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Welcome to criminalize a production of scandal and audio in partnership with a heart radio. Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Criminality, where this season we're exploring the lives and motivations of some of the most notorious lady poisoners throughout history. I'm Holly Friendly. And I'm Maria Tomoaki. And the points that are that we're talking about today is Amy Archer Gilligan. And you might know her name.


She was the real life inspiration for the story behind both the play and the film Arsenic in Old Lace.


And this today is the true story behind the eccentric comedy that came out of Hollywood as a result of it. And it's absolutely not a comedy. It's not about it's not at all.


So a little bit about Amy's story. So from her birth through her death, Amy's entire story takes place in the state of Connecticut.


She was born to James and Mary Duggan, probably on Halloween, but definitely in October, in 1873 in the town of Milton, which at the time was sort of the northwestern part of what is now the town of Litchfield.


And all accounts suggest that Amy grew up in a modest circumstance and there was really nothing about her childhood that particularly stands out.


However, there was a legacy of mental illness in her immediate family. Amy's brother John became a patient. He would have been called an inmate then, which is obviously outdated terminology at the Connecticut General Hospital for the insane. And that happened in 1982. Also outdated terminology. Right.


And one of her sisters was listed as residing there as well. That was during the 1930 census. So there is a strong streak there. There were between eight and 10 children in the Archer family and as many as seven are believed to have had mental health issues.


That's amazing. So as an adult, Amy married James Archer when she was 23 years old. And about five years later, they relocated with their young daughter to Newington, which, as I was saying, also a town in Connecticut. There they lived with a man named John Seymour who was frail and elderly, and they cared for him in exchange for room and board.


When John died in 1994, the house went to his heirs, but the Archers decided to rent it and they turned it into Sister Amy's nursing home for the elderly. And yes, you probably could hear something of an air quote around the word sister, because Amy certainly did not take any religious vows, although she was known to be a very pious woman, they were kind of trading on that name as kind of a marketing plan. Three years after they started this, though, John's family decided to sell the property.


So The Archers moved to Windsor and with their savings, they bought a red brick house at thirty seven Prospect Street. It's still there today and you can tour through it, although they ask you to really not take photos.


It was in this house that became the arch, your home for elderly people and chronic invalids.


That is the name of the house, not a name that we will keep repeating through the episode right in this unassuming red brick house. This business that they started did not seem particularly out of the ordinary. Amy was reportedly a doting Christian woman who took care of those who were unable to care for themselves. She was, or at least seemed to be a positive fixture in her community. It's really true.


Like if you if you if you look at some of the things that she did minus the killing, she was very caring.


She was very willing to give money to the church for for a variety of reasons. So if you if you didn't know what was going on in her life, you might think that she was a positive fixture in her community.


So in comparison today, there are a bit more than 15000 nursing homes and more than twenty eight thousand assisted living residences in the United States.


And together, they're occupied by about two and a half million people.


But in the early 20th century, when The Archers opened their doors, this was not the case at all. Most of the time, caring for your elders was the responsibility of family members. And basically the Archers were really establishing a brand new field when they did this.


And they were also trying to make a place in it. They were known to even advertise their services in the local newspapers.


And the Archer home for elderly people and chronic invalids worked basically like this. Patients would either sign their life insurance policies over to Amy or they could pay a large amount of money. By all accounts, this was right around a thousand dollars up front. But Amy did not only cater to the well-off, if there were people who could not pay that lump sum up front, they were given an option to pay weekly. But no matter how they chose to pay in return what?


They got was residents and Amys care, and there were generally anywhere between 10 and 20 residents in the home at a time.


So these residents, Amy, called them inmates and we referred to that earlier when we were talking about her brother and it sounds wrong to our twenty first century years, but it was completely in line with the convention of the time.


Everything appeared fine on the outside of this business. Yet there were stories about how Amy's inmates were crowded together in rooms and often left to fend for themselves.


And as I was just talking about, remember, the industry at this time was so brand new and that means there were no regulatory agencies set up yet to monitor anything, anything from the quality of care or anything that was going on inside the home.


