Amy E. Duggan


Amy E. Duggan

Birth name: Amy E. Duggan

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: To collect insurance money - To inherit
Number of victims: 5 +
Date of murders: 1908 - 1916
Date of arrest: May 8, 1916
Date of birth: October 1868
Victims profile: Men and women (husbands and residents of her nursing home)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic or strychnine)
Location: Windsor, Connecticut, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on June 18, 1917. Granted a new trial. Pleaded guilty of murder in second degree. Sentenced to life in prison on July 1, 1919. Declared insane in 1924 and transferred to Connecticut Hospital for the Insane in Middletown, where she remained until her death on 23 April 23, 1962.

Amy Gilligan (1901-1914) ran a private nursing home in Windsor, Connecticut, and married and killed 5 elderly men. She also convinced 9 elderly women to name her in their wills before poisoning them too. That last victim's family demanded an autopsy which showed clear signs of poisoning, and Amy spent the rest of her life in prison.

Gilligan, Amy
Born in 1869, little is known of Amy Gilligan's life before 1901, when she opened a "home" for the elderly in Windsor, Connecticut. Over the next thirteen years, she married five of her elderly patients, insuring each new husband heavily before poisoning them in turn. At least four female patients met similar fates, after changing their wills to make Gilligan their beneficiary.
The final victim, Mrs. Amy Hosmer, was dispatched in November 1914, her family calling for an autopsy which revealed traces of poison. Other exhumations followed, with similar result, and Gilligan was promptly arrested. Sentenced to life on conviction of murder, she was later removed to a state asylum, where she died in 1928.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans

"Sister" Amy Duggan Archer-Gilligan (1868–1962) was a Windsor, Connecticut nursing home proprietor and serial killer who 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
Amy E. Duggan was born in October 1868 to James Duggan and Mary Kennedy in Milton (a suburb of Litchfield), Connecticut, the eighth of ten children. She was taught at the Milton school and went to the New Britain Normal school in 1890.
Amy married James Archer in 1897. A daughter, Mary J. Archer, was born in December 1897. The Archers got their first job as caretakers in 1901. They were hired to take care of John Seymour, an elderly widower, and 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. 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 a residence of their own. They soon converted it into their own business, the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm. James Archer died in 1910 of apparently natural causes. The official cause of death was Bright's disease, a generic term for kidney diseases. 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, a widower with 4 adult sons. He was reportedly wealthy and interested in both Amy and in investing in the Archer Home. Michael died 20 Feb 1914. The official cause of death was "acute bilious attack", in other words "severe indigestion". Archer-Gilligan was once again financially secure: In their short marriage her new husband had drawn up a will, leaving her all his estate.
Killlings and capture
Between 1907 and 1917, there were 60 deaths in the Archer Home. Relatives of her clients had grown suspicious as they tallied the large numbers of its residents dying. Only 12 had died between 1907 and 1910. 48 had died between 1911 and 1916. Among them was Franklin R. Andrews, an apparently healthy man.
On the morning of May 29, 1914, Andrews was doing some gardening in the Archer house. His health suddenly collapsed within a day. 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. 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 then 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 establish it was actually a forgery, written in Amy's handwritting.
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.
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 23 April 1962.
The case attracted wide publicity at the time, and has been cited as an inspiration for the play and later film, Arsenic and Old Lace. Some have also claimed that hers was the first for-profit nursing home in the United States.

