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Fredericton , N. B.
Hon. J. E. Hetherington ,
Provincial Secretary Treasurer,
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
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
- Albion R. Foster , High Sheriff of Carleton County
- Hedlye V. Mooers , Deputy Sheriff of Carleton
- Dr. Thomas W. Griffin , Physician
- Dr. L. DeC. McIntosh , Physician
- Dr. N. P. Grant , Physician
- Moses Moore , Death-watch
- Rev. H. Bragdon , Clergyman
- Rev. Perley Quigg , Clergyman
- Hardy Crane , Bridge Superintendent
- Harry Bell , Alderman of Woodstock
- Gladstone D. Perry , Warden of Carleton County
- Charles W. Clark , County Councillor
- Avon Nevers , Liquor Inspector
- S. L. Lynott , Editor of Carleton Sentinel
- Menzer Clark , Produce Merchant
- George Thornton , Merchant
- Edward Caldwell , Salesman
- Fred Seeley , Salesman
- Burril Hatfield , Farmer
- Henry Dewitt , Undertaker
- Owen Kelly , Chief of Police of
PROTEST INQUIRY LEAVING 7 PM
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
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
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].
New Brunswick. Commission to Inquire into the Execution of Benny Swim.
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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
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.
la Library of Congress
- Executions and executioners -- New Brunswick.
Revisions to the electronic version
Lisa Charlong, The Electronic Text Centre at the University of New
email@example.com. Commercial use prohibited; all usage governed by our Conditions of Use: https://web.lib.unb.ca/Texts/NBHistory/Commissions/conditions_use.html
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
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
Résumé: Rapport de la Commission d'enquête dans l'affaire de
l'exécution de Benny Swim ,
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.