Writer seeks records of real-life ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ killer
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A writer telling the story of a serial killer who inspired the play and 1944 movie "Arsenic and Old Lace" hopes the Connecticut Supreme Court will order records related to her incarceration in a state mental hospital to be opened.
But Ron Robillard, an East Hartford author writing a book about the killer, Amy Archer Gilligan, is far from certain he'll win.
Robillard made his first request for public records in 2010 about her years in a Connecticut psychiatric hospital. She was confined there in 1924 after she poisoned a resident of her nursing home with arsenic and lived there until her death in 1962.
After moving through lower courts for the last few years, the state Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 14.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," Robillard said. "I'm not real optimistic."
He initially filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission, saying the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services violated the state Freedom of Information Act by denying his request for Gilligan's psychiatric and medical records.
"You never hear her voice," said Robillard, a retired newspaper reporter and editor. "She never testified, she was never interviewed...you never get in her head."
The state Freedom of Information Commission said Gilligan's psychiatric records were confidential under state law, which prohibits communications and records related to a patient's mental condition from being disclosed without consent.
However, the commission said Gilligan's privacy rights terminated on her death. "Because Gilligan was an infamous arsenic murderess," her medical records were related to legitimate matters of public concern, according to court papers.
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services appealed and a court rejected its claim that the psychiatrist-patient privilege of state law applies to any record generated at a mental health facility, including Gilligan's. But the judge agreed with the agency that most of Gilligan's medical records were exempt from disclosure.
The Freedom of Information Commission appealed, claiming the trial court substituted its judgment for its determination that disclosing Gilligan's medical records would be an invasion of personal privacy.
Robillard said he's puzzled by the state's insistence that records dating back more than half a century may not be made public. Gilligan has no surviving family members, he said, citing the 1968 death of her daughter, who did not have children.
"Who's going to be hurt by the release of this?" he asked.