True crime story behind classic comedy, 'Arsenic & Old Lace'
By Mara Bovsun -
January 17, 2010
Serial killers, as a rule, are not really great material for a laughfest. Nevertheless, the sordid case of Amy Archer-Gilligan has kept audiences in stitches for decades.
It's estimated that at least 20 people and some estimate as many as 100, including her husbands, died by her hand. Yet, 20 years after her crimes were revealed, a playwright, Joseph Kesselring, would find it all terribly funny and pen a comedy destined to become a classic - "Arsenic and Old Lace".
In the play, the Connecticut Borgia is transformed into two sisters - Abby and Martha Brewster, one a "darling lady in her sixties" and the other, "a sweet elderly woman with Victorian charm." The victims were aged men who lived in their boarding house. The quaint weapon of choice: Elderberry wine, spiked with arsenic.
The real-life character was a stern eccentric who ran a convalescent home in Windsor, Connecticut, at the start of the 20th century.
Little is known about Archer-Gilligan's early life, other than that she was born in 1873 and was married for the first time in 1896 to James Archer.
In 1901, the couple found employment in Newington, Connecticut, as in-home caretakers for elderly widower John Seymour. The Archers lived in his home during the final years of his life. When Seymour died in 1904, they stayed on there as renters, raising money by caring for elderly boarders.
In 1907, Seymour's California-based relatives sold the house, so the Archers moved to Winston. They bought a brick house and opened the Archer Home for Aged People. They ran the home together until 1910, when Mr. Archer died of Bright's disease, a catchall phrase for kidney failure of unknown origin.
By 1913, the widow had snared husband number two, Michael Gilligan, but that didn't last long either, with his untimely death after just three months of wedded bliss. The cause was an "acute bilious attack," in other words, severe indigestion.
On its own, Gilligan's demise might not have raised too many eyebrows, but the Archer home had turned into a death trap, especially for the men under a special payment plan. Residents could pay on either a weekly basis, or, for one flat fee of $1,000, the good widow guaranteed care for as long as they breathed. Those in this latter category apparently had very poor health, because they kept dropping off.
Within a few year, it was clear it was not a matter of natural causes.
"Police Believe Archer Home for Aged a Murder Factory," screamed the Hartford Courant on May 9, 1916.
Since the nursing home opened in 1907, there had been 60 deaths and 48 of them had occurred since 1911. One of the departed, Franklin R. Andrews, 61, had a sister, Nellie Pierce, who found the circumstances of his death suspicious, to say the least.
The morning of May 29, 1914, Andrews was seen cheerfully working on the lawn at the Archer house. By the following evening, he was dead.
Initially Pierce chalked it up to life's misfortunes, but then she looked through his letters and personal papers and discovered that Archer-Gilligan had been badgering Andrews for money. Pierce shared her suspicions with the district attorney and when she got little response there, she went to the Hartford Courant.
The paper's investigation lasted several months and provided the basis for a police probe, which lasted a year. Nearly two years after his death, Andrews' body was exhumed and an autopsy found arsenic, enough to kill several men. Also, the examiner found no sign that he had "gastric ulcers," as was noted on the original death certificate.
Her second husband's body was exhumed, as well as four other boarders. All had died of poisoning, either arsenic or strychnine.
Also, an examination of Michael Gilligan's will, drawn up the night before his death and appointing his wife administrator, appeared to be in her handwriting.
More evidence came from local merchants who said that Archer-Gilligan had purchased large quantities of arsenic. "To kill rats," she said.
A bad case of "prison psychosis" made it seem unlikely that she'd come to trial, but on June 18, 1917, the woman suspected of at least a score of murders faced the jury. After a four-week trial and four hours of deliberation, they found her guilty and sentenced her to die on the gallows in November.
The convicted poisoner appealed and, due to a technicality, she was granted a new trial in June 1919. Insanity was her defense the second time around, with alienists declaring her crazy and her 19-year-old daughter, Mary E. Archer, insisting that her mother was a morphine fiend. The trial ended abruptly on July 1, with a plea of guilty of murder in the second degree, which carried a life sentence. She was a model prisoner until 1924, when she was declared hopelessly insane and transferred to a mental hospital. There she stayed, until April 1962, when she died at the age of 89.
Her story, though, lives on in the comedy that opened on Broadway at the Fulton Theater, on January 10, 1941, to rave reviews. "Arsenic and Old Lace," which featured Boris Karloff playing a killer who looked like Boris Karloff, made the idea of wholesale slaughter hilarious.
None other than Frank Capra later made it into a film, starring Cary Grant. As one critic crowed, "You wouldn't believe homicidal mania could be such fun!"

