Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer

The Devil's Rooming House by M. William Phelps
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Aug 08, 10

Read in July, 2010

‘They come and go, one after another.’

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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