FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 6): Newark, N. J., May 13. – John Creighton, 15, and his wife, 24, are in jail here tonight charged with poisoning Mrs. Creighton's brother, Charles R. Avery, 18 years old, in order to obtain $1,000 insurance money. Yesterday they appeared before Judge Caffery and entered pleas of not guilty.
When they were arraigned, the court asked: "How do you plead?" Both stood silent for a few minutes; then Mrs. Creighton answered: "I didn't." Creighton denied all knowledge of any attempt to poison his brother-in-law.
~ He Lived With Sister. ~
Avery boarded with his sister and brother-in-law. Mrs. Creighton remarked to the physician who was called after Avery died that she believed her brother had a love affair and that he "might have taken something," according to police.
A neighbor told police shortly before the boy died he complained that his sister was giving him nothing to eat but chocolate pudding and that he longed for "a square meal."
Young Avery died April 20. An autopsy, police say, revealed irritation and redness in the stomach, which indicated poisoning. Albert E. Edel, a chemist, analyzed the stomach and reported the presence of a quantity of a very powerful poison.
Further investigation revealed the presence of the poison in the man's kidneys, liver and spleen, according to authorities.
~ No Chronic Disease. ~
Dr. Harrison Martland, city hospital pathologist, reported that his examination of the young man's organs failed to reveal any chronic disease which might have caused death.
County Prosecutor Bigelow laid these facts before the grand jury on Tuesday, and Indictments were found against Mr. and Mrs. Creighton. The indictments were handed up today and the arrests followed.
[“Charge Woman Poisoned Brother – Newark, N. J. Couple Said to Have Administered Fatal Dose to Collect Insurance – He Boarded With Family – “The Fed Me Nothing But Chocolate Pudding,” Last Words of Dying Boy,” The Scranton Republican (Pa.), May 14, 1923, p. 1]
Some articles refer to another charge against Mrs. Creighton: theft. I will be seen that ultimately it was her thieving babits that was serial killer Frances Creighton’s undoing.
EXCERPT: A third indictment is pending against Mrs. Creighton. It charges her with attempting to obtain merchandise from a Newark department store under false pretenses.
[“Not Guilty On Double Murder Charge,” The Lancaster Daily Eagle (Oh.), Jul. 14, 1923, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 6): Newark, N. J., June 6.—A second murder indictment has been returned against Mary Creighton, pretty young Newark matron, who is already waiting trial on a charge of poisoning her brother. The new indictment alleges that she caused the death of her mother-in-law by poison. Chemists are now engaged in analyzing the stomach of her father-in-law, who died two years ago in an effort to determine whether he died from effect of poison.
The young woman, who became a mother for the second time just after her arrest, is scheduled to come to trial June 18th on a charge of killing her brother, Charles Raymond Avery, aged 18, by slow administration arsenic. Her husband, John, is charged with the same offense and will come to trial with her.
[“Second Charge Of Murder Is Made On Mrs. Creighton,” Clearfield Progress (Pa.), Jun. 6, 1923, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 3 of 6): Newark, N.J., July 13 – Mrs. Mary F. Creighton, on trial here for the alleged poisoning of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Annie Creighton, more than two years ago, was acquitted by a jury early tonight after four hours’ deliberation.
As the foreman pronounced the words “not guilty,” Mrs. Creighton collapsed, but was revived in a few minutes. The streets outside the court house waiting for Mrs. Creighton to leave the building.
[“Acquitted Of Murder Charge Woman Faints,” syndicated (AP), The Sandusky Register (Oh.), Jul. 14, 1923, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 4 of 6): Sing Sing Prison, Ossining, N. Y., July l6 – Mrs. Mary Frances Creighton rode to horrible; death tonight in a wheel chair but she knew nothing of it.
The flabby, 37-year-old woman, who twice had been acquitted of poison murders, was electrocuted at 11:07 p.m. for the arsenic murder of Mrs. Ada Applegate in the Long Island town of Baldwin last fall.