And in 1989, Amy had her first brush with the law. The McClintock family of West Hartford sued The Archers over their perceived lack of care that was given to an elderly family member. They settled out of court and the Archers paid 5000 dollars to the McLintock. We know it's unreliable always when we talk about trying to figure out how much money in 1910 would equal to today's currency. But we always like to do it just kind of as a a little bit of a benchmark.


So you get a sense. Right. So a little fun.


Five thousand dollars in 1910 was a pretty tidy payout.


And roughly, very roughly, that's kind of the equivalent to like one hundred and thirty seven thousand today, which is really nothing to really laugh at.


So actually right now we're going to take a quick break.


And when we return, we're going to talk about the mysterious and numerous deaths happening at the Archer home.


Welcome back to Criminal Yeah. Let's get to talking about Amy's, quote unquote, inmates.


So in 1910, which was about three years after The Archers opened the Archer home for elderly people and chronic invalid's James, if you remember, that's Amy's first husband suddenly died of what was at the time called Bright's disease.


So Bright's disease is kidney disease. And this at this point, we're going to do some really high level medical talk here. It's basically what happens when your kidneys become inflamed. So ultimately, if it's left untreated, that can lead to kidney failure. Today, it would be called nephritis, and it has several causes, such as an infection or high blood pressure. And we're just going to put this out there and it probably won't surprise you. Exposure to arsenic, not arsenic works.


What's that? I've never heard of him. I wonder what the symptoms.


After James died, Amy began having some financial trouble, but she was still able to manage the home. And that's because she had taken out quite a hefty insurance policy on her husband just about a week or two prior to his death.


A few years later, in 1913, Amy got remarried. Her new groom, 56 year old Michael Gilligan, was a healthy and vivacious man with a hefty savings account. Like Amy, Michael was a widower. Plus, he had four adult sons in February 1914, which was just about three months after they had gotten married. Michael suddenly died. The official cause of death was listed as acute bilious attack, which basically means he was likely suffering from some kind of liver dysfunction.


Right is really hard to pin down. So some people will call it severe indigestion. And it was a little bit more major than that. Yeah.


So when he died, he had willed his entire estate, which was valued at about four thousand dollars. That would be very, very roughly the equivalent of, say, about one hundred thousand dollars today.


So he willed all of this to his wife. You know, husbands will their estates to their wives all the time. It's not weird.


But despite that, the authorities were suspicious and they later determined that Michael's will was a forgery and that the handwriting, it turned out, matched Amy's.


So at this point, there's a pattern emerging regarding the Archer home and neighbors were starting to take notice of the high death rate among the residents there. And unlike other stories that we've shared on the show, where shady things kind of went on for a long time without anyone really getting to concerned, authorities were actually pretty quick to jump to the conclusion that these deaths were probably due to foul play in Amy's case.


Yet they were not so quick to actually do anything about it. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Yeah.


So Amy was known among her residents for her nutritional meals and beneficial tonics, but nourishing might not be the best word to use when we talk about these nutritional meals that she served.


And here's why.


Amy added arsenic to her recipes, resulting in the deaths of many of her residents, all of whom, remember, had named her in their wills when they moved into her home. And many of them did not have relatives close by or any family at all.


So we're going to look at the story of one man who lived at the Archer home. And it is his death that actually kicked off the investigation against her. One of Amy's residents was a 60 year old man named Franklin Andrews. And while he had some sort of mild disability, we don't know what kind of illness or injury it was. He was still listed as pretty healthy and robust. He routinely did yard work and other chores for Amy. And Franklin was one of the residents that did not have family nearby.


But he did write to his family pretty frequently, including stories and details about his life at the Archer home. In one letter, just in passing, he happened to mention that he had noticed a surprising number of deaths among the residents.


I've wondered, after reading the sources on this, every single one of them says it the same way.


But how do you just put that in passing right cavalierly. Gosh, I want to die here. Right. See you Saturday in passing rain tomorrow.


Yeah. By the way, three of my best friends just died last night.


So, you know, good on Franklin for sharing that information now, because on one spring day, Franklin was painting the fence around the property when he suddenly collapsed. Two days later, he died of what was reported to be a stomach ulcer. Shortly after his death, his sister, Nellie Pierce, found some unusual correspondence among Franklin's belongings. In particular, Amy had pressured Franklin to loan her five hundred dollars, and he had done so.


