrongdoing, it is clear that Swim had to be hanged twice. The first hanging did not break his spine. When he was cut down, the four doctors present realized that not only was he not dead but that his pulse was getting stronger. After an interval of approximately an hour, Swim, reportedly unconscious throughout, was taken back to the gaol and hanged a second time. There he swung for nineteen minutes until it was clear to all that he had finally expired.


       Commissioner: J. Bacon Dickson .

    Résumé: Rapport de la Commission d'enquête dans l'affaire de l'exécution de Benny Swim , 1923.

       Le vendredi 6 octobre 1922, Benny Swim a été pendu par le cou jusqu'à ce que mort s'en suive. Deux fois. Benny Swim avait tué Olive et Harvey Trenholm . Les faits n'étaient pas remis en question; en effet, Swim avait reconnu avoir commis les meurtres. Ce qui était remis en question cependant était l'état mental de Swim. Et la procédure suivie pour cette exécution était suspecte. Ces deux éléments étaient mentionnés dans la législation habilitante, mais seul le deuxième a été retenu par la Commission d'enquête.

       L'histoire de l'exécution de Swim est dramatique. Il y a eu des allégations que le bourreau était ivre, que l'homme condamné a été traité "sans délicatesse"; même au moment de la pendaison, la porte de la trappe s'étant ouverte sous ses pieds avant même qu'il ait fini de prier, que la veille de sa pendaison "il y avait plus ou moins un climat d'hilarité parmi ceux qui étaient présents dans la prison" et que la première tentative d'exécution a échoué et qu'il a fallu la répéter. C'est ce dernier point qui était au c ur de l'enquête du commissaire J. Bacon Dixon .

       Bien que le juge Dixon ait écarté la plupart des allégations d'ineptie et de faute, il est évident que, pour que la sentence soit exécutée, il a fallu pendre Swim deux fois. La première tentative d'exécution ne lui a pas disloqué la colonne vertébrale. Lorsqu'on a coupé la corde, les quatre médecins présents se sont rendu compte qu'il n'était pas mort mais que son pouls se remettait à battre. Au bout d'un intervalle d'environ une heure, Swim, qui aurait été inconscient pendant toute cette période, a été ramené à la prison et pendu à nouveau. On l'a alors laissé pendu pendant 19 minutes, jusqu'à ce toutes les personnes présentes soient certaines qu'il avait rendu son dernier souffle.


        Le commissaire:
    J. Bacon Dixon