When the inert hulk that a few minutes before had been a wife and mother was rolled out on a morgue table, her former paramour, Everett C. Applegate, husband of the murdered woman, followed her to the electric chair. They were convicted jointly of murdering Applegate’s 300-pound wife so that Applegate would be free to marry Ruth Chapman, the woman Borgia’s 15 year old daughter. Applegate admittedly seduced the child after he tired of her mother.
~ NO SIGN OF CONSCIOUSNESS ~
Mrs. Creighton gave no slightest sign of life or consciousness when she was brought into the execution chamber in a wheelchair. The 24 official witnesses, 22 of them newspaper men, agreed that she was completely unconscious.
It was stifling hot in the death chamber as the witnesses waited for the double execution. Robert Elliott, veteran executioner, squatted by a bucket of brine, dousing two leather helmets almost like football headgear and two padded leg plates.
~ WARDEN ARRIVES ~
It was so quiet that when he squeezed out surplus salt water, used to speed the current through the body o£ the condemned, the faint splash in the bucket was clearly audible.
Minutes passed. As 11 o’clock came .and went, the witnesses whispered. Then Warden Lewis K. Lawes entered, dressed in a dark suit and carrying a white Panama hat. A half-dozen guards in blue shirts at stations and the outside door to the chamber was locked.
~ ACCOMPANIED BY PRIEST ~
In a little rush, two white-clad matrons came through a wide door near the chair. On their heels rolled a wheelchair pushed by two guards and followed by the Rev. Father John T. McCaffery, Catholic prison chaplain. Mrs. Creighton hitherto a Protestant, embraced the Catholic faith at 5 p. m. today and at 9 o’clock was baptized and given the last rites of that church.
Guards hurried forward to meet the grim group find quickly ranged themselves around the doomed woman in an effort to shield her from the view of the newspaper men. They were partially successful.
~ LIFTED TO CHAIR ~
Her face was ghastly white. She was dressed in a pink silk night gown with, a low front and black silk kimono. She wore no stockings, On her feet were soft brown bedroom slippers.
Two big guards, easily 200 pounds, seized her limp body, one on each side. They grunted and strained and almost dumped her in the electric chair. The attendants then crowded around so closely that reporters could see only the woman’s feet and the top of the helmet which Elliott jammed on her dark hair.
The two matrons held two places in the close ring of prison, attendants screening the doomed woman.
~ DEATH STRAIN WITNESS ~
At 11:07 p. m., when Elliott, from an adjoining alcove threw his switch and the dynamo’s hum rose sharply, the matrons hid their faces on shoulders of guards standing by them.
Elliott turned off the 2000 volt current and it was deathly quiet. Two guards removed the helmet and face .mask and placed stethoscopes two doctors against her bared chest. Her head lay back between her shoulders, with the mouth open. Her face was a dirty gray.
~ MAN FOLLOWS ~
Warden Lawes said this was the first time in the history of the state that a condemned person, man or woman, had not walked to the chair. Even two one-legged men who were executed hopped to the chair with a hand on a guard’s shoulder.
In less than a minute Applegate, stocky and blond, marched in, with a guard on each side, accompanied by a Protestant minister. He walked quickly to a ‘position’ in front of the chair and faced the reporters.
“Before God, gentlemen, I am innocent of this crime,” he said clearly, “and I hope the good God will have Mercy on the soul of Martin W. Littleton.”
[“Woman, In Coma, Is Wheeled to Electric Chair - Guards Lift Unconscious Slayer of Lover’s Wife to Death Seat; Man Follows Her,” syndicated (UP), Nevada State Journal (Reno, Nv.), Jul. 17, 1936, p. 1]
FULL TEXT (Article 5 of 6): MURDER, like morphine, is habit-forming. Witness the strange case of Mary Creighton, whose 18-year-old brother, mother-in-law and best friend died so mysteriously and yet so much alike.
On the morning of April 24, 1923, District Attorney John O. Bigelow, of Newark, N.J., received an anonymous letter asking him to investigate the illness of Raymond Avery, who lived with his sister and brother-in-law, Mary and John Creighton, at 363 N. 7th St.
