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Mary Frances CREIGHTON






A.K.A.: "Black Eyed Borgia"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Poisoner
Number of victims: 1 - 3
Date of murders: 1923 / 1935
Date of arrest: October 9, 1935
Date of birth: July 29, 1899
Victims profile: Ray Avery, 18 (her brother) / Anna Creighton (her mother-in-law) / Ada Applegate, 34 (her lover's wife)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: New Jersey/New York, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution at Sing Sing prison in New York on July 16, 1936
photo gallery

Mary Frances Creighton (c. 1898 - July 16, 1936), was a 38-year-old housewife, who along with Everett Appelgate, a 36-year-old former American Legion official, were executed in Sing Sing Prison's electric chair, Old Sparky, for the poisoning of Appelgate's wife, Ada, in Baldwin, New York on September 27, 1935. She had passed out prior to the execution, and was executed in an unconscious state.


Mary 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 arsenic.

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.


CREIGHTON, Mary Frances (USA)

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 acquitted her.

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.

Despite his 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.

Allegations were 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.

This time, however, Mary’s phenomenal luck had run out.

Charged with 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.

A special 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.

The executioner 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.

American tabloids 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.’

Amazing True 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 everyone.

In 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 case.

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 poison.

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, 1936).

Mark Gado –



The Long Island Borgia

By Mara Bovsun -

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 trials.

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 adventures.

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 her daughter.

During the confession, she also casually admitted to killing her brother and mother-in-law, the crimes of which she had been acquitted.

Evil eggnog

Police wasted no time in arresting Appy on a charge of statutory rape. He freely, in fact cheerfully, admitted that crime.

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.

'Strategic triumph'

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 appeals.

"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 wheelchair.

"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


DATE(S): 1923-35



MO: "Black widow" poisoner of brother, mother-inlaw, and lover's wife.

DISPOSITION: Executed July 19, 1936.

ACCOMPLICE: Earl Applegate (1898-1936) executed July 19, 1936 for participation in his wife's murder.



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