Suspicious about this loan and her brother's sudden death, Nely also contacted the authorities in initially the district attorney was not interested in the case, but the Hartford Courant definitely was. The newspaper began their own investigation and it was their investigation that ultimately led to Amy's arrest.


So among the things that they reviewed at first were death certificates. They compared these death certificates of the Arcore home residents with those of residents of the Jefferson Street home for the elderly in Hartford, which was less than 10 miles away. It turned out that the number of deaths at the Jefferson Street home was similar, but the population there was way larger.


It was like seven times that of the Archer home.


In fact, they discovered 60 residents of the Archer home had died since 1987, and forty eight of them had died recently between 1911 and 1916.


They also discovered Amy's weapon, Kahlan Goslee was a correspondent and the obit writer for the Hartford Courant at the time and had for years been noticing a really high number of deaths at the Archer home.


It was a home for the elderly. Yes, but the deaths seemed, and to put it mildly, excessive. So he did some investigating into the poison registers that every drugstore had to keep by law. I love Carlyn for this. I do, too. He did such a good job and this it's amazing. That's good journalism, right? Man he's an obit writer.


He went above and beyond. And in doing this research, he hit the jackpot in terms of information. Yeah, he found out that Amy had made multiple purchases of arsenic at H.H. Mason's Drugstore in Windsor, as well as other stores around town in one storage register revealed that she had purchased a huge amount of arsenic, 10 ounces. Man is enough to kill at least 100 people and possibly as many as 200. Amy cited that there were rap problems and bedbugs at the house is the reason she was making these purchases now.


It may sound strange that the Connecticut State Police weren't the ones who really went to work on this case, but good and bad, there are actually some reasons for that. The Connecticut State Police Department had only been established for really only a few years since like 1993 or so, give or take a year.


And the skills that were needed to investigate murders and forensics in general weren't really all that developed yet.


But the state police were interested, though, after the newspaper investigation really started to take off. And they did do some of their own work. They sent in an undercover officer who pretended to be a wealthy widow in need of care in this gave them a firsthand look at how Amy scammed her residents into giving her, well, everything. I was really happy to see that once the newspaper investigation took off, the police department was like, we should get on this.


Yeah, yeah. All right.


So they visited the nursing home after their undercover officer came back with this information and they found surprisingly arsenic in the kitchen pantry.


Amy again, though, claimed that she used arsenic to control an ongoing rat problem in the nursing home. But considering that she had enough arsenic, if you remember, to kill more than one hundred people, it sounds like.


There had to be more rats than residents, like it sounds like there was quite an infestation going on and the super rats.


Yes, and bedbugs kind of like us. The police did not believe this story about the rats. They could do math as well. They believed that Amy was poisoning residents. But it wasn't until 1917 when they officially charged Amy with the murder of the Archer home resident Franklin Andrews, that they found out for sure. And the investigation took more than a year to complete. During that time, bodies were exhumed and autopsies were performed. And arsenic, yepp, was absolutely found in the bodies.


Franklin's corpse included. There were five victims who were definitely, absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, poisoned by Amy with arsenic, including not only residents of her nursing home, but her second husband as well.


And although you'll hear numbers like she she killed 60 upwards, the final tally, it's still really high. The final tally from the authorities when they finished the investigation of the deaths was a total of 48.


And when she was arrested, police asked Amy about the high number of deaths in her home and she replied, quote, Well, we didn't ask them to come here, but we do the best we can for them. They are old people and some lived for a long time, while others die after being here a short time.


I don't even have a comment for that.


I have a comment for everything so we're can take a quick break from our for our sponsor.


And when we come back, we will talk about Amy's trial. Welcome back to Criminal Yeah, let's get into the details of Amy Archer, Gilligan's trial.


So the trial headlined in newspapers all across the country and it really captured people's imaginations. One headline from the Hartford Courant, and this was their lead headline when the trial began. Police believe Archer home for aged a murder factory. A murder factory? Well, it's also, the police believe, part right like that, that presupposes guilt to some degree. Oh, yeah. Under questioning, Amy insisted that she was innocent. I am a poor, hard working woman and I can't understand why I am persecuted as I have been during the last few years, the current reported she told arresting officers.


