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The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  1,185 Ratings  ·  184 Reviews
The Devil’s Rooming House is the first book about the life, times, and crimes of America’s most prolific female serial killer. In telling this fascinating story, M. William Phelps also paints a vivid portrait of early-twentieth-century New England.
Hardcover, 251 pages
Published April 1st 2010 by Lyons Press (first published March 27th 2010)
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Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Phelps' dragging on and on about the 1911 heatwave was, I think, an attempt to write like another very popular writer who braids together true crime tales and historically significant events. In fact, at one point, Phelps mentions Marconi, the subject of a book by the writer I refer to. Anyway, it didn't work; there was no connection made between the heat wave and Amy Archer except that they were both deadly. That's not enough to enlighten either subject. Phelps writes that Mrs. Archer was calle ...more
Katherine Addison
I wanted to like this book. I really, truly did. It's about the abominable Amy Archer-Gilligan, who is the many, many times removed inspiration for the Brewster sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace. She ran a cross between a boarding house and a nursing home, and between 1908 and 1916 she murdered somewhere between five and sixty-six people. For their money. She also committed fraud, theft, embezzlement, what we would today call "elder abuse" . . . Two of her victims were her husbands. And she was a ...more
Have you ever seen the play "Arsenic and Old Lace"? Or perhaps the movie made from the play? I have always enjoyed the wacky and weird humor in the movie with Cary Grant. But I never realized that the play was based on the real murders committed by "Sister" Amy Archer-Gilligan.

This book documents the history behind probably one of the first (if not THE first) for profit nursing homes, and also one of the most deadly female serial killers. In 1907 Amy Arch
Jan 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
I have to say, The Devil's Rooming House had its merits, but overall it wasn't that great and I will not be reading another work by M. William Phelps.

The Good:
I read this after seeing a production of Arsenic and Old Lace and am inspired to read the play as well as see the movie. The book was very informative on Amy Archer-Gilligan and some of the inmates of the Archer House. It also was very good in its portrayal of Windsor and Connecticut. It was really interesting to read a book that is set in
Jul 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, history
The true story of America's most prolific serial killer, Amy Archer-Gilligan, is fascinating. But the author's writing style and poor editing detracted from this true crime story. Certain sections were repetitive. Also, the parallels between the heat wave of 1911 and the serial murders were not well demonstrated. I think Phelps has tremendous talent and truly knows his topic. But he/his editors decided to write in an everyman vernacular which degraded the quality of this book. I speculate that h ...more
May 21, 2010 rated it did not like it
Worst. Book. Ever.
This might have made a half-decent magazine article, but there was in no way enough information to justify the length of this book. It was confusing, badly organized-- where was this man's editor? Also, some weird little gimmick at the beginning about an historically bad heat wave that really never went anywhere (I'm thinking that story was more interesting than the one the book was really trying to tell.) There was a lot of back-and-forth the first half of the book, jumping be
Mar 23, 2010 rated it liked it
In this true story, Phelps goes back and uncovers the original serial murders that inspired the comedic play "Arsenic & Old Lace." It's a dark story, and interesting in its unfolding: over a period of years in the early 1900s, concerned citizens, newspapermen, and finally law enforcement realized that a small nursing home outside of Hartford, CN had an unusually high mortality rate.

When Amy Archer first opened her home for the elderly and invalid, it seemed like an excellent addition to the
Susan (aka Just My Op)
Sister Amy Archer-Gilligan started an early version of a private nursing home, a retirement home, in the small Connecticut town of Windsor shortly after the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately, too many of her “inmates” died unexpectedly and Amy began to be suspected of taking their money and possessions and then poisoning them with arsenic rather than actually taking on that pesky task of caring for them. The old classic play and movie, Arsenic and Old Lace, is loosely based on the sto ...more
Malcolm Frawley
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
An intriguing true crime story about a female serial killer who ran 1 of the U.S.'s first private aged care facilities. Unfortunately, her method of earning a regular income was to make beds available for new clients by poisoning the old ones. Dozens of them. A case so bizarre that it inspired the black comedy Broadway hit (& later Cary Grant film) Arsenic & Old Lace.
K.A. Krisko
This book doesn't even begin to hit its stride until a third of the way through. While the latter part of the book is much more readable and relevant to the story at hand, you really have to grab the reader's attention right off the bat, and this book just doesn't do that.

