Joann Katrinak: Love and Envy Turn to Revenge

Our previous case was that of Amy Archer-Gilligan, the Connecticut nursing home owner who murdered her residents for money. This week, we look at the tragic death of Joann Katrinak and her infant son, Alex.

Joanne Katrinak

Joann Katrinak was just 23 and had recently escaped a troubled marriage when she met Andy Katrinak in the spring of 1992. The two soon became “an item,” and within two years were married with a small son they named Alex. The couple lived in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, a small town north of Allentown.

Andy and Joann Katrinak
Andy and Joann Katrinak

On December 15, 1994, Joann called her mother-in-law and said she’d be coming over and bringing baby Alex. She never arrived. Nor was she at home when Andy Katrinak returned from work. Andy found that someone had wrenched their basement’s exterior door open and cut the phone line. (In 1994, cell phones weren’t ubiquitous; most homes still had landlines.)

Joann and Alex Katrinak

When Joann’s car turned up in a parking lot close to the Katrinak home, police treated it as a crime scene. They found several blonde hairs (Joann was a brunette), some of which, upon closer examination, had blood on them.

Joann Katrinak Found Dead

Four months passed before a farmer plowing his fields came across a discarded bundle of clothing. Upon closer examination, he determined it was not simply clothing but a badly decomposed human body. Rather, two bodies, for on top of the dead woman’s abdomen was the body of an infant. Joann and Alex were missing no longer.

The house and 740 Front Street, Catasauqua Borough, PA, where the Katrinaks lived
The house and 740 Front Street, Catasauqua Borough, PA, where the Katrinaks lived

Andy Katrinak remembered that three days before she disappeared, Joann had answered a call from one of his ex-girlfriends, Patricia Rorrer. The two argued, and Joann slammed the phone down (landline, remember?). Rorrer had also once managed a riding stable near where the bodies were found. It began to look like it would be worth questioning Patricia Rorrer.

Patricia Rorrer in court during her trial (The Morning Call)
Patricia Rorrer in court during her trial (The Morning Call)

Patricia denied any involvement in the murders and offered several alibis, at least one of which was demonstrably false. Several clues pointed to her as the kidnapper and killer, but the clincher was the blonde hairs found in Joann’s car and on her body. Although Rorrer, like Joann, a brunette, at the time Joann and Alex disappeared, it was bleached blonde. Mitochondrial DNA proved that the hairs were Rorrer’s.

In March 1998, a jury returned two guilty verdicts for murder and two for kidnapping. She was sentenced to two life terms.

Epilogue

Patricia Rorrer maintains her innocence and has made several appeals, all of which have failed. The Innocence Project has declined to take her case.

Despite the evidence against her, Rorrer has her advocates. One of them, Tammy Mal, published a book on the case, Convenient Suspect, that promotes the theory Rorrer was wrongly convicted.

Patricia Rorrer prison mugshot (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections)

Today (2023), Rorrer resides at the State Correctional Institution – Muncy in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

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Amy Archer-Gilligan: Hidden Evil and Deadly Secrets Come Out

My last blog featured Carl Roland, who tried to escape arrest by sitting on a construction crane for three days. This week’s case is that of Amy Archer-Gilligan. For a decade in the early twentieth century, she poisoned at least five people and possibly many more.

Amy Archer-Gilligan

Born Amy E. Dugan in 1873, Amy Archer-Gilligan married twice. She and her first husband ran Sister Amy’s Nursing Home for the Elderly in Newington, Connecticut, as employees of the home’s owners. In 1907, the owners decided to sell the house. Amy and her first husband, James Archer, moved to Windsor, Connecticut. There they bought a house and opened the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm.

James Archer died in 1910 of kidney disease. Amy had taken out a life insurance policy on James a few weeks before his death. The proceeds from that policy allowed her to continue operating Archer Home.

Amy Archer-Gilligan
Amy Archer-Gilligan

Three years later, Amy married Michael W. Gilligan, a man of some wealth. Gilligan died only three months after he married Amy. During their short marriage, he had drawn up a new will leaving his entire estate to his new wife. (The document later turned out to be a forgery, written in Amy’s handwriting).

Amy Archer-Gilligan’s Murder Spree

Between the opening of Archer House in 1907 and 1917, 60 residents died there. While only 12 deaths occurred between 1907 and 1910, from 1910 to 1917, there were a staggering 48 deaths. One of those who died was Franklin R. Andrews. Andrews was apparently in good health, but he sickened and died after gardening at Archer Home on May 19, 1914. The coroner ruled his death was from a gastric ulcer.

