Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frances Creighton & Everett Appelgate

'A Better Life Than Me'

By July 16, her time had finally come. Laying helplessly in her bed, delirious from fright and too weak to move, Frances was loaded onto a wheelchair at 11:00 p.m. "Semi-comatose, her head lolling against the back of a wheelchair," said one reporter, "Mrs. Creighton was trundled into the death chamber late last night." She was rolled down the darkened corridor toward the death room, the only prisoner ever taken to the electric chair in an unconscious state. "An old and broken woman at thirty-eight," said another press account, "a strange caricature of the Borgia she had been called." Prison guards lifted the pathetic figure up and strapped her firmly to the wooden chair. She showed no outward signs of life.

Robert Elliott
Robert Elliott

Robert Elliott, America's premier executioner, busied himself with the mechanics of death as he tested his machinery. The matrons sobbed quietly as the helpless woman sat rigid in the chair. When the warden gave the signal, Elliott turned the dial and sent 2,000 volts into the motionless body of Frances Creighton. After she was pronounced dead, the body was removed to a nearby autopsy room. "Her mouth was agape, her face an ashen blue," the Daily News said in the next day's story, "but there was no evidence of a wasted body, though she has spurned food for daysbut she appeared to be a well-built woman, even when dead."

Everett Appelgate in jail
Everett Appelgate in jail

While the odor of burning flesh still lingered inside the chamber, Appelgate was brought in at 11:09 p.m. He remained stoic and brave. "Gentlemen," he announced in a loud, clear voice, "I would like to say something." He looked straight ahead at the witnesses without flinching. "Before God, gentlemen," he said, "I am absolutely innocent of this crime and I hope the good God will have mercy on the soul of Martin W. Littleton!" Without further comment, Appelgate was hustled into the chair. The electrodes were quickly attached to his shaved head and as soon as the guards stepped back, Elliot performed his second and final execution of the night.

On the day she died, Frances Creighton asked to be baptized a Catholic. Father John McCaffrey, the prison chaplain, presided over the ceremony. Frances decided to become a Catholic because she thought it would be easier for her to face death. "I have done many wrong things but I know God will forgive me," she said to Father McCaffrey. "John knows that 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."

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