133. The Devil's Rooming House (M. William Phelps)

Friday, March 16, 2012
True crime, especially murder, has to be one of my all-time favourite genres when it comes to nonfiction. I blame it on my father with whom I would spend hours upon hours watching McMillan and Wife, McCloud, and Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Law and Order and Quincy. Delving into murder mysteries and whodunits at an early age led to Saturday afternoons glued to A&E back when they actually had decent programming and not just hour upon mindless hour of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Storage Wars. It should therefore come as no surprise that my Amazon Wishlist is often peppered with tales of real life murder and mayhem.

M. William Phelps’ The Devil’s Rooming House: The True Story of America’s Deadliest Female Serial Killer caught my eye when I first saw the hardcover about a year and a half ago. While I waited for the paperback to come out, it slowly slipped to the bottom of my “must read” list and I eventually forgot all about it. It wasn’t until I started deleting items I was no longer excited to read that I saw it once again. A couple of clicks later and it was being shipped directly to my mailbox!

This true-life tale is about Ms. Amy Archer-Gilligan, a quiet unassuming woman who runs one of the first privately owned nursing homes in the early years of the 20th century. Her home and the services she offers seems ideal for many families – a place for their elderly or infirm loved ones to spend their remaining years without being a burden on their families, all expenses and medical care included.

Things though aren’t as rosy as Amy makes it seem to potential clients. A neighbour, who also happens to be a reporter, becomes suspicious at the number of people passing away suddenly from “natural causes” and begins investigating. He soon discovers that the inmates of the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids are dying at an alarming rate compared with other nursing homes. As he digs deeper, he uncovers a terrifying pattern of sudden unexplainable sickness, death and cover up by the doctor in Amy’s employ. It isn’t until one former inmate’s family members become suspicious about his passing, and his empty bank account, that the reporter is able to uncover the motive behind what appears to be cold blooded murders: money.

It took a little while for The Devil’s Rooming House to get going but once it did, I couldn’t wait to see if and how Amy’s murderous spree would be discovered. I found the story particularly interesting I think because I’m working in a related field and much of our work deals with nursing homes. It was also fascinating to read about one of the few female serial killers out there – I had never heard of Amy Archer-Gilligan before but found her story quite captivating. Who’s going to question old people passing away in a nursing home? They’re going there to live out their final days… who’s to say how many they have left?  If you like true crime, give The Devil’s Rooming House a try.

The story of the Archer Home for Elderly People and Chronic Invalids is also the inspiration for the play (and subsequent movie starring Cary Grant), Arsenic and Old Lace…which is, surprisingly, a comedy.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I'm not a huge fan of true crime, although I do find I am reading increasingly more non-fiction. This one sounds intriguing.

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top