A silent, simmering killer terrorized New England in1911. As a terrible heat wave killed 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 who was responsible: Amy Archer-Gilligan, who’d opened the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids four years earlier. “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 inspired the Broadway hit Arsenic and Old Lace.
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.
M. William Phelps, whom Radio America called “the nation’s leading authority on the mind of the female murderer,” is the author of many books, including Perfect Poison: A Female Serial Killer’s Deadly Medicine and the New York Times Bestseller Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy. He consulted on the first season of the Showtime TV drama Dexter, and his dozens of national TV appearances include the Discovery Channel, CBS’ Early Show, and Good Morning America.
“Amy Archer-Gilligan—Sister Amy, she was called—was a murderess well-enough known to be cited as an inspiration for the 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