Frances Avery Creighton
The media nicknamed her
"Borgia." She married John Creighton and they had one child
together, a daughter named Ruth. Mary and her husband John had
been arrested for the death of her brother, Raymond Avery, who was
poisened by a lethal dose of Arsenic. Mary had been named as a
beneficiary in his insurance policy and also inherited his trust
fund. Their parents died when she was a teenager. She was
acquiited after a trial in Newark, New Jersey, within days of the
verdict, she was arrested for the death of her father in law. After
a trial, she again was found not guilty. After that verdict, they
relocated to Long Island, New York.
In the small town of Baldwin,
New York, they befriended a couple named Everett and Ada
Appelgate, he was 37, she was 34. This was in the height of the
Great Depression, the Applegates moved in with the Creightons to
save money. They too had one daughter, Agnes was 12, by this time
Mary's daughter Ruth was 14. Everett Applegate started sexually
molesting Ruth, forcing her to sleep with him and his wife. Soon
Ruth's mother Mary, joined into the arrangement, also the
Applegates young daughter Agnes was being molested as well. In
September of 1936, Ada complained of feeling ill. She went to the
hospital, they could find nothing wrong and sent her home, several
days later she died. They listed death as of unknown causes,
speculating she died of pneumonia. But Mary's past came back to
haunt her. Nassau County got word of her past relatives that died
mysteriously. An investigation insued into the death of Ada,
performing an autopsy. It showed she died from a massive dose of
Mary Creighton and Everett
Applegate was arrested and a trial began. She admitted to the
crime, trying to put the blame on Ada's husband, Everett, who
forced her to do it. Mary had went to the store and bought the rat
poisen. They both were found guilty of 1st degree murder with a
mandatory death sentence. Appeals were filed, but all failed. Over
the next few months Mary became seriously ill, probably due to
hysteria, her legs appeared paralyzed, she lost alot of weight.
The day of the execution she wore pink pajama's and a black
kimono. The back of her head shaved. She had to be wheeled into
the death chamber at Sing-Sing Prison in a wheel chair. She seemed
almost in a coma-like state. Partially out of fear, partially out
of gaining sympathy. She had visited with her daughter Ruth the
day before, telling her to take care of her daddy. Mary was just
36, a week before she was to be 37. She was strapped into the
electric chair and electrocuted. Everett was next in line, head
shaved, also was electrocuted.
Mary’s problem was
that she just could not accept that having got away with murder
twice, she could not get away with it a third time! In 1933, short
of money, Mary hit on the bright idea of poisoning her brother
Raymond as a means of inheriting his legacy and claiming his life
insurance as well. And although it became known to the court
during her subsequent trial that she had indeed purchased arsenic,
no one actually saw her administer it to Raymond, so the jury
Mary was obviously
overwhelmed by her success, for within a short space of time her
father- and mother-in-law both died, the post-mortems revealing
traces of arsenic – but this time, because the quantity in her
mother-in-law’s body was not considered by the jury to be
sufficiently lethal, the case was thrown out. And probably because
the authorities assumed that the same amount of poison would be
found present in the body of the dead woman’s husband and so be
similarly rejected by a jury, they decided not to waste the
court’s time in bringing further charges.
parents having been poisoned and the finger of blame having
pointed at his wife, John Creighton did not leave Mary; instead
they moved to Long Island with their young daughter Ruth, where
they became friendly with another couple, Everett and Ada
Appelgate, who after some time moved in with them.
later to be made, not only that Everett seduced 15-year-old Ruth
Creighton and wanted to marry her, but that Ruth and Everett were
having an affair. Whether either of these was the motive or not,
sufficient to say that Mary reached for the poison bottle labelled
‘Rough on Rats’, and little by little supplemented Ada’s eggnogs
with its contents until Everett found he had become a widower.
however, Mary’s phenomenal luck had run out.
murder, she stood trial and not only confessed to the crime, but
also accused Appelgate of actually helping to administer the
poison. After three hours’ deliberation by the jury, both were
found guilty and sentenced to death.
In the condemned
cell in Sing Sing Prison Mary gave few signs of despair; on the
contrary she was obviously buoyed up at the prospect of a
favourable result being reached by the Court of Appeal. But when
news came through that the original death sentence had been
affirmed, her nerves gave way completely.
