From 1911-1914 Amy Archer ran one of the first private nursing homes in the country. You could pay her weekly for room and board. Or, you could give her $1000 upfront and she would take care of you, even providing for your burial. She always encouraged the $1000 as the better deal. However, if you lived too long, she didn't make money. So she put arsenic in your food to help you along the path to death.
The Devil's Rooming House : the true story of America's deadliest female serial killer is a fascinating story of the time period, and the importance of the journalist who started uncovering the story, and the gullibility of the townspeople. Amy Archer always walked through town with a Bible in her hand. People could not believe that a serial killer was in their midst and that this woman was it.
Phelps has written a very readable story about Amy Archer, the crime, and how reluctant the authorities were to pursue this without absolute evidence. Twenty years before this story, Lizzie Borden had committed a horrible crime 40 miles away and people feel the authorities botched it up and allowed her to go free. They were determined that the same should not happen with this crime.
Phelps is able to uncover the lives of some the victims, most of whom went into the house to avoid being a burden on their families. Arsenic is a very painful way to die. Sixty people died in the house, although only 1/2 can be attributed directly to Amy.
The play Arsenic and Old Lace was based on this story. Playwright Joseph Kesselring made the aunts more charming figures than Amy Archer ever was and added a loving nephew who discovers their plot. It was also made into a movie starring Cary Grant.