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Devil's Rooming House: The True Story Of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer Paperback – Jun 1 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; 1st edition (June 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762770252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762770250
  • Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.3 x 20.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #515,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Amy Archer-Gilligan―Sister Amy, she was called―was a murderess well-enough known to be cited as an inspiration for Joseph Kesselring's perennial grim farce, Arsenic and Old Lace…. Amy's sensational trial attracted great interest, and Phelps wraps the whole dirty business in a delightfully cozy narrative. A genteel true-crime excursion." ― Mike Tribby, Booklist "Lizzie Bordon became famous for probably murdering her stepmother and father in turn-of-the-century New England. But a lesser known contemporary, Amy Archer-Gilligan, is much more interesting. Amy dispatched two husbands and possibly as many as 66 others in a fashion reminiscent of 'Arsenic and Old Lace,' a Broadway play that was loosely based on her case…. In his new book, M. William Phelps, tells the shocking, true story of this Victorian murderess in fascinating detail…. Mr. Phelps ― who Radio America calls 'the nation's leading authority on the mind of the female murderer' ― conducted extensive interviews and sifted through official trial transcripts and newspaper files to bring readers face-to-face with the matron of what the media of the day billed as a 'murder factory.' ―Larry Cox / Special to Florida Weekly "To recreate the early 20th century killing spree which took place primarily in Connecticut's "Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids" (the inspiration for Joseph Kesselring's play Arsenic and Old Lace), Phelps amasses an abundance of research to complement his already-extant authority on female murderers (the author of Perfect Poison: A Female Serial Killer's Deadly Medicine, Phelps has also consulted on serial killer TV drama Dexter).... Phelps' diligent research creates a vivid portrait of the country a century ago…. ―Publishers Weekly"On May 9, 1916, Hartford Courant readers learned that the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids in Windsor, Conn., run by a woman many considered saintly, had produced an unusual number of corpses. Sixty-six people had died over eight years, during which Mrs. Archer-Gilligan had purchased large quantities of arsenic for her rodent problem. Several "inmates," as she called them, had paid her $1,000 for lifetime care. Some had signed over all their savings before vacating their beds, which were eagerly sought by new applicants…. M. William Phelps reports on an expanding cast of characters and unfolds his sensational history like a Victorian storyteller to entertain as much as to inform…. Phelps gives us the full panorama of a unique time and place in history." ―Anne Grant / Special to the Providence Journal

From the Inside Flap

A silent, simmering killer terrorized New England in 1911. As a record-setting heat wave took the lives of more than 2,000 people, another silent killer began her own murderous spree. That year a reporter for the Hartford Courant noticed a sharp rise in the number of obituaries for residents of a rooming house in Windsor, Connecticut, and began to suspect the reason: Amy Archer-Gilligan, who'd opened the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids four years earlier. Bible-thumping "Sister Amy" would be accused of murdering both of her husbands and up to sixty-six of her patients with cocktails of lemonade and arsenic. Her story would shock turn-of-the-century America and provide the inspiration for the Broadway sensation and classic film Arsenic and Old Lace. With The Devil's Rooming House, acclaimed crime writer M. William Phelps has written the first book about the life, times, and murders of America's most prolific female serial killer. He recounts how a pioneering, pious caretaker and entrepreneur of the nursing home industry became an American original in the realm of evil: the first Black Widow and Angel of Death. With first-hand accounts from Amy's "inmates," riveting trial transcripts, and the shocking discoveries of the investigative journalists who covered the case, Phelps puts readers face-to-face with the matron of what the media billed a "Murder Factory." Historical crime at its best, The Devil's Rooming House is a true story of greed and murder even more shocking than its fictional counterpart. In telling this fascinating tale, Phelps also paints a vivid portrait of early twentieth-century New England. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on Sept. 18 2011
Format: Paperback
"There was a sense of hubris about Amy sure, both as she murdered and got away with it, and even after she was caught: How dare you accuse me of such heinous crimes against humanity?"
-M. William Phelps, author of "The Devil's Rooming House"

Having read up on the homicidal antics of Lizzie Borden, I still wasn't ready for what I was about to learn about another crazy killer out of the New England states: Amy Archer-Gilligan. This women is alleged to have killed dozens of elderly people in her Windsor rooming house in the early part of the 20th century. Unlike Lizzie, Amy did her work on the sly over a number of years. As a serial killer, she carefully planned to poison her 'inmates' while stealing their money. The author goes into an elaborate and often pains-taking description of how this evil and often delusional woman masterminded her homicidal plan to become wealthy. Her choice of arsenic and strychnine disguised in a lemonade cocktail was based on what was readily used as a popular household pesticide. How she was eventually caught in the end was more the result of the keen investigative work by a local reporter named Goslee than any sleuthing done by the Windsor police. This was an era when such establishments were not regulated by local or state governments. Amy essentially was able to bump off her victims with little worry about being caught because very little care was shown to the elderly. That all changed when Goslee and a few family members started asking awkward questions. While there is no secret who the killer is, hunting her down and making an ironclad case against her in court becomes the real challenge. Forensics were not as advanced back then as they are today.
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Format: Hardcover
The Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids was opened by Amy and James Archer in 1907, in Windsor, Connecticut. They offered `life care for $1000' or weekly rates of between $7 and $25 for food, shelter and medical care. This early experiment in nursing home care proved deadly to a number of inmates as well as to James Archer and to Amy's second husband, Michael Gilligan.