Whatever Went Wrong With Amy?
By Bill Ryan - The New York Times
March 2, 1997
In a way, Amy Duggan Archer Gilligan might be considered a pioneer in health care in Connecticut. In the early part of this century, Mrs. Gilligan operated a home ''for elderly people and chronic invalids,'' in the town of Windsor. She offered some enticements for living there: Most of her clients were elderly men and they could get lifetime care simply by signing over their life insurance policies to her or by giving her $1,000, a healthy amount of money at the time, when they checked in.
In 1916, however, Mrs. Gilligan was arrested. State police, after an investigation, concluded that she had shortened the lives of up to two dozen or so men by poisoning them with arsenic. One of them was Michael W. Gilligan, her second husband. The union had lasted three months when Mr. Gilligan turned up dead.
The arrest of Mrs. Gilligan and her trial in 1917, after many bodies had been exhumed, rocked the state; there were headlines that would do credit to today's tabloids: ''Police Believe Archer Home for Aged a Murder Factory,'' screamed The Hartford Courant's Page 1 on the morning of May 9, 1916, the day after Mrs. Gilligan was arrested. It set the tone.
Mrs. Gilligan, a prim woman approaching her mid-40's, was tried for one murder only, at the discretion of the state's attorney. She was convicted and sentenced to be hanged.
But the verdict was eventually reversed on a technicality and during a second trial she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. She was incarcerated at the state prison, then a grim old fortress near Wethersfield Cove that normally housed only men. Subsequently Mrs. Gilligan was certified as insane and spent her final years at the state mental hospital in Middletown. In 1962 she died there at the age of 89, having outlived nearly everyone involved in the case. But her story has never died.
For more than eight decades of this century, it has never been totally out of the public consciousness for a couple of reasons. The first is the macabre nature of the case itself, inspiring its retelling in various publications from time to time.
The other is that it was also the inspiration for -- of all things -- a stage comedy. Many people know of Amy Gilligan, although perhaps not by name.
In the late 1930's, a New Yorker named Joseph Kesselring, who had read about the Gilligan case as a boy, decided to write a play about it. He journeyed to Connecticut to talk to the people involved and to study court records. The result was ''Arsenic and Old Lace,'' the Amy Gilligan story with a lot of poetic license by Mr. Kesselring.
He transformed Amy into a pair of Brooklyn spinsters, Abby and Martha Brewster, who took to murdering elderly gentlemen by giving them elderberry wine spiced with arsenic and then burying them in the cellar. The cast of characters included an equally dotty brother, Teddy, who thought he was Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, forever yelling ''CHARGE!'' and running up the stairs, and two nephews, the sane Mortimer and the homicidal Jonathan.
The play opened on Broadway early in 1941 and stayed there for three years, allowing people a pleasant few hours' escape from the real homicide en masse going on in World War II. The stage run was followed by a Frank Capra movie, starring Cary Grant as Mortimer, that also was a big commercial success.
Both the stage play and movie have lived on healthily since, the play in countless productions varying from high school drama clubs to a successful revival on Broadway in 1986, the movie on video cassette.
One new bit of evidence for the abiding interest in the Amy Gilligan story is a book to be published this spring by Rainbow Press in Torrington.
It is called ''Chronicles of Milton: Village Left Behind by Time.'' Milton is a section of the town of Litchfield and the book has been written by a dozen members of the Milton Woman's Club, some of whom once attended a one-room schoolhouse in the village. Each has written one chapter, in a cooperative effort to detail the history of the village from 1740 and tell about some of the more fascinating people who have lived there.
One of the latter was Amy Duggan.
The Duggan family, says one club member, lived on Saw Mill Road, in a house that still stands. One of Amy Duggan's sisters was an invalid, because of a jump or fall from a second floor window. There was a brother who would stand in front of a mirror all day, playing the violin.
As Hazel W. Perret, one of the authors. put it, Amy Duggan, and her eventual infamy, is only one small part of the book. ''And the rest of it is very good.'' Conversely, she will admit that a bit of sensationalism doesn't hurt to sell some copies.
Not that the club needs much help. It is paying Pioneer Press to run off 500 copies, 200 of which have been sold in advance, Mrs. Perret said.
In Windsor, 40 miles from Litchfield, interest in Amy Duggan Archer Gilligan continues.
''We get a lot of queries, particularly from students,'' said Laura Kahkonen, director of the Windsor Public Library. Some people ask about the old home for the aged, she said, and then go to check it out.
There it still sits, on a pleasant street called Prospect, just off the center of town, a three-story brick structure with little ornamentation. Today it contains three apartments, its lurid past put behind it.
At the Windsor Historical Society, people drop in to check the file on Amy Gilligan, said Connie Thomas, a staff member. Many visitors also want to watch a video cassette of a television pilot called ''Local Legends.'' The story of Amy Gilligan was shot in 1991 by an independent production company as one of the initial offerings for the series, but the series was never sold.
On one recent day, Ruth Bonito, who is active in the historical society of the nearby town of Windsor Locks, was at the Windsor society, checking out the Gilligan file and advancing a theory not often heard about the old case.
She believes that Amy Duggan Archer Gilligan, a woman vilified for most of this century, just might have been innocent.
As far as she can determine, Mrs. Bonito said, all the evidence against Mrs. Gilligan was circumstantial. She did buy arsenic but said it was to control rats at her home. She never confessed to any crimes. The home she ran did have a high death rate, but that didn't prove the men who lived there were poisoned.
Besides, said Mrs. Bonito, Mrs. Gilligan was a church-going woman who donated a stained-glass window to a Windsor church. Is this the kind of woman who systematically murders people with arsenic?
And then, Mrs. Bonito added, there is even some question about the post-exhumation arsenic found. Mrs. Bonito said she has been informed by Connecticut's state archeologist, Nicholas Bellantoni, that arsenic was once used extensively by American embalmers. Could that explain the arsenic found in the bodies from Mrs. Gilligan's home?
''I had heard the story of Amy Gilligan for years and I never doubted it until now,'' said Mrs. Bonito.
Dr. Bellantoni confirms that arsenic was indeed widely used for embalming, from the Civil War to about 1910 and cites a recent publication of the Interior Department that warns that elevated levels of arsenic near old cemeteries is only now beginning to emerge. However, Dr. Bellantoni says he is not sure that those facts can be connected to the Gilligan case.
One thing is sure however. Amy Duggan Archer Gilligan does have a certain fascination.

