Extra Research for Season 5 – Episode 9 – Doubting Thomas
The Courthouse and Gaol
The Charlotte County Courthouse in St Andrew’s, New Brunswick was built in 1786. It was a wooden building with four cells on the bottom floor and the courthouse on the upper floor. Since the cell floors were made of dirt many a criminal found ways to vacate the premises. To alleviate this problem a new Gaol was built in 1832.
This prison had 2½-foot-thick slabs of gray granite for the floors, ceilings, and walls. Cell doors were made of solid iron, each with a sliding bolt to keep the door closed at all times. The only source of light were two small holes in the door for light and the delivery of food. Doorways were very narrow so that a Gaoler could not be overpowered by the prisoner. The only source of heat was a small wood stove at the end of the corridor outside of the cells. The building housed prisoners from 1832 to 1979.
The court house was constructed in 1840 next to the Charlotte County Gaol. There were a total of four hangings conducted at the Courthouse/Gaol. The first two were in 1826, one in 1879, and Thomas Hutchings in 1942.
Bernice Cecilia Connors was a vivacious 19-year-old girl from a family of 12 children. One of the more popular things to do on a Friday night was attend the weekly dance. She had many friends and acquaintances and was out enjoying herself so, when she didn’t return home from the dance, her parents weren’t worried, she often stayed a day or two at a close friends’ home. She also earned her own living and although she lived at home she was considered as being on her own. When Saturday came and went the family still wasn’t worried.
Sunday afternoon came the call that Bernice’s almost naked body had been found under a mound of moss in a field. They would later find out that poor Bernice had been raped and strangled. The back of the head showed signs of being battered and her throat was also cut but, since there was very little bleeding from the wound, it was presumed that she was already dead when it was inflicted. Witnesses had told the officers that they had seen Bernice at the dance then walking down the road with a sergeant, but not the one she had come with.
By Monday morning the detective staff sergeant of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had the man who would later be convicted of the crime, 21-year-old Sergeant Thomas “Tom” Roland Reginald Hutchings, armourer of the Royal Air Force, stationed at Pennfield Ridge Air Station, NB.
During the two-day preliminary hearing Tom Hutchings, who was not represented by council, heard a total of 38 prosecution witnesses testify against him and asked not a single question. He said that he had nothing to say and did not wish to call any witnesses in his own behalf.
Evidence of the witnesses was that Hutchings was in the company of Bernice Connors when she was last seen walking up the Deadman’s Harbor road the night of June 5, and that he later appeared at the dance hall with blood on his face and clothing. Hutchings made no statement himself at any time, and no witnesses were called by the defence.
The medical expert testified that he had discovered a number of human blood stains on Tom’s uniform. Articles of clothing were seized as well as items found outside the community hall and at the scene of the crime.
The jury deliberated 3½ hours and found him guilty of murder but with a recommendation for mercy, however, the magistrate ignored the request and the death sentence was pronounced later that day. Tom Hutchings went to his death calmly, maintaining to the end the silence and poise that had characterised his conduct since he was arrested.
A scaffold had been erected in the yard of the courthouse, and Camille Blanchard (aka Branchaud), official hangman for the Province of Quebec, was on hand to carry out the execution.
The sentence of death was carried out at 1:50 am, 16 December 1942 and Sergeant Tom Hutchings was pronounced dead at 2:02 pm.
— Joanne Schiavoni
Photo Credit: Charlotte County Jail