Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Frances Creighton & Everett Appelgate

Mary Frances

John and Mary Frances Creighton
John and Mary Frances

Mary Frances Avery was born on July 29, 1899 on Cherry Street in Rahway, New Jersey. Both her parents died when she was barely a teenager. As a student, she was an under-performer and achieved very little prominence in school. By the time she was 14, Frances moved from Rahway to the city of Newark. There, she met John Creighton, a young soldier who was on his way to fight in Europe during World War I. The following year, when John returned home on leave, the young couple was wed. In the beginning of their marriage, they lived with John's parents, Walter and Anna Creighton, at North 7th Street in Newark, New Jersey. By 1920, Frances' younger brother, Raymond, had moved in with them.

Frances was a matronly woman. She was orderly in appearance and careful of her language in mixed company. But Frances had a bad temper and she did not get along well with her in-laws. She was domineering, manipulative and suspected of several thefts that occurred in the Creighton household. She also spread malicious rumors about her husband's family to neighbors. When detectives later interviewed one of these neighbors, she said that Frances always had bad things to say about the Creightons. "Mrs. Frances Creighton said that her mother-in-law, Anna Creighton, was going to destroy herself," said the investigator's report, "shortly thereafter, Anna Creighton became sick and within a week, died."

After Anna's death, Frances was still having problems with Walter Creighton, who did not think much of his daughter-in-law. She confided to another neighbor that Walter was getting ill and appeared to have the same sickness as Anna. Five days later, he died suddenly and without explanation. John Creighton grieved for his parents but according to his later statements to police, he never suspected any foul play. "If my mother died of unnatural causes," he said to reporters, "I know in my innermost heart that my wife is innocent of responsibility for her death."

Then, in April of 1923, Frances' brother Raymond became sick with what most people thought was a common cold. Frances told neighbors that Raymond had eaten a salad the day before and was sick from ptomaine poisoning. For a week, his condition grew steadily worse despite medical treatment. On April 20, Raymond died at the 7th Street home. An autopsy performed over the family's objections by the Essex County Medical Examiner's Office showed a large amount of arsenic present in Raymond's internal organs. His death was classified a homicide and after a brief investigation by the police, Frances and John Creighton were arrested on May 12, 1923 for the murder of his brother.

Creightons after their acquittal
Creightons after their acquittal

The trial was held in the city of Newark in June 1923. During the proceedings, the prosecution offered inconclusive evidence of their guilt. As a result, the jury had little choice but to acquit both defendants.

Their suspicions aroused, police quickly dug up the bodies of Walter and Anna Creighton and performed additional tests. No arsenic was found in Walter, perhaps due to inept testing procedures, but a lethal dose was discovered in Anna's remains. Frances was arrested again and charged with her murder. Just ten days later, the second trial of Mary Frances Creighton began. Prosecutors again tried to prove that Frances was the one who fed Anna and had the means and opportunity to poison her. But it could not be proven that Frances was the one who actually purchased the arsenic. Again, the jury was reluctant to convict. She was found not guilty again and released.

In the meantime, police learned that Walter's beloved white bulldog had disappeared several months prior to the trial. They soon discovered that the dog had died and was buried in the back yard of the North 7th Street home. Excited detectives hurried over to the location and dug up the body. An autopsy was performed on the animal but no arsenic was found. If she was guilty, Frances Avery Creighton had outsmarted the police once again.

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