Did you know that the beloved play and movie “Arsenic and Old Lace” was based on fact? Yep, it was. A woman serial killer in Connecticut, Amy Archer-Gilligan was the inspiration. She has even made Murderpedia!
Thanks to Diana Ross McCain of “Come Home to Connecticut” for the story last night at the Hamden Library. Never forget that money will drive some people to do desperate things. Do tell, you say. Okay.
Having worked as elderly caretakers, Archer-Gilligan and her first husband opened a convalescent home in Windsor, CT. When her husband died, she married again. Her second husband died 3 months later from a “bilious attack.” Ahem.
They charged weekly rates of $5 to $25, with a special lifetime deal of $1000. If you stayed in the home more than four years, this was a great financial deal. Only…no one stayed longer than four years.
In 1914, Franklin R. Andrews was on this ‘life care’ plan. He was so healthy that he puttered in the home’s garden in the morning, before dying of gastric ulcers that evening. His sister in Hartford complained, and an investigation began. The body was exhumed and a secret autopsy was conducted in the cemetery tool house. Even after two years, the body was in good condition, a symptom of arsenic poisoning. Apparently, Andrews was dosed 10 hours before his death and again shortly before.
Archer-Gilligan was accused, and she denied the charges, stating she used arsenic to control rats. Her second husband’s and three more bodies were exhumed, revealing both arsenic and stricknine poisoning.
In 1917, the trial commenced. One witness was Mr. Gowdy. He and his wife wanted to move into the home, as long as they could get a particular room. Archer-Gilligan told the Gowdy’s the room would be available on June 1, and they agreed to take it. That room was occupied by, you got it, Franklin Andrews. He died on May 29.
Mrs. Gowdy was one of 60 deaths in the house between 1907 and 1917. Hmmm. Not all her victims were men. She convinced widows to leave their estates to her. Talk about buyer-beware!
Archer-Gilligan was convicted, but was granted a new trial. She was found guilty of second degree murder with an insanity plea and went to jail anyway. This was July 1919, five years after Andrews was killed. After suffering from “prison psychosis,” she was institutionalized at Connecticut Valley Hospital until her death in 1962. She has been remembered by employees there as very ‘sweet’. Sweet, indeed.
By the way, she died after “Arsenic and Old Lace” came out, opening on Broadway in 1941 and as a film in 1944. I wonder what she thought of Cary Grant?