The letter said the youth had been treated on April 2 by Dr. Doyle for what had appeared to be a mild bilious attack, but because of his failure to respond and certain other circumstances the writer believed the boy was being poisoned. The “certain other circumstances,” the writer went on to say, were the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. John Creighton, Sr., three years previously from exactly the same symptoms.
Anonymous letters are no novelty to a district attorney. But this one was impressively detailed. So Bigelow went to the trouble of telephoning Dr. Doyle to inquire into Ray Avery’s condition.
To his surprise, the doctor told him Avery was already dead had died the night of April 20. And while Dr. Doyle admitted he find recorded the cause as inflammation of the stomach, he stated perfectly frankly that he was not entirely satisfied with his own diagnosis.
Inspired to delve a little deeper into the matter, Bigelow discovered that Avery was shortly to have come into a sizable inheritance, and that the legacy would now pass to his sister, Mary Creighton, along with his insurance, of which she was also the beneficiary. He also discovered that the sister, who had been rather free in spending a $30,000 legacy of her own, was the only one to attend Avery in his fatal illness.
Accordingly, the district attorney had the body exhumed and an autopsy performed. The latter disclosed arsenic in quantities sufficient to kill. As a result Mary and John Creighton were indicted for first-degree murder.
Now, as I said in opening, murder, like morphine, is habit-forming. And one of its outstanding peculiarities is the tendency of killers to use their once-successful method over and over again, without variation.
Bigelow, aware of this, was thus inspired to cast more than a casual glance at the second part of his remarkably well-informed anonymous letter the part dealing with the awesome similarity between the fatal symptoms of Avery and the senior Creightons. Perhaps Avery’s murder was not the first. Perhaps it was the second, even the third in the scheme of things.
Making a few discreet inquiries, the prosecutor learned that Mary Creighton had nursed her mother-in-law in her last illness. He also obtained evidence that she had purchased arsenic about the time the older woman fell ill and that just prior to the illness two dogs had died of poison possibly as test cases at the senior Creighton’s home.
On the strength of this, he had the elder Creightons’ bodies exhumed. The ensuing autopsy readily disclosed arsenic in Mrs. John Creighton’s vital organs. Avery’s depth was the fruit of habit after all! It would have been killer who used poison when she needed money – and always the same poison at that.
Naturally there was a great hue and cry. Mary Creighton was denounced as a 20th century Borgia the length and breadth of the land. Preparations were made to try her not only for Avery’s death, but for her mother-in-law’s as well.
But at the height of all this hubbub and furore, another great habit came to the fore the habit of the public of shifting
Its sympathy from the victims to the accused once an arrest is made.
The state proved beyond question that Mary Creighton purchased arsenic around the time of Raymond Avery’s first bilious attack. It showed also that Mary Creighton had benefited to the extent of $2,800 by his death and $7,000 by the untimely demise of her in-laws.
But when it was unable to produce eye-witnesses to show that she had actually administered the lethal dose always the stickler in poison prosecutions the long build-up of sympathetic publicity showed its effect. Husband and wife were acquitted, with the jury deliberating only 53 minutes.
There remained the second indictment charging Mary Creighton with poisoning her mother-in-law. That was easily hurdled. It was a matter of weeks before John and Mary Creighton were free to take their children, move away and start all over again. . .
TWELVE years pass. We find Mary and John Creighton settled in a pretty stucco bungalow at 12 Bryant P., Baldwin, L. I. John with a job as surveyor, has become a respected member of the American Legion Post there; Mary, an active worker in its auxiliary.
Ruth, in high school, is taking an adolescent’s first look at the boys; her brother, a 12-year-old lad’s interest in athletics. The money is one, but so is the notoriety of the past. No one in Baldwin has connected the sociable couple of Bryant place with the pair tried In Newark, N.J., for habitual poisonings.
That is, no one but Everett Appelgate, commander of the Legion Post. How he found out about it no one knows. But that he used his knowledge to personal advantage there can be no doubt. For when economic conditions got tough, he moved his wife, his daughter and himself into the Creighton home despite the fact that it was already overcrowded.