Amy Archer-Gilligan is considered to be America's deadliest female serial killer, and this book chronicles her life and times. Between 1908 and 1916, Amy Archer-Gilligan murdered at least 22 people and possibly as many as 66. How did she do it, and why? It seems that her usual method was to serve inmates a lethal mixture of lemonade and arsenic, and that her motivation was to create inmate turnover in order to make money. These crimes may have gone undiscovered except for the observations of a reporter for the Hartford Courant, Carlan Goslee, who noticed that an awfully large number of people were dying at the Archer Home.

Mr Phelps researched this book over a period of six years and has drawn on a number of different sources including letters, death certificates, autopsy reports, and trial transcripts. I was surprised to learn both that this is apparently the first dedicated account of these crimes, and that these crimes inspired the play and film `Arsenic and Old Lace'. I found this account of Amy Archer-Gilligan's life and crimes interesting but was less convinced about the relevance of the detailed account of the July 1911 heatwave.

Amy Archer-Gilligan died in 1962, aged about 89 years, in a Connecticut state institution.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa8db26fc) out of 5 stars 52 reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa8de83cc) out of 5 stars Interesting, but April 10 2010
By Christopher Dervinis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the true story of Amy Archer-Gilligan, who became one of the most prolific serial killers in US history. The book was interesting but could have been helped by more editing. At times, the book is a bit too repetitive. For example, the book has several chapters dedicated to a heat wave that covered much of the US and caused countless deaths, but all of the chapters said the same thing. What's worse is that the heat wave ended up playing no role in the story of Amy Archer-Gilligan, at least as told in this book. I believe the author was trying to build suspense but after a while, it just became annoying. The author also sometimes made conclusions without enough supporting information to make sense or to allow the reader to properly assess the statements. Other times the author blatantly stretches facts to draw the conclusions that he wants. For example, he suggests that the American people, worried about battlefield casualties, flocked to the play "Arsenic and Old Lace" to escape reality in January of 1941. The problem is that the Pearl Harbor would not occur until 11 months later. The book is worth reading but not the quite what I had hoped.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa8de8618) out of 5 stars Editors need to be fired for this June 24 2010
By Bartholomew Breva - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The subject matter of this book is red-hot, and with a little competent writing it would have easily been a best-seller. Instead, the writing is disjointed and jumps from subject to subject in the same paragraph. If I were told that the author had taken a lot of notes, thrown them in the air, and typed them in the order they fell, I'd believe it. In addition the punctuation is confusing, the syntax is abysmal and the grammar does not bear close scrutiny.

The author continually mentions pictures of the people involved which are not in the book. Instead, the photos which are included are of the deadly heat wave which the author wants to write about more than the serial murders. We have photos of buildings, of strangers, of cities - but only two photos of the woman in question, although others are mentioned as being important.

I would not think of submitting a book like this for publication, let alone expect it to get past any editor worthy of the job description. This book seems to have sailed through the publishing process on the strength of its subject alone. I only hope someone who can write engages editors who can edit to do a competent treatment of this subject. I do want to know more about this episode in history, but I'm not going to risk a brain aneurysm trying to finish this book.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa8de8858) out of 5 stars Very Slow... Like a Heat Wave (or something) June 9 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is probably one of the most boring books I've ever read. It's poorly written and confusing. Even though I tried since I'd paid money for this, I could not get through it and ended up giving up on it- this even at the most important part of the book, Amy's arrest.

The first several chapters spend time detailing a heat wave that has no relevance to the plot at hand, and then the heat wave disappears suddenly, never mentioned again. I'm assuming the author was attempting to draw a correlation between the heat wave and Amy Archer's actions, but it is poorly done and the amount of attention spent on the heat wave is considerably greater than the amount of time spent on the characters themselves.

The author also repeats himself quite a bit, belaboring a point time and time again. It gets to the point where you can skip whole pages because it is another version of something you'd read ten pages prior, which itself was something you'd read ten pages prior to that.

It's a shame this book was executed so poorly because it is of an interesting subject matter, and you learn a great deal from what is presented, but it's a tough read to slog through for a little bit of interesting material.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa8de89fc) out of 5 stars The worst true crime book I have ever read Oct. 5 2011
By pietrov - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is the only book I have ever started and thrown in the trash before I was halfway through. Its organization is haphazard at best, containing numerous accounts of various deaths during a heat wave. One would expect them to relate in some way to Gilligan's crimes. They don't. It is so blatantly opinionated that it is difficult to have much confidence in its factual accuracy. The author's repeated references to what he believes to have been Ms. Gilligan's evil nature are better suited for the television series he is planning to host than objective writing. At one point, he sets forth some conflicting accounts Gilligan allegedly gave different people regarding one of the the alleged murders, and interposes the sentence, "Liar." These crimes took place over a century ago and Gilligan has been dead for a very long time. Why the author feels such a need to convince the reader of her guilt, in my view, shows a lack of confidence in his opinions. Notwithstanding the book's length, it is lacking in factual detail. This is all quite unfortunate, but may present an opportunity for a more serious writer to educate the public about a potentially fascinating subject.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa8de8dd4) out of 5 stars could have been better April 16 2010
By Diana - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a reader of serial killer books, I can usually get through them pretty good. But this one is dragging. I'm only partway through, but it seems a little editing could have been heplful. It reads more like an almanac than a true story about a serial killer. It really meanders around between the weather of the day and a little bit about the killer, very confusing sometimes as to what the book is truly about.

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