Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frances Creighton & Everett Appelgate

Part Hysterical

The electric chair at Sing Sing
The electric chair at
Sing Sing

Within the hour after sentencing, Creighton and Appelgate were shipped out to Sing Sing's prolific death row. The 1930s was the heyday of capital punishment in America. During 1936, Sing Sing executed 21 criminals, the most ever in its history. When the murderous couple arrived at the prison, sixteen men were on death row awaiting the ultimate punishment. Barely two weeks before, Albert Fish, New York's most notorious cannibal-killer, was executed. And a week before that, four men went to the chair on the same night.

Warden Lewis Lawes
Warden Lewis Lawes

Warden Lewis Lawes, the legendary prison reformer, had his own doubts about the guilt of Everett Appelgate. Ironically, Lawes was an outspoken critic of the death penalty and frequently traveled the country lecturing against its use. Appelgate's attorney's appealed the conviction and succeeded in postponing the execution date till July 16. Governor Herbert Lehman also held private reservations about Appelgate's guilt and even sought the advice of District Attorney Littleton. The governor wanted to know if Littleton would support a commutation of the sentence. Though he admitted the evidence was circumstantial, the district attorney told the governor he would not support any reduction in sentence. That decision sealed the fate of Everett Appelgate. Warden Lawes gave the order to prepare the death chamber.

In the meantime, Frances' physical condition steadily deteriorated on death row. She refused to eat and slept long periods of time. She fell into a severe type of depression and was unable to get out of her cot. "Mrs. Creighton has been in a state of collapse for eight weeks," the New York Times reported. "For the last week, her hysteria has been such that she has been unable to leave her bed. Both legs appear to be paralyzed and she can retain hardly any food." Her condition was so bad, that the governor appointed a special medical team, headed by Dr. Frederick Parsons of Albany, to examine her. On July 14, they met with Frances Creighton and performed a physical exam. Their final report to the governor was brief. "We find no evidence of organic disease of the central nervous system or of the body as a whole," Dr. Parsons wrote, "Mrs. Frances Creighton is well-developed, well-nourished and muscular.her disturbances in motor power, in sensation and in speech are part hysterical. They are grossly exaggerated by conscious malingering - her condition is the reaction to the situation in which she finds herself."

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