Naturally, this condition made for the closest of intimacy among the members of the two families. And logically, it was not long before the man who had blackmailed himself and dependents Into room and board was following up his advantage by seducing his fellow legionnaire’s wife and then his daughter.
In view of the complex emotional situation, It was not surprising, either, that the 300-pound Ada Appelgate should suddenly and mysteriously be stricken ill.
Mrs. Appelgate suffered her first bilious spell September 15. Six days later. Dr. Alexander Zabin, who had diagnosed the case as gall bladder disorder, transferred her to a hospital. There she responded so quickly to treatment that she was able to return home within four days.
On September 26, however, Dr. Zabin called to find the patient again inexplicably bilious and weak. This condition culminated in death later on that night, after Appleton and Mary Creighton, who had attended the patient solicitously throughout her illness, brought her an egg-nog. And Dr. Zabin issued a certificate of death, listing the cause as heart trouble complicated by obesity. Appelgate prepared to bury his wife. The neighbors, dropping in to console and commiserate, found themselves received tactfully and ably by Mary Creighton. Receiving at funerals had become something of a habit with her, too.
JUST then, however, still another human habit arose to upset things. A bakery wagon driver, who bore Mrs. Creighton a grudge over a bill dispute, made it his business to tell Inspector Harold King that the neighbors were suspicious of Mrs. Appelgate’s death. He produced newspaper clippings of the Newark poison trials, obtained, he admitted, to offset Mrs. Creighton’s complaint to his employers. He went to some lengths to point out similarity of fatal symptoms in the Avery, Creighton and Appelgate cases.
Inspector King, too, knew that murder once gotten away with becomes a habit. And experience had taught him also that habitual murderers repeatedly use the same tools over and over again without the slightest variation. So when the bakery driver stressed the similarity of symptoms in all three cases, he obtained an autopsy on Ada Appelgate.
And when Dr. Alexander O. Grtller, New York toxicologist, reported enough arsenic in her vital organs to kill four persons, Mary Creighton, along with Everett Appelgate, found that first degree murder Indictments could become a habit, too.
It befell District Attorney Martin W. Littleton, Jr. – just as it had District Attorney Bigelow to prosecute this 20th century Borgia and her colleague. He, too, faced the difficult task of proving, without eye-witnesses, that one or the other had actually administered the lethal dose. But hindsight being better than foresight, he decided to try for a confession rather than take a chance, as Bigelow had done, on his prisoners wiggling off on a technicality.
Accordingly, Inspector King and Lieutenant Jesse B. Mayforth were called in, and Appelgate given a rigorous grilling. He confessed the seduction of Ruth Creighton readily enough and the affair with Mary Creighton, too. But when it came to acknowledging a premeditated part in his 300-pound wife’s poisoning, that was something else again. He wouldn’t say a word.
Not so Mrs. Creighton. She started to talk at 5 o’clock on the morning of October 7 and didn’t stop till long after midnight.
She admitted killing her best friend, Aria Appelgate; her own brother, Raymond Avery, and her mother-in-law, Mrs. John Creighton, Sr. Ada Appelgate, she said, had been done away with so that the Legion commander might make an honest woman of the 13-year-old Ruth Appelgate, she swore, had aided and abetted in the crime buying the arsenic and mixing it in egg-nogs, which she, herself, handed his doomed wife.
Subsequently, of course, she repudiated her confession. That’s a well-known habit of murder suspects, too. So when the case went to trial in Nassau County Court in January of this year, District Attorney Littleton was in precisely the same boat that Prosecutor Bigelow had been in the Newark trial.
Something had come over Mary Creighton, however. Something which had its Inception the morning she began to confess. Perhaps it was her newly acquired habit of talking for the sake of seeing’ the sensation her disclosures produced. At any rate, against the protests of her startled attorney and the cautionings of Judge Corland A. Johnson on the bench, Mary Creighton suddenly repudiated her repudiation and once more launched into a detailed account of the poisoning one of the few confessions ever made from the witness stand. After that, the jury’s verdict was anti-climax. Few persons were present the morning of January 23, when at 12.47 o’clock she and Applegate heard themselves adjudged guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to the electric chair.