Eating little but
ice cream, she lay on the bed in her cell crying and moaning; she
rarely slept but when she did she would wake up screaming, ‘I
can’t stand it, I can’t stand it!’ What further exacerbated her
already fragile mental condition was that while she was thus
incarcerated, no fewer than ten men were electrocuted for their
crimes within the prison, events that could not possibly be kept
concealed from the other inmates. The strain on her emotions was
such that two days before she was due to be escorted to the
execution chamber, she became bedridden and hardly able to move.
commission was authorised to examine her both physically and
mentally, its results stating:
We find no
evidence of organic disease of the central nervous system or the
body as a whole. Mrs Creighton is well developed, well nourished
and muscular. If she has lost weight, it is not apparent. Her
disturbances in motor power, in sensation and in speech are in
part hysterical. They are grossly exaggerated by conscious
malingering. Her mind appears to be clear and she fully
appreciates her present position. She is suffering from a type of
disability which would improve rapidly if she were encouraged, and
get worse if she were discouraged. Her condition is the reaction
to the situation in which she finds herself.
was Robert G. Elliott, not only an expert in his profession, but
also noted for his humane and compassionate attitude towards his
victims. When on 16 July 1936 he reported to the prison, he was
shocked to find Mrs Creighton in a state of total collapse. Clad
only in a pink nightdress and black dressing gown, wearing black
slippers and holding a rosary, she was placed in a wheelchair –
the first time a victim had ever been transported in that manner
on such an occasion – and in the execution
chamber was lifted
into the electric chair. Limp and unresisting, her eyes closed and
all the colour drained from her face, she was obviously
unconscious and the warders had no difficulty in strapping her
into the chair and attaching the electrodes. After checking that
all necessary connections had been made, Mr Elliott gently raised
her head and, pressing it back against the rubber headrest,
secured it in position.
To block the view
of the helpless woman from would-be photographers among the
official witnesses in the audience, the guards placed themselves
between the chair and the observation window, and as soon as they
did so the executioner moved swiftly to throw the switch – and
Mary Frances Creighton died without even knowing.
As an indication
of the heat that is generated in a person being electrocuted, one
of the warders on duty that night suffered severe burns on coming
into contact with Mrs Creighton’s body while releasing her from
the chair; normally this would have been prevented by the thick
clothing usually worn by the victim, but on this occasion her
flimsy apparel proved inadequate.
were never averse to giving criminals lurid labels, especially the
female ones, as evidenced by those given to murderess Ada LeBoeuf
by one southern newspaper in the 1920s, ‘the Siren of the Swamps’,
‘Louisiana’s Love Pirate’ and ‘Small Town Cleopatra’ being just a
few. Nor were the details of her appearance ignored, repeated
allusions to her entertaining guests in her cell wearing a white
organdie dress, and when someone suggested that she have her long
black hair bobbed, she allegedly answered, ‘Oh no, bobbed hair
suits some women but I don’t think I’d like it; I’ve never had my
hair cut and I don’t intend to now.’
Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott
They Called Her Borgia
This is a sordid
story of child sex abuse, money, parental neglect and a disturbed
woman who may have killed three people, including her own brother.
Mary Frances Avery was born in New Jersey in 1898. She married
John Creighton and had a daughter, Ruth.
In 1923, Mary and
John were arrested for the death of her brother, Raymond Avery,
who was poisoned by a lethal dose of arsenic. Mary Frances was
named as the beneficiary in his insurance policy and also
inherited her brother’s trust fund. She was acquitted after a
trial in Newark, New Jersey that same year. Within days after the
verdict, Frances was arrested for the murder of her father-in-law.
Again, after a trial, she was found not guilty. Perhaps seeing a
limited future in New Jersey, Mary Frances quickly moved to Long
Island, New York.
In the small town
of Baldwin, the Creightons became friends with a couple named
Everett, 37 and Ada Appelgate, 34 who lived in the house next
door. Everett was an investigator with the Unemployment Bureau but
made little money.
This was the
1930s, the height of the Great Depression in America, when money
was scarce and jobs were hard to come by. In order to save money,
the Appelgates moved in with the Creightons. Mary’s daughter,
Ruth, now 14, and the Appelgate’s daughter, Agnes, 12, had to
sleep wherever they could in the cramped house. For a time, they
chose the attic, which was cold and filthy.
Within a few weeks
however, Ruth found her way into Everett and Ada’s bed. And soon,
Everett began having sex with Ruth. But that wasn’t enough. Mary
Frances joined in the arrangement; although she later claimed that
she was unaware her daughter had a sexual relationship with
Everett. Mary Frances also later testified she knew that Agnes,
Everett’s own daughter, and Ruth were in Everett’s bed during the
same night. For her own role, Mary claimed that Everett forced her
into sex by threatening to reveal her murderous background to
September, 1936, Ada Appelgate complained of being sick. She was
taken to the local hospital where she was examined and sent home.
