The Devil's Rooming House

The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer

By M. William Phelps
(Lyons Press, Paperback, 9780762770250, 320pp.)

Publication Date: June 2011

Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover

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Readers will enter a kind of Twilight Zone where a Bible-thumping caretaker and entrepreneur of the nursing home industry became one of history’s most evil female serial killers. With first-hand accounts from Amy’s “inmates,” riveting trial transcripts, and accounts from the investigative journalists who covered the case, Phelps puts readers face-to-face with a woman who was both a Black Widow and an Angel of Death. And Phelps paints a vivid, spine-chilling portrait of turn-of-the-century New England.

About the Author

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. 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. 

Praise For The Devil's Rooming House

“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

Praise for M. William Phelps and The Devil's Rooming House “Phelps is one of America’s finest true crime writers.”           –Vincent Bugliosi, author of Helter Skelter and Reclaiming History 

The Devil's Rooming House was certainly a revelation. I had no idea that there was such a gruesome backstory to one of my favorite films, Arsenic and Old Lace, and after reading this exhaustively researched book, I can now say I know every lurid detail. I think readers will be surprised to find that another WOMAN has joined the infamous ranks of serial killers and that if the heat doesn’t get you, the poison will.”

Paula Uruburu, author of American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, The Birth of the “It” Girl, and The Crime of the Century


“This harrowing account of how one seemingly dedicated and devoted caretaker of the old and infirm can emerge from her cocoon of Christian piety and prove to be an obscene force of destruction is written with the usual clarity and style of renowned crime writer, M.William Phelps.  The Devil's Rooming House not only depicts the shocking persona of the serial killer, Amy Archer, but also tenderly gives voice to her heroic, doomed victims.”

–Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, author of Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir

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