Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frances Creighton & Everett Appelgate

Appy Helped Me!

At first, the death of the unfortunate Ada Appelgate caused not a stir at police headquarters in the town of Mineola. Since the death was attributed to natural causes, it was not considered a police matter. But on the morning of September 28th, Police Officer Joseph O'Connor of the Nassau County Police walked into the office of Chief of Detectives Harold King. He dropped several newspaper clippings on the chief's desk. The clippings were from a New Jersey paper in 1923 that described two sensational murder trials in the city of Newark. A woman was accused of first murdering her 18-year-old brother and later arrested again for killing her mother-in-law. Both victims had apparently died from arsenic poisoning and both trials had ended in acquittal for the accused. The defendant in both cases was Frances Creighton.

His suspicions aroused, Inspector King arranged for an interview with Appelgate's family doctor. "The doctor recalled that Mrs. Creighton had made it a point to ask him about Mrs. Appelgate's diet," Inspector King later wrote in his narrative of the case, "and had inquired if it would be alright to make broths and eggnogs for the sick woman - it was his impression that Mrs. Creighton had personally prepared what little nourishment the bedridden woman was able to keep on her stomach." King ordered an autopsy of Ada. He also sent his detectives out to canvass the local drug stores to see if anyone had made a recent purchase of arsenic. Inspector King then called Frances in for an interview.

When he first saw Frances Creighton, King remarked that she "appeared to be a typical, middle-class housewife, except for the eyes. They were dark and forbidding, and had a hypnotic quality. Closer scrutiny of this woman's face marked her as a person of strong will, accustomed to dominating others." Everett Appelgate, Mrs. Creighton and John Creighton all took seats in District Attorney Littleton's office and the interrogations began. For the next 48 hours, they were questioned relentlessly by police and Nassau County District Attorney Martin Littleton. When Frances insisted she had to go home to get the kids off to school, two detectives went with her and stood by while she cooked breakfast and did chores. When the children left for school, Frances was brought back to the D.A.'s office for more questions. With virtually no sleep over two days and little rest, Frances eventually broke down.

She said that Everett threatened to reveal her murderous past in New Jersey if she didn't have sex with him. She also described how she found out that Everett had seduced her daughter. But what worried Frances the most was Ruth's possible pregnancy. "I didn't want her to have a baby with no father!" she sobbed. Frances wanted Everett to marry her daughter but he couldn't do that with Ada still alive. She said that Everett once told her that he would marry Ruth if he could. "I would if I could get rid of that fat tub of a wife," he said to her. "If I thought I could get away with it, I'd do it in a minute!"

"And that's why you put poison in her food then?" Inspector King asked.

"Yes, that's why," she whispered, "and Appy helped me!"

But Appelgate denied it. In his statement to police, he said that he took loving care of Ada since the day she came home from the hospital. But she grew sicker by the day and vomited constantly. At the moment she died, Appelgate was there. "Ada then again started up with a vacant stare in her eyes," he told police, "a sort of wild look, and her head just flopped back on the bed. And I am quite sure that is the time she passed." He blamed Ada's death on poor medical care and inattentive doctors.

When John Creighton was interviewed, he professed complete ignorance of any sort of animosity in the house. He told police that although the two families had minor spats, they mostly got along well. But after Ada became sick, John Creighton became worried. Since he had already been accused of murder once, Creighton didn't want any more trouble. "She was my wife," he told police, "and naturally I would believe her, but I'll tell you right now, if she did this thing with Mrs. Appelgate, I am not going to stand by her! Why should I put myself in the shadow of the chair for a woman like that?" When detectives asked him if his mother was murdered in 1923, Creighton said he "didn't believe my mother was poisoned, but I know my brother-in-law was poisoned." He was asked if the poison was called Rough on Rats.

"Might have been," Creighton replied.

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