Several days later, Ada died at home of unknown causes. It was
suspected that it could have been pneumonia. However, tendencies
of Mary’s relatives to die suddenly and without explanation
reached the offices of Nassau County’s District Attorney’s office
and an investigation was begun. An autopsy of Ada Appelgate showed
a massive dose of arsenic, a substance that was often used in
poisoning deaths in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The ubiquitous use of
arsenic in murder cases has always mystified criminologists for
several reasons. Arsenic has many problems associated with its use
as a means of death. The foremost problem is that arsenic is
easily detected at post mortem examinations, even in minute
quantities. Although the human body maintains a natural level of
arsenic, and this fact has been utilized as a trial defense, it is
a simple procedure to measure these levels to refute that claim.
It is also difficult to
measure exactly how much of the drug to use since people have a
different tolerance to arsenic, thereby forcing the killer to use
a large amount and virtually assuring its detection later on
(Smyth, p. 212). Since a large amount can be instantly discerned
by the victim, the killer often resorts to chronic poisoning:
using many doses of small amounts over a period of time. In almost
all arsenic poisoning cases, the events follow a similar
predictable pattern: sudden, unexplained death, suspicion,
examination of the body, discovery of arsenic and arrest of friend
or family member. This is exactly what happened in the Creighton
On January 12, 1936, Mary
Frances Creighton and Everett Appelgate went on trial for their
lives in Nassau County Criminal Court. Dr. Alexander O. Gettler, a
toxicologist for the Medical Examiner’s Office for the City of New
York testified that he found traces of arsenic in Ada Appelgate’s
body which led him to believe that her corpse contained 11 grains
of the substance. It was generally agreed that 3 grains could be
considered a lethal dose (New York Times, January 18,
1936). John Creighton also took the stand and claimed no knowledge
of almost anything. He said he didn’t know that his daughter and
wife were having sex with Everett, he didn’t know that Ada died
from arsenic and he didn’t believe his wife had anything to do
with the murder. Dr. Richard H. Hoffman, a prominent New York
psychiatrist testified that Mary Frances was legally sane at the
time of the event. But the highlight of the trial came when Mary
Frances took the stand in her own defense and instead, gave the
court a performance that doomed her to the electric chair.
On January 22, she marched
to the witness stand confidant of her own innocence. At first she
said that she had nothing to do with Ada’s death. She told the
jury that Everett put some sort of white powder in Ada’s eggnog
just before her death and this happened several times. Careful not
to mention Mary Frances’ prior murder trials, District Attorney
Elvin Edwards pressed on. He brought up Mary’s previous
statements, which were inconsistent with her testimony and said
the motive for the murder was insurance money and Everett’s sexual
desire for Mary’s teenage daughter. When asked if she took a glass
of milk that contained arsenic to Ada, Mary Frances admitted what
she had done.
“Yes, I did. Appelgate told
me,” she answered.
“Knowing this, you took it
to her to drink?”
“Yes” she replied.
“You stood by and watched
this woman, who was your best friend, die?” the D.A. asked.
“Yes,” Mary Frances said (Times,
January 24, 1936, p. 1). That was enough for the jury. Although
Everett Appelgate also took the stand, his testimony was no
better, admitting to the sexual relationship with Mary’s
14-year-old daughter but denying almost everything else, including
a trip to a drug store where he and Mary Frances bought rat
At 12:47 a.m., on January
25, 1936, a jury found Mary Frances and Everett guilty of 1st
Degree Murder. A sentence of death was mandatory. Mary Frances
began crying immediately, while Everett remained stoic. At
sentencing, Everett Appelgate asked to make a statement. He told
the court “I knew nothing and had nothing to do with the
administration of arsenic poisoning, and in addition to that I
have never at any time had misconduct of any character with Mrs.
Creighton” (Times, January 31, 1936). Within an hour, they
were on their way to Sing Sing prison and a date with death.
Over the next few months,
appeals were filed on her behalf, but all failed. A date of July
16 was set for the executions. As the date approached, Mary
Frances became seriously ill. She collapsed several times and her
legs appeared paralyzed. She could not eat and lost a great deal
of weight. A commission of five doctors was appointed to
investigate her medical condition. The day before the sentence was
to be carried out, the commission reported that Mary Frances was
suffering from hysteria as a result of her impending death. “We
find no evidence of organic disease of the central nervous system
or the body as a whole” the head of the medical team reported (Times,
January 15, 1936). In other words, Mary Frances was healthy enough
to be executed.
