Amy Archer-Gilligan

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Amy Archer-Gilligan
Born October 1873
Milton, Connecticut
Died April 23, 1962(1962-04-23) (aged 88)
Middletown, Connecticut
Cause of death Natural causes
Other names Sister
Criminal penalty Death, later sent to insane asylum
Motive Life insurance money
Victims 5-50
Span of killings
Country United States
State(s) Connecticut
Date apprehended

"Sister" Amy Duggan Archer-Gilligan (October 1868 – April 23, 1962)[1] was a Windsor, Connecticut, nursing home proprietor and multiple murderer. She systematically murdered at least five people by poison; one was her second husband, Michael Gilligan, and the rest were residents of her nursing home. It is possible that she was involved in more deaths; authorities found 48 deaths total from her nursing homes.

Childhood and marriage[edit]

Amy E. Duggan was born in October 1873 to James Duggan and Mary Kennedy in Milton, Connecticut, the eighth of ten children.[2][3] She was taught at the Milton School and went to the New Britain Normal School in 1890.[4]

Amy married James Archer in 1897. A daughter, Mary J. Archer, was born in December 1897.[3] The Archers got their first job as caretakers in 1901. They were hired to take care of elderly widower John Seymour, and they settled in his home at Newington, Connecticut. Seymour died in 1904. His heirs turned the residence into a boarding house for the elderly. The Archers were allowed to stay. They provided care for the elderly for a fee and in turn paid rent to Seymour's family.[5] They ran the house under the name of "Sister Amy's Nursing Home for the Elderly".

In 1907, Seymour's heirs decided to sell the house. The Archers moved to Windsor, Connecticut and used their savings to purchase their own residence on Prospect St in Windsor center. They soon converted it into a business, the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm. It could be considered a pioneer in the health care field in Connecticut.[6] James Archer died in 1910 of apparently natural causes. The official cause of death was Bright's disease, a generic term for kidney diseases.[5] Amy had taken out an insurance policy on him a few weeks before his death, so she was able to continue running the Archer Home.

In 1913, Amy married her second husband, Michael W. Gilligan,[7] a widower with four adult sons.[8] He was reportedly wealthy and interested in both Amy and in investing in the Archer Home. Michael died February 20, 1914.[9] The official cause of death was "acute bilious attack", in other words "severe indigestion".[5] Archer-Gilligan was once again financially secure: in their short marriage her new husband had drawn up a will, leaving her his entire estate.

Killings and capture[edit]

Between 1907 and 1917, there were 60 deaths in the Archer Home. Relatives of her clients grew suspicious as they tallied the large numbers of its residents dying. Only 12 residents died between 1907 and 1910, but 48 residents died between 1911 and 1916. Among them was Franklin R. Andrews,[10] an apparently healthy man. On the morning of May 29, 1914, Andrews was doing some gardening in the Archer house. His health collapsed within a day and he was dead by the evening. The official cause of death was gastric ulcer. His sister Nellie Pierce inherited his personal papers. She soon noted occasions where Archer-Gilligan was pressing Andrews for money.[5] Archer-Gilligan's clients showed a pattern of dying not long after giving their caretaker large sums of money.

As the deaths continued, Pierce reported her suspicions to the local district attorney. He mostly ignored her. Pierce took her story to The Hartford Courant, a newspaper. On May 9, 1916, the first of several articles on the "Murder Factory" was published. A few months later, the police started seriously investigating the case. The investigation took almost a year to complete, but the results were interesting. The bodies of Gilligan, Andrews, and three other boarders were exhumed. All five had died of poisoning, either by arsenic or strychnine. Local merchants were able to testify that Archer-Gilligan had been purchasing large quantities of arsenic, supposedly to "kill rats". A look into Gilligan's will helped to establish that it was actually a forgery, written in Amy's handwriting.[5]

According to M. William Phelps, author of the true crime The Devil's Rooming House, investigations appeared to show that Amy was buying the arsenic to kill off large quantities of rats. However, it appears that Amy did not buy all of the arsenic which killed her patients; the doctor as well as some of the patients signed off to purchase it. The investigation was pushed to pursue Dr. King because more evidence was piling up against him. But suspicions were focused back on Amy when someone suggested to clearly check all records of arsenic purchases. Once evidence was found of Amy sending her own patients to the drugstore to buy quantities of arsenic, the police were able to arrest and convict Amy.[11]


Archer-Gilligan was arrested and tried for murder, originally on five counts; ultimately, her lawyer managed to get the charges reduced to a single count (Franklin R. Andrews). On June 18, 1917, a jury found her guilty, and she was sentenced to death. Archer-Gilligan appealed and was granted a new trial in 1919. She pleaded insanity, while Mary Archer testified that her mother was addicted to morphine. Archer-Gilligan was nonetheless found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.[5]


In 1924, Archer-Gilligan was declared temporarily insane and was transferred to Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown, where she remained until her death on April 23, 1962.[1][5]


The case attracted wide publicity at the time and has been cited as an inspiration for the play and Frank Capra's later film, Arsenic and Old Lace.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Hartford Courant newspaper lists her date and place of death as 23 Apr 1962 at the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown, Connecticut.
  2. ^ Connecticut Death Records Mary Kennedy Duggan, 1838-1915
  3. ^ a b 1870 US Census of Litchfield, Connecticut, page 73; 1880 US Census of Litchfield, Connecticut; 1900 US Census of Litchfield, Connecticut, Sheet 18B; 1900 US Census of Litchfield, Connecticut, Sheet 24A; 1910 US Census of Windsor, Connecticut, Page 18
  4. ^ Chronicles of Milton: Village Left Behind by Time by the Milton Women's Club
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Bovsun, Mara (January 17, 2010). "True crime story behind classic comedy, 'Arsenic & Old Lace'". Daily News (New York: Archived from the original on April 3, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2012.  Mara Bovsun
  6. ^ Ryan, Bill (March 2, 1997). "Whatever Went Wrong With Amy?". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Michael Gilligan". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  8. ^ 1900 US Census of Windsor, Connecticut, Sheet 8A; 1910 US Census of Windsor, Connecticut, Page 12
  9. ^ Connecticut Deaths and Burials record at
  10. ^ "Franklin R. Andrews". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  11. ^ Phelps, William M.,(2010).The Devil's Rooming House. Guilford, CT. Lyons Press. 166-169.

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