Amy Gilligan
Nurtured to Death:
Amy Gilligan (1901-1928) was known for her nurturing tonics and nutritional meals at her private nursing home in Windsor, Connecticut. That was until it was discovered that she had added arsenic to her recipe, resulting in the deaths of many of her patients and five husbands, all of whom had named her in their wills right before their untimely deaths.
Sister Amy's Nursing Home for the Elderly:
In 1901, Amy and James Archer opened Sister Amy's Nursing Home for the Elderly in Newington, Connecticut. Despite not having any real qualifications for taking care of the elderly, the couple's nurturing and caring ways impressed their wealthy patrons. The home was such a success that in 1907 the couple opened Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm, a new and more modern facility in Windsor, Connecticut.
James Archer:
After the move things began to take a turn for the worse. Healthy patients began to die without any recognizable cause other than possible old age. James Archer also died suddenly and the heart-broken Amy lifted her chin, dried her tears and headed to claim the insurance money on a life policy she had purchased on her husband in the weeks before his death.
Michael Gilligan:
After James' death, patients at the Archer Home began dying at an almost predictable rate, but the coroner, a close friend of the now deceased James and his wife Amy, determined the deaths were due to natural causes of old age. Amy, in the meantime, met and married Michael Gilligan, a rich widower, who offered to help bankroll the Archer Home.
Precious Amy:
Not long after the two wed, Gilligan also died suddenly from what coroner described as natural causes. Before his death he did manage to have a will drawn, leaving all of his wealth to his precious wife, Amy.
Suspicious Activity:
Relatives of the patients who died at the home began to suspect foul play after each discovered their loving parents, adored brothers, and cherished sisters, had forked over large sums of money to their caretaker Amy Archer, right before their untimely deaths. Authorities were alerted and seeing the pattern of over 40 patients giving money then dying, they raided the home and found bottles of arsenic tucked away in Amy's pantry.
The Dead Talk:
Amy said she used the poison to kill rodents, but unconvinced, the police exhumed the bodies of several of the patients and discovered large amounts of arsenic in their systems, including that of her last husband, Michael Gilligan.
Natural Causes:
Amy Archer-Gilligan was arrested and found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison where she stayed until she was moved to a state mental institution in 1928, where, totally insane, she died of natural causes.