On July 16, 1936 in the
evening hours, Warden Lawes permitted their respective families to
say goodbye to Mary and Everett. Appelgate’s father and
step-mother came to visit and he was able to have a brief meeting
with his son. “I said ‘Goodbye, Ev’ and he said ‘Goodbye, Pop’.
That was all,” the older Appelgate related to reporters (Duncan,
p. 5). John Creighton visited Mary and was allowed to embrace her
and kiss her for the last time. He was never sure that Mary had
killed his own mother. John broke down and wept openly. As he
left, he threatened to shoot any reporter who asked him a
question. In the waiting room, as reporters assembled to enter the
witness room, Agnes Appelgate, 13, and Ruth Creighton, 15, the
object of Everett’s sexual desires, munched on hamburgers.
At 11:00 p.m., Mary Frances
Creighton, 38, was wheeled into the execution chamber at Sing Sing
prison. She was wearing a pink nightgown and a black satin kimono.
The back of her head was partially shaved where the electrodes
were to be attached. For weeks, Mary Frances had told doctors that
she was paralyzed from the waist down and could not walk. It was
reported that she was actually in a coma, induced by hypodermic
injection of morphine (Duncan, p. 2). She made no sounds, nor did
she utter any last words. No one will ever know for sure if she
was aware of the execution. Her hands were wrapped by a set of
rosary beads that were given to her by the prison staff. Outside
the room, professional executioner Robert G. Elliott, prepared to
kill his third female. At 11:04 p.m., the deadly current was sent
through her body and within moments, she was dead. With the odor
of burning flesh still hanging in the air, Appelgate entered the
chamber. Before he met his own death, he had this to say: “Before
God, gentlemen, I’m absolutely innocent of this crime and I hope
the good God will have mercy on the soul of Martin W. Littleton”
(New York Daily News, July 17, 1936).
The day before she
died, Mary Frances converted to the Catholic religion and was
baptized by the Prison Chaplain, Father McCaffrey. She was asked
if she wanted to say anything to the public. She wiped the tears
from her eyes and spoke these words: “I have done many wrong
things but I know God will forgive me. I was a good wife and
mother and whatever I did I did for him and the children. I hope
they will have a better life than I did!”
(Daily News, July 17,
Mark Gado –
The Long Island Borgia
By Mara Bovsun - NYDailyNews.com
April 16, 2008
Clogged arteries seemed like a plausible cause
of death for Ada Appelgate. The woman was huge, about 250 pounds,
and unhealthy. She spent most of her days in bed in a Baldwin,
L.I., bungalow, rising only to eat or chew out her husband,
Everett, for making eyes at other women.
Although he told friends he had grown to
despise her, Everett was at his wife's side, holding her plump
form in his arms, as she breathed her last Sept. 27, 1935.
The doctor quickly ruled that the hefty
housewife's overworked ticker had finally given up.
Four days later, as she was about to be lowered
into the grave, police stopped the funeral and seized the body.
They said they had good reason to believe that some force other
than nature had played a role in ending Ada's life.
The prime suspect, however, was not the
henpecked husband. It was another woman, Mary Frances Creighton,
who shared the Appelgate home.
Soon after Ada's death, an anonymous source -
some believe it was a bread deliveryman who was sick of being
stiffed by the plump and crabby Creighton - had sent police a
package of yellowed newspaper clippings, dating back to 1923.
Arsenal of arsenic
The clips revealed that Mary Creighton had
faced a jury, accused of murder not once, but twice. First it was
her brother, Ray Avery. There was no doubt that the 18-year-old
had died of arsenic poisoning, and Mary had the means and the
motive - an inheritance - to do away with him.
But the prosecution could not prove that Mary,
who was within days of delivering her second child while the trial
was going on, gave him the poison. They voted to acquit.
It was the same story with Mary's
mother-in-law, who somehow swallowed a fatal dose of arsenic.
Prosecutors came armed with some powerful circumstantial evidence
- the mysterious deaths of several members of the family, as well
as a couple of the family's dogs, in the previous few years.
Still, despite a motive and marked antagonism
between the two women, the jury decided to acquit. No one had seen
Mary Creighton adding a spoonful of death to the victim's food.
So now, a dozen years later, police were not
terribly surprised when they found arsenic, enough to kill three
people, in Appelgate's corpse.
