Murder, brutal murder

John G. McKay's history column deals with the last hanging in Amherst

Published on June 20, 2014
Taken from the new book: Murder, brutal murder, by John McKay. Copies are $12 each and will be fore sale at the Amherst Farmer’s Market

Mable Smith was murdered on Feb. 3, 1933 and two 19-year-olds would go to the gallows.

On the evening of February 3, 1933 two young men from Amherst made their way to 26 Croft St., the home of Elmer “Dad” Smith, his wife Mabel and their 16-year old son Wilson. The two 19-year-olds, Alvah Rufus Henwood and Trueman Mortimer Smith were intent upon a crime that sent shock waves throughout Nova Scotia.

Their plan was simple. Since Elmer Smith was a businessman, they reckoned there would be plenty of money in the house and Mabel would be there alone; they would gain entry, kill Mrs. Smith and help themselves to the money. They left Trueman Smith’s home at 7 o’clock and were back by shortly after 8, the deed accomplished and the money divided, all $120 and change.

At a time during the great economic depression when dozens of itinerant tramps were passing through the district every day seeking work, handouts or free meals, the crime may well have gone unsolved if not for Alvah Henwood’s eagerness to dip into his share of the take—$60, which at the time represented eight or 10 weeks wages for an ordinary working man fortunate enough to have a job. Henwood hadn’t worked for a number of months, yet he was spending money like the proverbial drunken sailor.

Although the local police and RCMP were stymied by the almost complete absence of evidence and, like most town folk, incapable of believing that someone local could commit such a horrendous crime, they were virtually unable to cope with the numbers of strangers moving through the district.

Nonetheless, in a very short time an anonymous informant whose identity was never revealed brought to the attention of the authorities the fact that the unemployed Alvah Henwood was spending a good deal of money in the community.

At last, something for the police to get their teeth into. A casual check of local storekeepers and other businesses provided the police with enough information to warrant a confrontation with Henwood regarding his free spending. This occurred on Feb. 18, when Henwood was asked to account for his activity on the evening of the murder. He related the story that he and Trueman Smith had concocted in the event the police questioned either of them.

With Trueman Smith’s name having been mentioned, RCMP Cpl. Arthur Rockwell then had Smith questioned by Sackville RCMP, where Smith was visiting at the time. Smith corroborated Henwood’s story almost verbatim. Rockwell then reported to Crown Prosecutor Charles R. Smith, saying that it looked to him like the stories were true since they were nearly identical. The prosecutor, on the other hand, with years of courtroom experience to draw from, concluded that it seemed like a cooked up story to him.

In a follow-up interview with Henwood the next day—Henwood’s wedding day—a full confession was obtained, and both he and Trueman Smith were charged with the murder of Mabel Smith. Following separate trials in which both were found guilty, they were sentenced to hang. Henwood and Smith went to the gallows on Sept. 12, 1933 in the Cumberland County Jail.

(Taken from the new book: Murder, brutal murder, by John McKay. Copies are $12 each and will be fore sale at the Amherst Farmer’s Market).

John G. McKay is an Amherst resident who has written numerous short novels on the history.