by Barb. Tree up. Baking done. Cards in process. Now to wrap the presents.
When Kensington Publishing Corp. asked me to write a novella for their anthology Eggnog Murder, I could have saved a lot of time had I but Googled. Elsewhere, I’ve told the true tale of how my story in the collection, “Nogged Off,” came about. But this is not that. It turns out, there really was an “eggnog murder,” and the details are anything but cozy.
In the town of Baldwin, Long Island, John Creighton and Everett Applegate, both WWI veterans and active in the American Legion, became friends. It was the height of the Depression and soon Creighton moved with his wife Mary Frances, and their children Ruth 14 and John Jr., into the home where Applegate lived with his wife Ada and daughter Agnes, 12.
Ada Applegate was extremely overweight and led an unhealthy lifestyle, reportedly rarely getting out of bed, so no one was surprised when she died on September 27, 1935 of an apparent heart attack. However, as her remains were being lowered into the ground, police dramatically halted the funeral and took the body for testing. The finding was arsenic poisoning, almost three times the amount required to be deadly.
Police suspicions were aroused when an envelope full of yellowed newspaper clippings was mailed to the station, allegedly by a bread man Mary Frances Creighton had frequently stiffed. The articles showed that Mary Frances and her husband had been arrested and tried, though not convicted, in 1923 in New Jersey for the arsenic poisoning of Mary Frances’ brother Raymond. She had inherited his life insurance and a trust fund. Her in-laws, John Creighton’s parents, had also died separately in suspicious circumstances. They both had arsenic in their bodies on autopsy, but prosecutors determined that it was too little for a jury to likely convict, so charges had not been brought.
Mary Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate were arrested for the murder of Ada Applegate. Mary Frances told various stories–that Everett had put the Rough on Rat poison in Ada’s daily eggnog, or that she, Mary Frances, had done it at Everett’s direction. She claimed her motive was that she had discovered Everett was having sex with her daughter, Ruth, and was terrified Ruth would become pregnant. With Ada out of the way, Everett could make an honest woman of 16-year-old Ruth.
Everett admitted to the child rape charges, but claimed he had nothing to do with the murder. Further, he said, he hadn’t had sex with Ruth except when his wife Ada was present. (Seriously, this was his defense.) There were further allegations that Mary Frances had also been sleeping with Everett, that Agnes Applegate, age 14, had been sleeping with her father and Ruth, and on and on. Eventually, both Mary Frances Creighton and Everett Applegate were convicted of the murder of Ada and sentenced to death.
At first, Mary Frances was cheerfully confident even in Sing-Sing. She had previously gotten away with three murders, after all, and couldn’t seem to comprehend that she wouldn’t get away with this one. But when the Court of Appeals affirmed her conviction and sentence, she took a turn, lying on her cot all day, eating nothing but ice cream and claiming to be paralyzed from the waist down. The prison doctors found no organic cause for her illness, and suggested her symptoms were “hysterical.”
Mary Frances wore pink pajamas and a black kimono to the electric chair. Two matrons brought her in a wheel chair. As she was lifted, apparently unconscious, into the chair, two guards stood in front of the window to shield witnesses from the sight. She had converted to Catholicism the day before her execution and her rosary beads were the last thing to fall from her hand before she was electrocuted.
Everett Applegate maintained his innocence to the end. The last thing delivered to Mary Frances in her cell was a letter from Everett’s lawyer, pleading with her to declare his client’s innocence before she was put to death. She did not, and Everett followed her to the electric chair.
The novellas you’ll find in Eggnog Murder are considerably lighter, funnier, dare I say frothier, than this sad tale. But as you can see, truth, once again, proves at least as strange as fiction.