They died July 9. Appelgate walked. But Mary Creighton was in such a state of fear that she had to be hauled through the little green door.
That’s a habitual thing with murderers, too.
[G. R. Alexander, “True Detective Stories Solutions of Famous Cases From Police Records: The Strange Case of Mary Creighton,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune (Manitoba, Canada), Jul. 31, 1937, (Magazine section?), p. 5]
FULL TEXT (Article 6 of 6): “Will you please go quickly and catch this fiend at work?”
Prosecutor John O. Bigelow of Essex County, N. J., read this appeal in an anonymous letter he received at his office in Newark on April 24, 1923.
“Raymond Avery is ill at his sister’s home on North Seventh St., Newark,” the letter stated. “Dr. Boyle is the doctor. He says the boy has a bilious attack, but he has already been attending one week for same. His limbs are beginning to stiffen.”
Bigelow had a detective check the matter.
The officer ascertained that 18-year-old Ray Avery was no longer ill; he was dead. He had breathed his last four days previously, and the cause of death had been recorded as inflammation of the stomach.
Young Avery, then living with his sister, Mary Creighton, and her husband, John, and taken sick on April 2, but it had not seemed serious to the family physician, Dr. Thomas Boyle. Eight days later, however, he was much worse.
He said that Ray’s 24-year-old sister stood by the bedside, murmuring, “Poor Ray, I think he must have had an unhappy affair. He must have taken something.”
Death ended the patient’s agony at midnight.
Dr. Boyle, much puzzled, had consulted County Physician George Warren, and between them they had decided that death must have been caused by some sort of inflammation.
Investigation turned up these details:
Mary Avery, an extremely attractive brunette, with soft, appealing features, had been informally adopted by Mr. and Mrs. John Creighton, Sr., after her own parents died, and she had married the son of a family, a clerk. She and John, Jr., were the parents of a three-year-old daughter, Ruth, and another child was expected in a few weeks.
Mr. and Mrs. Creighton, Sr., after her own parents died, and she had married the son of the family, a clerk. She and John, Jr., were the parents of a three-year-old daughter, Ruth, and another child were expected in a few weeks.
Mr. and Mrs. John Creighton Sr., had both died under what could be considered mysterious circumstances, Mrs. Creighton in December, 1920, Creighton the following September. Dr. Boyle had ascribed each death to cerebral hemorrhage induced by ptomaine poisoning.
The daughter-in-law had nursed them.
A neighbor, who also lived on North Seventh St., reported she had remonstrated with Mrs. Creighton because Ray had been allowed to get up and move about.
“She all but snapped my head off,” the neighbor said, “so I did not attempt to enter the house again, nor speak to Mrs. Creighton. But one afternoon I did manage to have a few words with Ray through a window.”
She said he had complained that he was being fed very unpleasant-tasting chocolate pudding.
Another neighbor said that Ray had once quit his sister’s home and started to walk the 20 miles to his grandmother’s home in Rahway, where his sisters Helen and Hilda lived. The Creightons had followed him in their ear and brought them back.
Other informants declared that two dogs had died, possibly of poison, in the Creighton household. A terrier, subject of fits, had been “put to sleep,” and a bulldog had been found dead in the cellar shortly before the death of Mrs. Creighton, Sr. This dod had previously been in good health.
Prosecutor Bigelow and his men wondered how much weight to attach to all of this. obviously the neighbors did not like Mary Creighton. They said she was vain and boastful, put on airs, and was always talking about her money and her manner of living.
“She considers herself too good for this neighborhood,” one woman said. “Mr. Creighton, on the other hand, isn’t at all like that.”
Helen Avery, it developed, hadn’t been on speaking terms with her sister. She told Bigelow that had been at odds since she made over to Ray a small annuity arising from the family estate.
“I got a letter from Mary on April 16, in which she told me that Ray had some kind of kidney ailment, and would have to be operated,” said Helen. “As I made up my mind not to set foot inside her house, I stayed with a next-door neighbor, and it was from her I learned that there had been no talk of kidney trouble, nor of an operation.”