She also went on to say, quote, This is a Christian work and one that is very trying as we have to put up with lots of things on account of the peculiarities of the old people again.


So at her trial, Amy appeared as a petite widow who was busy raising a teenage daughter who remember she had a daughter from her first marriage and taking care of the elderly.


And everyone in town knew that she was a regular churchgoer and that she gave generously to the local church. Most of her neighbors and other church goers were actually quite shocked to find that she had been arrested.


Psychiatrists and psychologists who were known as alienists at the time testified as to Amy's mental health, and they also brought up Amy's alleged use of morphine. So this morphine thing, we got to talk about it for a second. This only came up. It was only mentioned this idea that she might have had a morphine addiction in one reliable source and so we couldn't verify it. It might not be true at all, but it is kind of interesting and a little too titillating a piece of the potential puzzle to not mention it at all.


But even though we're including it, we also want to caution you to take it with a grain of salt.


Absolutely right. There's there's there's some there's always little bits and pieces of the stories that are a little bit too good to not mention, but probably not true.


You would think that would have come up in more than one place if it were a real issue. Exactly.


And I believe it came up in regard to her daughter saying that my mom has a morphine addiction, you know, and I like to think that that's because her daughter was like, please don't send my mom to jail. But but I have no way to verify that. So, Amy, trial back to that. Amy's trial lasted for four weeks and it took the jury four hours to convict her. She was found guilty of murdering Franklin Andrews. But the court of public opinion, though, often have a very different point of view.


And with Amy, they believed she had killed at least twenty two other residents, if not more.


But the court sentenced her to death by hanging. But and this is a big but her defense team appealed and her conviction was overturned.


So there was a second trial and that began in June 1919. This time, Amy pleaded guilty to the lethal poisoning of resident Frank Andrews. She received a sentence of life in prison, which was a reduced charge of second degree murder due to reason of insanity.


I find that amazing. Holly, I don't know if you know that, like most of the most most often when someone pleads with reason of insanity, guilty or not, usually not guilty by reason of insanity, it's like it's like less than one percent, actually. It actually works in their favor. You know, I think it's such a difficult one to argue, so I was actually really surprised to see that that that's how her case played out anyway, although she was tried only for the murder of Franklin Andrews and he was indicted for five poisoning murders in total.


And the people on that list included Franklin Andrews, which is no surprise. Alice Gowdy, who was a resident, her second husband, Michael Gilligan, Charles A. Smith, also a resident, and Maude Howard Lynch, I believe, also a resident. Each had died of arsenic poisoning. That is except Maude, whose autopsy showed she was poisoned with strychnine during that second trial.


It is reported that Amy kept repeating the same phrase, which was simply, I want to go home.


Amy was in her early forties when she began her sentence at the state prison in Wethersfield. Five years later, in July of nineteen twenty four, Amy situation changed when she was transferred to the Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, a state run institution for people with mental illness.


So we have brought this up before. But let's take a brief moment to review some of the facts about female serial killers in the United States. They definitely use poison to kill their victims. That is not the only weapon that female serial killers have been known to use, but it goes beyond that. Right? We've talked about before, they usually know their victims and most often they were actually the official caretakers of those victims, such as being in a situation where they were nursing them and they often kill for financial gain.


And if you look at sort of that basic profile, Amy really checks a lot of these boxes.


Yeah, mental illness as well is also listed as a common thing among female serial killers.


A guesstimate of about 40 percent have some type of mental illness during the time that they commit their crime. Though her psychiatric records are sealed, there are one or two things that we do know about Amy stay at the Connecticut Valley Hospital. One, she continued to read and pray with her Bible in her lap daily. And two, she enjoyed playing funeral music on the piano there, even when no one had died.


I really liked that detail. It's very haunted mansion, right? Absolutely right, like every day she played a dirge. She spent the remaining 38 years of her life there and she died on April 23, 1962, of natural causes.


There is something interesting here in her story that comes up in some accounts of her time in the hospital. And I feel like it needs to be included because she was convicted of poisoning many of her residents through the meals that she served to them in prison. Amy allegedly was allowed to work in the hospital's cafeteria.


And I'm not saying that anything was reported as going wrong. Nothing happened, but it just seemed to me like it was poor planning.