The house in Windsor, Connecticut, where Amy Archer-Gilligan operated Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm (Windsor Historical Society)
The house in Windsor, Connecticut, where Amy Archer-Gilligan operated Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm (Windsor Historical Society)

Andrews had a sister, Nellie Pierce, who didn’t believe her brother died from natural causes. Andrews indicated to her that Amy had been pressuring him for money. It turned out that several other residents of Archer House died after they gave Amy Archer-Gilligan a large sum of money.

When the local district attorney failed to show much interest, Nellie Pierce wrote to the Hartford Courant. The first of a series of articles on the Murder Factory” appeared on May 9, 1916. It took a few more months, but the police finally began investigating the case.

The Hartford Courant edition of May 8, 1916 (Hartford Courant)
The Hartford Courant edition of May 8, 1916 (Hartford Courant)

Authorities exhumed the bodies of Michael Gilligan, Franklin Andrews, and three other boarders. All five died from either arsenic or strychnine poisoning.

Amy Archer-Gilligan Tried and Convicted Twice

Amy Archer-Gilligan initially faced five charges of murder. Her lawyers managed to a single count, the murder of Franklin Andrews. On June 18, 1917, the jury found her guilty, and the judge sentenced her to death.

Granted a new trial on appeal in 1919, Amy entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The insanity defense failed, as it usually does, and she saw a jury convict her of murder again. This time, though, her sentence was life imprisonment.

Epilogue

In 1924, Amy Archer-Gilligan was declared temporarily insane and transferred to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane at Middletown. She remained there until she died on April 23, 1962, at age 88.

The Archer-Gilligan case is credited with inspiring the play Arsenic and Old Lace (the 1944 film version starred Cary Grant).

You can read about Amy Archer-Gilligan in The Devil’s Rooming House by M. William Phelps.

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Carl Roland: Killer Makes Daring Attempt to Elude Capture

In my last blog, I wrote about Melanie McGuire, who murdered her husband and disposed of his body in suitcases. This week, I feature Carl Roland. In 2005, Roland killed his ex-girlfriend and tried to avoid capture by sitting on a construction crane for three days.

A little prelude is in order. Flagpole sitting was a fad popular in the 1920s. The idea was to perch on some high pole, usually a flagpole, for an extended period as a demonstration or test of endurance. No flagpole sitter was more famous than Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly. The craze faded as the Great Depression deepened in the 1930s, but it appears it inspired Carl Roland.

Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly perches on a 39-foot flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey in 1927
Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly perches on a 39-foot flagpole atop the Hotel St. Francis in Newark, New Jersey in 1927

Carl Roland Flees

It was May 24, 2005, when police in Pinellas County, Florida, discovered the badly beaten body of Jennifer Gonzalez in a retention pond behind her Oldsmar apartment. She had last been seen with her ex-boyfriend, Carl Roland. When Roland failed to return to his Clearwater, Florida, home, police issued an arrest warrant for him.

Roland appeared at a construction site in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood the next day. Upon reaching the site, he commandeered a crane’s elevator and rode it up eighteen stories before crawling out on its horizontal arm. Thus began a modern flagpole-sitting event.

Police try to talk Carl Roland (L) down from an 18-story construction crane (The Gainsville Sun)
Police try to talk Carl Roland (L) down from an 18-story construction crane (The Gainsville Sun)

For three days, area traffic snarled as authorities tried to convince Roland to come down. At first, he refused all offers of food and water. But after 56 hours, he finally agreed to accept some water. At 12:30 a.m. on May 28, he edged toward police, who tasered and tackled him. They then wrapped him onto a stretcher and lowered him to the ground. After a quick visit to a nearby hospital, police hustled Roland to the Fulton County jail, where he awaited extradition to Florida.

A sheriff's deputy escorts Carl Roland (L) into Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta (The Gainsville Sun)
A sheriff’s deputy escorts Carl Roland (L) into Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta (The Gainsville Sun)

Epilogue

On February 12, 2009, a jury found Roland guilty of first-degree murder. Judge Timothy Peters sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Carl Roland prison mugshot (Florida Department of Corrections)
Carl Roland prison mugshot (Florida Department of Corrections)

Today (2023), Carl Edward Roland resides at the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County, Florida.

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