Bigelow also learned Ray’s life had been injured for $1,000, with Mary the beneficiary.
Dr. Albert E. Edel of Newark performed the autopsy and reported traces of arsenic.
Both Mary and John Creighton were indicted for murder on May 12. Five days later, Mary became the mother of another child who was christened John. Then traces of arsenic were found in the remains of Mrs. Creighton, Sr., and a second indictment was returned, this time only against Mary.
The Creightons’ trial opened on June 18, on Defense Attorney George T. Vickers thought so little of the state’s case that he rested without calling a single witness. The jury acquitted both after but 53 minutes’ deliberation.
Said the foreman, “There was nothing else we could do. The state could not prove that either the husband or the wife bought the poison, or that either administered it.”
Young Mother Vindicated, said the headlines. Mary Creighton Goes Back to Her Baby. (She went back a second time after winning an acquittal on the other indictment.)
So the curtain fell on New Jersey’s poison mystery.
But that was only the first curtain.
• ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ •
In September, 1935, the Creightons were living in a bungalow in Baldwin, L. I. Living with them were Everett Applegate, his 220-pound wife, Ada, their daughter, Agnes Applegate, 38, worked for the victims’ bureau as an investigator, his job being to approve bills of pharmacists for medicine supplied to ex-service men.
Mrs. Applegate fell ill on Sept. 19, and was taken to a hospital in Rockville Center. Several days later, apparently fully recovered, she returned home, where she said she had no appetite for anything but orange juice and eggnogs.
On the 26th, having had her usual; eggnog, she was violently ill all night.
At 6 the following, she lapsed into a coma, and at 8 she was dead.
The attending doctor ascribed her death to coronary occlusion.
Enter now upon the stage of this drama one John Schlembach, a 33-year-old bakery driver.
Schlembach, who had a wife and a child, had taken the entrance examination for a job as a police officer on the New York force, and had passed with honors. His ambition was to become a detective, but he had passed the age limit before there was a vacancy, so he’d continued his work as a bakery driver and salesman.
That late summer of 1935, he had been trying for weeks to collect a long-overdue $18 account from Mary Creighton. Rather than pay this amount, which Schlembach had to make good out of his own pocket, she had gone to his employer, accusing him of making insulting advances, and almost got him fired.
Schlembach had told his troubles to neighbors, and had been amazed to learn that, according to local rumor, this was the same Mary Creighton who had been tried twice for murder in New Jersey 12 years before. Moreover, gossip had it that some queer things had been happening in and about the Creighton-Applegate menage.
Her learned, too, that a Mrs. Rehm, a former next-door neighbor, had in her possession photostatic copies of newspaper reports telling about the New Jersey case.
His detective instinct aroused, Schlembach traced this ex-neighbor. He found that Mrs. Hermine Rehm had moved with her husband, Joseph, to Long Island City. He visited them and heard Mrs. Rehm’s story.
She said she had gotten on Mrs. Creighton’s black list when she suspected her neighbor after losing $136 in cash, a $75 ring, and a $50 watch.
“I hinted to her one day that I knew who had stolen those things,” Mrs. Rehm related. “Mrs. Creighton then sued me for a small sum of money. She won a judgment for the sum, plus costs, then attached personal property of mine. Again she collected.”
The two women then made up.
Next Mrs. Creighton had offered Mrs. Rehm some home-made chili. Mrs. Rehm ate it, and suffered severe abdominal pains.
Upon her recovery, Mrs. Creighton had her in for muffins and milk. Again she was ill.
“Several days later,” Mrs. Rehm went on, “she brought me some chocolate pudding, and that time I was really sick.”
Thoroughly suspicious, she threw subsequent offerings into the furnace. At the same time she and her husband checked on Mrs. Creighton’s history and thus they learned of the accusations and trials in 1923.
They had obtained photostats of several stories, but rather than stir up a lot of unpleasantness for themselves, the Rehms had simply pulled up stakes and moved away.
Schlembach, delighted at his progress, showed the stories to his company. “I’ll collect that 18 bucks,” he promised. “Wait and see!”
