I saw this story on the Hartford Courant site the other day, a Q & A with M. Williams Phelps, Vernon resident and best-selling author of the upcoming book The Devil’s Rooming House, which chronicles the true story of Amy Archer-Gilligan, “America’s deadliest female serial killer.”
If you’re not familiar with Phelps, he’s one of the leading true-crime writers around and has also written a biography of Connecticut State Hero Nathan Hale. Now he has taken on the chilling story of “Sister Amy,” a seeming kindly soul who ran a home for the elderly and the sick in Windsor but, as it turns out, was responsible for killing her residents — in addition to her two husbands — with arsenic and then taking their money.
From the Courant’s Q & A:
Hartford Courant: What sparked Archer-Gilligan to kill?
Phelps: I know exactly what it was. It was simple turnover: economics, greed. Her house filled up, and she didn’t expect it to. She has this house full of people who have paid her $1,000 for life care, so she creates the turnover herself.
[On Thanksgiving of 1914, Alice Gowdy fell sick at the nursing home, suffering from a burning in her throat and stomach. She died on Dec. 3, freeing up another bed. An autopsy performed on her exhumed body showed she died of arsenic poisoning. She and Franklin were among five victims named in Archer-Gilligan’s murder indictment in 1916.]
The horrific story of Amy Archer-Gilligan, who was also the inspiration for the hit Broadway play Arsenic and Old Lace, which later became a hit movie starring Cary Grant. Unlike real life, the movie and play were a lot more wacky and fun — in real life, death by arsenic poisoning is quite a painful and horrible affair.
It’s a good thing Phelps is setting the record straight — as I was looking for an online biography about Archer-Gilligan, it seems as though there’s quite a bit of conflicting information floating about out there. One source says she her house was in Newington (it’s in Windsor, and still standing); another source says she lived until 1962 (she died in a state mental hospital in 1928). Some stories claim she killed 20 while the official record states five — Phelps, who has done exhaustive research on the case and in the newspapers of the time, thinks the number may have been over 40 as there were many more who died under Sister Amy’s “care” and were never autopsied for arsenic poisoning.
If you’re interested, Phelps will be discussing The Devil’s Rooming House at the Connecticut Historical Society in on this Saturday, March 27, at 2. According to the CHS site, the lecture is free with paid admission.
The book is due out April 1 — you might be a fool not to get it!