The first part proceeds at a languid pace, with many repetitions of the supposed thought processes of reporter Carl Goslee. His tendency to see a thing through is noted over and over; his idea that he is onto something is like
Regina Lindsey
Sep 26, 2012 rated it liked it
In January of 1941, Arsenic and Old Lace opens on Broadway at a time when the United States was preparing to enter WWII. The comedy of two kindly widows killing off borders seemed to be just what the country needed. The play has since gone on to endear itself into the hearts of theatre patrons for years. But, the sad fact is the tale is based on a gruesome serial killer in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1911, Carl Goslee, part-time reporter for the Hartford Courant, noticed a higher than average rate ...more
May 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the story of Amy Archer-Gilligan, aka, Sister Amy, the turn-of-the-century "nurse" who made a career of taking in the elderly for "life care," then shortening those lives precipitously. Hers is the story upon which "Arsenic and Old Lace" is based, although unfortunately the reality is much less amusing.
I didn't feel like there was enough to the story to justify the length of this book, although as far as true-crime reporting goes, Phelps really did an excellent job. There were only a fe
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Scenario: It's 1913. You are 88 years old with no family to look after you. You are in need of a place to live so you check yourself into the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids. You meet the proprietor, Sister Amy and after a brief tour of the home, you decide that it will be a nice place to spend the rest of your life. You sign one of Sister Amy's life contracts, basically giving her $1,000 dollars to care for you until the end of your days. Things seem to be working out well. ...more
Monica Jones
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Lovers
Not to repeat the info already in the subtitle and book description, I’ll start by saying I enjoyed this book. If you are a fan of true crime histories, AND history itself, then it’s worth the read. The history of the world around these lives unfolding was included, and served as good metaphors to the lives of Amy Archer-Gilligan and her victims. Many found this “jumping around” distracting; and for that I have to take a star if I’m honestly suggesting the book to others. For many readers it mig ...more
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-crime
America's deadliest female serial killer performed her deeds a century ago. As with most of such murderers, Amy Archer Gilligan, proprietor of a home for the aged in Windsor, CT, projected a benign image of generosity and good citizenship. And, as with many woman who kill, she used poison as her weapon of choice. Gilligan was formally accused of five murders, but tried and convicted for only one. In all likelihood, she was responsible for more than forty deaths in her nursing home.

M. William Phe
Doug Beatty
Apr 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
This book was an interesting true crime tale set in Hartford in the early 1900's. A deadly heatwave was moving across the united states, causing many to perish. At the same time, Amy Archer and her husband open a home for the elderly and chronic invalids, and become one of the first private homes to offer senior care in the united states. Depending on your circumstances, you could either pay weekly, or for the flat rate of $1,000 you could pay for a lifetime of care and stay at the home until yo ...more
J.V. Seem
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
I'm still looking for a good, riveting true crime story. Sadly, this isn't the one either.

This is the story of Amy Archer Gilligan, who murdered many (it's not sure how many) of her patients in her nursing home with arsenic, to get her hands on their money. Yes, this is the case on which the play Arsenic and Old Lace is based.

The first thing that strikes one with this audiobook is the talentlessness of the narrator. He reads the book in 1950s newsreader tones, and spices it up with ridiculous (v
I remember watching Arsenic and Old Lace years ago. I loved the wacky nephew who thought he was Teddy Roosevelt burying yellow fever victims in the basement. I had no idea it was based on a very real crime. Amy Archer was quite the prolific killer. She ran a home for the aged and infirmed in the early 1900's. Suspicions were raised by the fact that there were an alarming amount of deaths at the Archer home. Two of these were Amy's own husbands and some of the deaths were actually healthy before ...more
May 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
From the cover: The true story of America's deadliest female serial killer. Yikes!

Doesn't sound too enticing, but this story takes place in Connecticut just after the turn of the century. The New England states are embroiled in the deadliest heat wave yet on record and in the midst of this a killer is lurking. Not a knife or ax wielding killer, but a young woman, Amy Archer, who opens one of the first nursing homes in the country. She is accused of murdering both of her husbands and up to sixty
Apr 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
I am a HUGE fan of true crime and murder stories. So far this one has my attention. I don't know whether to be worried about the impending weather or the hateful rooming house owner. I want to know about both. So far a really really really good read.