On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 28, the day after Ada Applegate died, the bakery man called at the bungalow to make yet another attempt to get the money.
But then he halted in his tracks. He saw crape hanging by the door.
Schlembach turned away, hastened to neighboring homes. What he learned sent him to the Nassau County police.
“Mrs Ada Applegate of Bryant Place died this morning,” he told an officer at the first precinct. “I’ve got an idea you’d better look into the matter. There’s another family living in the same house. Name of Creighton.”
“So what?” asked the officer.
“Look,” said Schlembach, producing the Photostats. “It’s the same woman who was tried in 1923! You ought to hear the stories the neighbors tell about her! And about Applegate and young Ruth Creighton.”
John Schlembach, it soon developed, had hit upon something.
At the South Shore Community Hospital, doctors who had attended Mrs. Applegate were asked if, in view of what had come to light, they could have come to light, they could have been mistaken in their diagnosis. They admitted they could.
That came evening, Inspector Harold King brought Mrs. Creighton and Applegate to District Attorney Martin Littleton’s office.
In this interview, otherwise unproductive, Applegate grudgingly agreed to an autopsy.
Meanwhile, the authorities were told by neighbors that Applegate at one time had taken Mrs. Creighton’s 15-year-old daughter, Ruth, and his own 12-year-daughter on his investigating trips. Some time during the spring, however, he had begun alternating, taking Agnes one day and Ruth another.
Mrs. Applegate, said the neighbors, had disapproved of her husband’s interest in Ruth, and had threatened to make trouble.
The autopsy finding by Dr. Alexander O. Gettler, famed New York toxicologist, showed:
Arsenic to the amount of 9.7 grains, enough to kill three humans.
(Meanwhile, John Schlembach collected all but $3 of the $18 coming to him.)
Both Applegate, said the neighbors, had disapproved of her husband’s interest in Ruth, and had threatened to make trouble.
John Creighton, now a surveyor, was held as a material witness, and the children of both families were put in the care of the Children’s Shelter at Mineola.
Mary Creighton began to talk at 4:20 a. m., Oct. 8. once she started, it was virtually impossible to stop her.
She admitted killing her mother-in-law in December, 1920.
She admitted killing her brother “because he was crippled.”
She admitted poisoning Mrs. Appelgate because she knew too much and “in the way.”
She said Appelgate had known of her past and, because of this knowledge, had kept her under his domination and had his way with her.
Late in August, she continued, Mrs. Appelgate had learned the truth and “talked too much with her mouth.” She said, “I realized that she would have to be silenced.”
She said she bought of rat poison on Sept. 11 or 12. She had paid 23 cents for it in a cut-rate store on the Merrick Rd. after another druggist had asked 35 cents.
She said that, with Applegate’s approval and assistance, she began feeding it to Mrs. Applegate in coffee, tea and milk.
The final fatal dose, she said, had been mixed in a glass of eggnog. “I sat on the edge of the bed,” she said, “and watched her die.”
At her trial (along with Appelgate) the following January, Mrs. Creighton elected to take the stand in her own behalf.
It proved a bad move.
Questioned by her attorney, Elvin N. Edwards, she denied everything, repudiated all admissions of guilt, and then went on to make her fight for freedom.
She said she had written numerous anonymous letters to herself, warning her to oust the Appelgates as “common people,”
Also, the writer threatened that if the Appelgates would be “put to sleep.”
She said she had written the letters because Applegate knew about her past, and she hoped to frighten him into leaving.
Prosecutor Littlejohn, cross-examining, asked:
Q. You were unable to overcome him? A. Yes.
Q. This was before they came to live with you? A. Yes.
Q. You were apprehensive about your husband finding out what had occurred? A. Yes.
Q. You didn’t complain to anyone? A. I was afraid.
Q. What were you afraid of? A. I was afraid Applegate would expose my trouble in 1923. that’s what he said he would do.
Q. And so you would have us believe that he dominated you? A. Yes.
Q. After a time this became a worry to you? A. It was a continual worry.
Q. You went into a drug store and bought rat poison? A. Yes.
Q. You didn’t know what Applegate wanted with the poison? A. No, I didn’t dare ask him.
Q. You gave it to him and you never heard of it or saw it again? A. Yes.
Q. You were greatly concerned for Ada and tended her? A. I did.
Q. Applegate told you to keep your mouth shut? A. Yes.
Q. You decided to go along with him? A. I didn’t know what else to do.
Q. You decided to do it? A. No, that’s not right.
Q. Did you give her the milk with the powder in it? A. Yes., I guess that is true.
Q. You knew she had drunk milk with arsenic in it? A. I was told it was arsenic. I didn’t know.
Q. And still you were glad to give it to her? A. I gave it to her, yes.
Charles R. Weeks, attorney for Applegate, cross-examined Mrs. Creighton as follows:
Q. You said Mr. Applegate told you to buy the rat poison? A. Yes. He game me 20 cents and I put it in three pennies.
Q. You remember saying in the statement that Applegate didn’t know you bought the rat poison? A. Yes, I said that, but it wasn’t true.
Q. Do you remember being asked, “By what means did you intend giving Mrs. Applegate the poison,” and answering, “Through her food”? A. I can’t recall saying that.
Q. Did you use those words? A. I won’t say I did and I won’t say I didn’t.
Q. Didn’t that ask you if you knew you were confessing a major crime? A. I believe they did, but I was so worked up.
Q. Yes, you told us that before. But the doctor examined you before you signed? A. Yes.
Q. Do you remember saying you put another dose in coffee pudding? A. I don’t recall saying it. I recall reading it.
Q. Under oath you said it was true? A. Yes.
Q. And now under oath you are saying it is not true? A. Yes.
Q. Then one time or another you are lying under oath? A. Well, I, …no.
Q. You remember admitting that you decided to do away with Mrs. Applegate? A. That’s not true.
The jury did not believe a word she said in her own behalf, and it lost no time in convicting both defendants.
The final scene was enacted in Sing Sing prison on a night in July.
“Before dying, gentlemen, I want to day that I am absolutely innocent …”
Mary Creighton, pushed into the execution chamber in a wheelchair, died with her eyes shut, and speechless.
[Peter Levins, “The case of the Overdue Bakery Bill,” The American Weekly, Sep. 19, 1949, p. 26?]
Victims of Frances Mary Creighton:
Mrs. Annie Creighton, mother-in-law, died Dec. 1920
John Creighton, Sr., father in law, died under “mysterious circumstances” Sep. 1921
Charles Raymond Avery, 18, Frances’s brother, died Apr. 20, 1923
Mrs. Hermine Rehm – attempted murder, illness from poison, followed by other attempts
Ada Applegate, best friend; Everett Applegate, accomplice, died Sep. 27, 1935
Apr. 2, 1923 – beginning of Charles R. Avery’s illness
Apr. 20, 1923 – death of Charles Raymond Avery, 18
Apr. 24, 1923 – Prosecutor John O. Bigelow receives anonymous letter accusing Creighton of slowly murdering Charles
May 12, 1923 – arraigned with husband John Creighton, accomplice
Jun. 6, 1923 – second murder indictment, for death of Mrs. Annie Creighton
Jun. 18?, 1923 – Trial No. 1, for murder of Charles R. Avery
Jun. 23, 1923 – both defendants acquitted
Jul. 1923 – Trial No. 2, for murder of Mrs. Annie Creighton
Jul. 13, 1923 – acquitted, of murdering mother-in-law
Sep. 27, 1935 – death of Ada Applegate
Oct. 9, 1935 – Frances C. and Everett Applegate arrested for Applegate murder
Jan. 13, 1936 – Trial No. 3 begins, murder of Ada Applegate, with accomplice Everett A.
Jan. 25, 1936 – both defendants convicted
Jan. 30, 1936 – Judge Cortland Johnson sentences both to death
May 27, 1936 – Appeal rejected by court
Jul. 16, 1936 – Execution of Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate. Sing Sing
The Creighton case is discussed in detail in the following book: Marlin Shipman, The Penalty Is Death: U. S. Newspaper Coverage of Women's Executions, U of Missouri Press, 2002
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