|“||[W]e had tea together and crackers, and after that [Michael] took these terrible cramps and groaning and he only lasted an hour... he died of double pneumonia.||”|
Amy Archer-Gilligan was a prolific serial killer active in Windsor, Connecticut, during the 1910s.
Very little is known of Archer-Gilligan's early years. She was born Amy E. Duggan in October 1873 in Milton, Connecticut. Her parents had ten children, of which she was the eighth. In 1897, Archer-Gilligan married her first husband, James Archer, and they had a daughter named Mary J. in December of the same year. In 1901, the couple became live-in caretakers for an elderly widower named John Seymour. Seymour lived in Windsor while his sole remaining relatives were in California. After Seymour died in 1904, his heirs rented the house to the Archers and allowed them to turn it into a boarding house for the elderly, named "Sister Amy's Boarding Home for the Elderly". However, Seymour's family decided to sell the house in 1907. Using their own savings, the Archers purchased another house in the same location. They established their new business there, known as the "Archer Home for the Elderly and the Infirm".
Murders, Arrest and Incarceration
Archer died in 1910, only a few weeks after Archer-Gilligan took a life insurance policy on him. His death was attributed to Bright's disease, a catch-all term used at the time for several unrelated kidney conditions. Archer-Gilligan continued to manage the retirement home alone for three years, when she married Michael W. Gilligan, a widower who had repeatedly shown interest in investing on her business. Three months later, on February 20, 1914, Gilligan died from what was determined to be a severe indigestion. A will written during their brief marriage dictated that all of Gilligan's possessions should go to his wife and none to Gilligan's four adult sons from his previous marriage. This will was revised after Archer-Gilligan's conviction, and determined to have been forged by her.
Mortality rates also increased dramatically among the residents of the nursing home after Archer's death. While only twelve people died from 1907 to 1910, forty-eight died between 1911 and 1916. Among the deceased was Franklin R. Andrews, a healthy 61-year-old man who was seen gardening in the home just a few hours before he died. Andrews's death was attributed to a gastric ulcer, but his siblings were suspicious, and moreso after they learned from Andrews's past correspondence that Archer-Gilligan had been pressuring him for money. It was later found that many other nursing home's dead residents had passed away after donating a large sum to Archer-Gilligan. Nellie Pierce, a sister of Andrews, shared her suspicions with the local district attorney, but he ignored her. She then took her story to the newspaper The Hartford Courant, which ran it as a story titled Murder Factory.
The police exhumed the bodies of Archer, Gilligan, and three former tenants, all of which tested positive for either arsenic or strychnine. Drugstore employees also confirmed that they sold large quantities of arsenic to Archer-Gilligan or her tenants acting in her name, supposedly to kill rats in the home. Archer-Gilligan was arrested and tried for five murders, but four of the charges were dropped before sentencing. On June 18, 1917, she was found guilty of the remaining charge, Andrews's murder, and sentenced to death. However, Archer-Gilligan appealed and was granted a retrial in 1919, where she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She was found guilty again, but this time, she was sentenced to life in prison. In 1924, she was declared temporarily insane and transferred to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown. She remained interned there until her death in 1962, due to natural causes. Archer Gillian's crimes were the direct inspiration of the Brewster Sisters in the 1939 black comedic play, Arsenic and Old Lace.
Archer-Gilligan always killed for profit. She would purchase life insurance policies on her victims, then convince them to include her in their will, or otherwise fake their wills to name her as beneficiary. Afterwards, she would lace their meals with arsenic or strychnine, and hope that their deaths would be attributed to old age and other natural causes. As her murders increased in frequency, she began to target younger and healthier people, leading to her eventual discovery and arrest. She reduced some of the suspicion cast upon herself by occasionally sending her would-be victims to the drug store to purchase the poison themselves.
- Unspecified dates:
- 1910: James Archer (her first husband)
- 1911: Hilton Griffith, 81
- 1912: Fifteen unnamed people
- February 20: Michael Gilligan, 58 (her second husband)
- May 29: Franklin R. Andrews, 61
- December 3: Alice Gowdy
- Unspecified date in 1916: Maud Lynch, 33
On Criminal Minds
Archer-Gilligan was mentioned in The Uncanny Valley (in which she is referred to as "Amy Archer") as an example of female Angel of Death-type killers who don't have a preference for victims of a specific gender or with certain physical characteristics.