Devil's Rooming House: The True Story Of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer Paperback – Jun 1 2011
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"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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
-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.Read more ›
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
Phelps does a good job of telling the story with an engaging flair that keeps it interesting, even during some of its lulls. It really takes its time delving into the mind of Amy Archer-Gilligan to really flesh out her motives, not just in the moment but from her history and then how she approached her trial. She effectively went from someone who was calculating, to rash, to desperate as she watched her life unravel. It was also interesting to see how this very case effected legislative action to put provisions in place to protect people in homes just like this. How everyone pretty much knew what she was doing but it was incredibly hard to prove and the prosecution had some scientific evidence but relied mostly on circumstantial evidence to convict her.
It surprised me how the prosecution didn’t go after the daughter more, since she was likely the one person to see her mother put arsenic to lemonade in that house. I wonder if it had to do with ideals of women at the time, they didn’t want to press her because of what she was going through. But if anyone could have closed the evidence gap for Amy it would have been her daughter, Mary. Watch, it was probably Mary’s doing all along and her mother was covering up for her.
Something like this also points to the level of trust people inherently had in others during this time. They took Amy’s word for it that she was a trained nurse. None of the inmates themselves seemed to connect the illnesses to something they were consuming. That despite the overwhelming number of deaths in the house people were still like yeah, I’ll give you my money and stay there. I still think it’s part of the human condition to not immediately think ill of someone but it was telling of how jaded this society wasn’t at the time.
It was also neat getting a look at my home state through the eyes of history like that. Thinking of Hartford as a small town is hilarious to me. Small city, sure. But no way a small town. And still that small town mentality still sticks around in some of the towns mentioned in the book. It makes me want to dig into the state’s history a little more, see what other bones are lying around.
Phelps is a good storyteller that’ll give you all the facts of what happened and weave it into a compelling story that’ll be difficult to put down. I’m definitely going to look into some of his other works and see what else by the way of true crime he can show me.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.