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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer » User review

Black Widow

  • Aug 26, 2010

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 Phelps, whose forte lies in his outstanding investigative and research skills, has unearthed all of the evidence that is currently available, and for the first time, presented it in book form. As Gilligan's story formed the nucleus of the ever popular "Arsenic and Old Lace", it's more than surprising that it hasn't been done before now. Phelps sets the stage for the real life drama by recording details of life in turn of the century Connecticut, and shines a spotlight not merely on Amy but also on the individuals - reporters, attorneys, physicians, druggists - who, over the course of five or so years, slowly discovered the truth underlying vague but persistent rumors that something was not quite right at the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids.

Investigative journalism and forensic studies have been around for much longer than the television programs that now celebrate them. In his concluding chapters, Phelps also discusses the ethics of creating comedy and humor from the tragedies of others. This is a fascinating account well worth reading.

Black Widow

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August 26, 2010
I find this kind of history fascinating. Nice review, Linda. I'll be adding this one to an ever growing list.
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Quick Tip by . September 06, 2010
Many movie goers don't realize that Arsenic and Old Lace was based upon the case of a Windsor, CT serial killer, s "saintly" who was running a home for the aged. M. William Phelps has published a book, The Devil's Rooming House, discussing the crimes and the relationship to the movie and play.
About the reviewer
Linda ()
Ranked #53
After 21 years as a school psychologist, I now work part-time at two local historical museums, giving tours and teaching special programs. This leaves me more time to enjoy my little grandchildren, and … more
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About this book


Acclaimed crime writer M. William Phelps tells the true story of a turn-of-the-century, Bible-thumping caretaker and entrepreneur of the nursing home industry who became one of history's most evil female serial killers.
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Author: M William Phelps
Genre: True Crime
ISBN: 9781599216010

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