Finally was able to finish this. What an interesting book! There were some tedious parts to it but it was kind of necessary. I wonder if she had been tried now if she would have received the same sentence or if today's forensics would have been able
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
I assume that people complaining about the author spending to much time talking about the heat wave didn't read the entire book. The book is 250 pages(not including the acknowledgements, end notes and index) and the last mentioning of the heat wave is page 63. I admit that I don't know why the heat wave is mentioned at all, but I wouldn't call it excessive. It had nothing to do with the story about Amy Archer-Gilligan. Besides that, the book was very good. I felt it was well written and didn't w ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting book. I had no idea "Arsenic and Old Lace" was inspired by a true story (though I haven't yet seen the play, either).

Amy Archer-Gilligan runs a boarding house for the aged and infirm--one of the first private nursing homes of its time. But greed drives her to trick her "inmates" into giving her all their worldly possessions and money; then kill them with arsenic to free up beds for new arrivals. Eventually, someone notices the high turnover rate within Amy's Home...and the investigat
Kate Trusler
Jan 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
A somewhat incoherent, at least initially, account of Amy Archer-Gilligan, a serial killer and the inspiration behind the play Arsenic and Old Lace. There is a baffling attempt at making some sort of analogy between a heat wave and the murders that Amy Archer-Gilligan committed that is never fully explained and seems to be more filler than actually relevant though in truth, the heat wave is potentially worthy of a book in and of itself. However once the story turns to the denouement of Amy's arr ...more
Dec 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Read this for one of my book groups and really enjoyed it. This is the story of America's first female serial killer who owned and operated one of the first nursing homes in the country. Amy Archer-Gilligan was initially highly regarded in her community for opening her home to take care of the chronically ill and sometimes, just lonely. She soon realized there was more money to be made from new clients and patients then from her current boarders. This was a fascinating story encompassing many ne ...more
Jan C
Interesting story but, at least in the beginning, there seemed to be a lot of repetition. Each chapter (at least for the early ones) seemed to repeat about half of the chapter before.

In his afterword, the author acknowledges that this started out as an Amazon "short". As I was reading it, I thought it would have made an excellent "Kindle Single". For a very good reason, apparently.

We learned enough about some of the victims in order for me to hang my hat on their story. I never understood why th
Feb 10, 2015 rated it liked it
I always smirk when Aileen Wuornos is said to be America's first serialkiller (see Bathsheba Spooner), and case in point is this account of Amy Archer-Gillian. She was as cold hearted a killer as you are likely to find, and did an ingenious job of finding helpless and vulnerable people to kill by creating her own old folks home she brought her victims to her.

Unfortunately, the writing seemed lackluster which is really too bad with such an interesting case. The book at least did a decent job of c
May 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
Oooo, I really wanted to really like this exhaustive take on the turn-of-the-last-century inspiration behind "Arsenic and Old Lace"? Add a cultural exploration of that year's terrible heat wave (apparently, people were just going mad from the unrelenting weather) and it's, like, four nonfiction best-sellers rolled up in one.

But this wasn't written with any confidence and was badly organized. 150 pages in and I didn't feel like I knew the killer or cared about her victims. I was disappo
Jody  Julian
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
As a former resident of Windsor,CT I was especially interested in this book. Review to come. I hope. I'm procrastinating lately.
May 16, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: true-crime, redrum
I need to read something like this next. Pulpy, involving murder, preferably.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm counting this book as my "Book of True Crime" selection for Book Riot's 2018 Read Harder challenge.

Boy, was I excited to read this book. It's been on my to-read shelf for a while, but what first sparked my interest was the connection to "Arsenic and Old Lace," one of my favorite movie comedies. The stage play of the same name was loosely based on the life of Amy Archer-Gilligan, America's deadliest female serial killer.

And with that kind of title, you'd expect to be in for the read of your l
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Crime, murder and serial killer expert, creator/producer/writer and former host of the Investigation Discovery series DARK MINDS, acclaimed, award-winning investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the New York Times best-selling author of 30 books and winner of the 2013 Excellence in (Investigative) Journalism Award and the 2008 New England Book Festival Award. A highly sought-after pundit, Ph ...more
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“The bottom line is that heat kills more people than any other natural disaster, and yet heat waves go unnamed.” 0 likes
“The bottom line is that heat kills more people than any other natural disaster, and yet heat waves go unnamed. They do not blow
in with 100-mile-per-hour winds, a blistering, swirling shadowlike image on radar with a defined eye, or shake the ground in an intense display of drama. No. Heat is a silent killer. It slowly and stealthily moves into a region like a ghost, targeting the vulnerable and unsuspecting.”
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