Right. I guess if they were confident she couldn't get her hands on arsenic in drinking strychnine, they were like, well, we need somebody to cook. There is one good thing that came out of all of this in an effort to prevent anything like this from happening again. In the same year as Amy's first trial, 1917, the Connecticut state legislature introduced a bill requiring the license of, quote, old folks homes. And this was the first time nursing homes would be required to have inspections and to annually report deaths.


Of course, this is something we have to stand on. There is also the star studded piece of her story. So Amy's trial and conviction, like we said earlier, was really hot and heavy in the media. And that was across the nation. And it caught the eye of Joseph Kesselring, a playwright who was based in New York, and he adapted this story into a play, a black comedy that he entitled Arsenic and Old Lace, which you might recognize.


The place starred Boris Karloff.


And it was a huge hit and it was adapted into film by the same name which starred Cary Grant. And is the standard of high school theater departments across the country. Exactly. Now people are in this play and they don't really grasp the gravity of what it's a point, right?


Exactly. So so her poison was arsenic and maybe once strychnine. But Holly, what's yours?


Well, so for what's your poison this time? You know, I always like to ruminate on the detail we have been discussing. Yes. And the thing that I loved that we didn't talk a ton about, but it does come up is how people in the community perceived her as really just like a very, you know, sweet, wonderful person. And so I thought it would be a fun thing to play on that.


And I came up with a cocktail called Sweet as Pie, which could then hurt you if you drink too much of it. And basically, I wanted to make something that tasted like cherry pie. So this one is one point five ounces of vodka, one point five ounces of a cherry liquor, oh one ounce of simple syrup. And then this next one, it depends on what people have in their kitchens, either a drop, just a drop of vanilla extract, because if you have ever tasted vanilla extract, you know, it is not delicious on its own, really.


It could have been everyone as a child because you think it's going to taste like a cookie in a case like getting slapped. So just a drop because it does give it a bakery flavor that you don't quite get if you just use vanilla syrup. Also, if you're like me and you like to bake and maybe you have invested in having powdered vanilla like scraped vanilla that's been just pulverized. You can also do just a little pinch of that. Instead, either one of those work and then two ounces of ginger ale.


And you're going to stir that all together. But then to serve it, come with me, because you're going to melt a little bit of butter and use a pastry brush to just paint that around the rim of your glass and then remit with graham cracker crush.


Right. That sounds lovely. Right.


So you get like a nice buttery crust sensation as you sip and then you just pour your your concoction, your drink in over ice. I like although if you wanted to get a sense of like a fresh baked pie, you could leave the ice out if you don't mind a drink. It's so yummy, but it is definitely full of alcohol.


So I thought that that was the thing that seemed very wholesome but is in fact full of alcohol.


So that is the sweetest pie. It's quite yummy, I will say. And it does. It tastes like a little dessert in your hand, especially because you get that nice buttery graham cracker crust situation.


That is a lovely, lovely addition to the drink.


Listen, I was going to figure out a way to put butter, if I can. So if you if you try. Yes. Butter and ginger ale. I put ginger ale and everything. You could also do it. If ginger ale is not something you like, you could also do it with just like, you know, any sparkling water there just to give it. It just I found that before I added that it's just a little too thick and syrupy because free liquors can tend to be a little bit like the viscosity is a little thick.


So that's really there to to further move that around, like the vodka does some. And also because I just didn't want to pour straight alcohol into a glass, even though that often delights me.


So I thought it would help also because that's a little too bidi and you want to take some of that bite off of it and make it a little more like a baked good for me. Ginger ale does a nice job of rounding that flavor out, but if other people don't like ginger ale, you can use anything or even like a little juice if you want. It would be fine. I have a tart cherry juice that actually would probably be.


There you go. Yeah, but yeah, I like ginger ale so I don't really need this at all. Let me choose my own cherry adventure.


I mean, that's the thing, right? This is the kind of thing that once you have it down and you know how you like your mix, you could use other fruit liquors to make different alcoholic pie drinks. You could just just play. That's what it's about. I do want to make sure we thank everybody for spending this time with us this week. And we cannot wait to talk to you again next week.


Criminality is a production of Shadowland Land Audio in partnership with I Heart Radio. For more podcasts from Shadowland Audio, please visit the I Heart Radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.