After an all-night grilling, police had Mary's
confession, and it was a stunner, a revolting story about a
grotesque domestic drama that had ended in murder.
It all started shortly after Creighton, her
husband, John, and two children, Ruth and John Jr., moved to Long
Island from New Jersey to escape the notoriety of the two murder
The families were originally drawn together
through the husbands, both WWI veterans and members of the
American Legion. It was the depths of the Depression, and, like
many Americans, they were struggling.
Appelgate suggested that he and his family move
into the second apartment in the Creightons' bungalow. It seemed a
smart, money-saving move, but Everett Appelgate, known as Appy,
clearly had more than cash on his mind.
Although pale and pudgy, within a year, Appy
had managed to seduce pretty 16-year-old Ruth Creighton. He gained
her trust by taking her on drives with his own daughter, Agnes,
13. It wasn't long before Agnes was left out, and Appy and Ruth
were bed-hopping in the bungalow. Mary Creighton said that several
times she had unwittingly interrupted the couple's amorous
She told police that she decided to do away
with Ada because she feared that Ruth would become pregnant. With
Ada out of the way, Appy would be free to make an honest woman of
During the confession, she also casually
admitted to killing her brother and mother-in-law, the crimes of
which she had been acquitted.
Police wasted no time in arresting Appy on a
charge of statutory rape. He freely, in fact cheerfully, admitted
A day later, he was not so chipper. Mary had
offered more details, and now she was saying Appy was the killer.
He had spiked his wife's eggnog with Rough on Rats, a commercial
rodent killer made of arsenic.
Creighton continued to embellish and change her
story. She flipped and flopped over the nature of her relationship
with Appy, first saying they were intimate and then, that they
were not. She also changed the details of how the poison got into
the eggnog. First she said Appy added the deadly powder, then she
said she did it - but that she had no idea that it was poison.
Despite her inconsistencies, and the lack of
any other evidence, both Mary and Appy were put on trial for Ada's
murder in Mineola on Jan. 19, 1936.
Mary wept as her daughter described her
"improper relationships" with Appy. There were several encounters,
sometimes while the couple was in the same room, or even the same
bed, as Appy's daughter.
"Was Agnes asleep?" asked Nassau County
District Attorney Martin Littleton.
"I suppose so," was the response.
On Jan. 23, Mary Creighton took the stand in
her own defense, but soon was sobbing out a story that could send
her to the chair. After 45 minutes of pounding by the prosecutor,
she admitted that she knew Appy had whipped up a killer cocktail
and that she gave it to Ada anyway.
Another blow came from Appy's lawyer, Charles
Weeks, who was fighting to get his client charged just with the
rape of a teenager, but not murder. Weeks had struggled to present
Mary's past trials to the jury, but the judge refused.
Then Weeks dug up a letter that Mary had sent
months earlier to a true-crime magazine, in which she offered to
sell the story of the Newark poison deaths, thus introducing the
old crimes to the court. It was, the Daily News marveled, "a
brilliant, strategic triumph."
Trouble was, it did not help his client. On the
stand, Appy admitted several unsavory trysts with his teen lover,
including once while he, his nymphet and his mountainous wife were
all naked in the same bed.
"I only had sex with Ruth once when Ada was in
the bed," he explained.
Weeks' strategy backfired. He had hoped to show
that Appy was a sex fiend but not a murderer. The jury of 12
businessmen did not see it that way. Both defendants were found
guilty and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
They were oddly calm the next day after filing
"That verdict will never stand up on appeal,"
Appy sneered. "Stick around, I'm going home soon."
But when their appeals failed, Creighton
snapped and grew more and more disoriented as she waited on Death
Row. By the time of her execution, she was deep in a morphine
slumber, and had to be transported to the death chamber in a
"The odor of seared flesh still clung to the
execution chamber," The News noted, when Appelgate, walking tall
and ramrod straight, came to meet his doom.
"Gentlemen," he said to the 23 witnesses, "I
want to say something. Before God, gentlemen, I'm absolutely
innocent of this crime and I hope the good God will have mercy on
the soul of Martin W. Littleton."
A few moments later, he was, as he predicted,
sent to his final home.
Creighton, Mary Frances
SEX: F RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE:
MO: "Black widow" poisoner of
brother, mother-inlaw, and lover's wife
DISPOSITION: Executed July 19,
ACCOMPLICE: Earl Applegate
(1898-1936) executed July 19, 1936 for participation in his wife's