‘Arsenic and Old Lace’: The Real Murders Behind the Halloween Classic Film

“Madness runs in my family; he practically gallops. This is what Cary Grant says in the 1944 film Arsenic and old lace, based on the hit Broadway play. The macabre comedy, which takes place on Halloween, followed Grant’s character discovery that his aunts had secretly murdered tenants at their boarding house. It’s a pretty dark subject for a comedy, especially since it was inspired by real life events.

While working on Arsenic and old lace, playwright Joseph Kesselring traveled to Connecticut to review court documents relating to Amy Archer-Gilligan, a convicted murderer who ran a retirement home. Sixty-six people died in this house between 1908 and 1916. When investigators exhumed five of the bodies, including that of her second husband, autopsies revealed that they had been poisoned with arsenic or strychnine.

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