Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female Serial Killer

Rowman & Littlefield
12
Free sample

The gripping tale of a legendary, century-old murder spree

 

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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.

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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 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.

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3.3
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Additional Information

Publisher
Rowman & Littlefield
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Published on
Jun 1, 2011
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780762762507
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
History / United States / General
True Crime / Murder / Serial Killers
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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From renowned true-crime historian Harold Schechter, whom The Boston Book Review hails as “America’s principal chronicler of its greatest psychopathic killers,” comes the riveting exploration of a notorious, sensational New York City murder in the 1890s, the fascinating forensic science of an earlier age, and the explosively dramatic trial that became a tabloid sensation at the turn of the century.

Death was by poison and came in the mail: A package of Bromo Seltzer had been anonymously sent to Harry Cornish, the popular athletic director of Manhattan’s elite Knickerbocker Athletic Club. Cornish barely survived swallowing a small dose; his cousin Mrs. Katherine Adams died in agony after ingesting the toxic brew. Scandal sheets owned by Hearst and Pulitzer eagerly jumped on this story of fatal high-society intrigue, speculating that the devious killer was a chemist, a woman, or “an effeminate man.” Forensic studies suggested cyanide as the cause of death; handwriting on the deadly package and the vestige of a label glued to the bottle pointed to a handsome, athletic society scamp, Roland Molineux.

The wayward son of a revered Civil War general, Molineux had clashed bitterly with Cornish before. He had even furiously denounced Cornish when penning his resignation from the Knickerbocker Club, a letter that later proved a major clue. Bon vivant Molineux had recently wed the sensuous Blanche Chesebrough, an opera singer whose former lover, Henry Barnet, had also recently died . . . after taking medicine sent to him through the mail. Molineux’s subsequent indictment for murder led to two explosive trials, a sex-infused scandal that shocked the nation, and a lurid print-media circus that ended in madness and a proud family’s disgrace.
In bold, brilliant strokes, Schechter captures all the colors of the tumultuous legal case, gathering his own evidence and tackling subjects no one dared address at the time–all in hopes of answering the tantalizing question: What powerfully dark motives could drive the wealthy scion of an eminent New York family to foul murder?

Schechter vividly portrays the case’s fascinating cast of characters, including Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel Hawthorne, a prolific yellow journalist who covered the story, and proud General Edward Leslie Molineux, whose son’s ignoble deeds besmirched a dignified national hero’s final years. All the while Schechter brings alive Manhattan’s Gilded Age: a gaslit world of elegant town houses and hidden bordellos, chic restaurants and shabby opium dens, a city peopled by men and women fighting and losing the battle against urges an upright era had ordered suppressed.

Superbly researched and powerfully written, The Devil’s Gentleman is an insightful, gripping work, a true-crime historian’s crowning achievement.
An Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime, this “impressive…open-eyed investigative inquiry wrapped within a cultural history of rural America” (The Wall Street Journal) shows legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applying his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Some of these cases—like the infamous Villisca, Iowa, murders—received national attention. But most incidents went almost unnoticed outside the communities in which they occurred. Few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station. When celebrated true crime expert Bill James first learned about these horrors, he began to investigate others that might fit the same pattern. Applying the same know-how he brings to his legendary baseball analysis, he empirically determined which crimes were committed by the same person. Then after sifting through thousands of local newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he and his daughter Rachel made an astonishing discovery: they learned the true identity of this monstrous criminal and uncovered one of the deadliest serial killers in America.

“A suspenseful historical account” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), The Man from the Train paints a vivid, psychologically perceptive portrait of America at the dawn of the twentieth century, when crime was regarded as a local problem, and opportunistic private detectives exploited a dysfunctional judicial system. James shows how these cultural factors enabled such an unspeakable series of crimes to occur, and his groundbreaking approach to true crime will convince skeptics, amaze aficionados, and change the way we view criminal history. “A beautifully written and extraordinarily researched narrative…This is no pure whodunit, but rather a how-many-did-he-do” (Buffalo News).
Discover the truth behind the myth in The Complete Jack the Ripper by Paul Begg and John Bennett.

Whitechapel, 1888: a spate of brutal murders becomes the most notorious criminal episode in London's history. The killer, chillingly nicknamed 'The Whitechapel Murderer', 'Leather Apron' and, most famously, 'Jack the Ripper', is never brought to justice for the slaughter and mutilation of at least five women in the slums of East London. But the mystery is deepened by a letter sent "From Hell" to Scotland Yard, accompanied by half of a preserved human kidney...

In this comprehensive account of London's most infamous killer, the foremost authorities on the case explore the facts behind the most grisly episode of the Victorian era. Setting the scene in the impoverished East End, the authors' meticulous research offers detailed accounts of the lives of the victims and an examination of the police investigation. The Complete Jack the Ripper is the definitive book by Paul Begg and John Bennett, exploring both the myth and reality behind the allusive killer.


Paul Begg and John Bennett are researchers and authors, widely recognized as authorities on Jack the Ripper. Paul Begg's books include Jack the Ripper: The Facts, Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History, and he is a co-author of The Jack the Ripper A to Z.

John Bennett has written numerous articles and lectured frequently on Jack the Ripper and the East End of London. He has acted as adviser to and participated in documentaries made by television channels worldwide and was the co-writer for the successful Channel 5 programme Jack the Ripper: The Definitive Story. He is author of E1: A Journey Through Whitechapel and Spitalfields and co-author of Jack the Ripper: CSI Whitechapel.

On May 12, 1960, as John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency, Chester Burge—slumlord, liquor runner, and the black sheep of the proud (and wealthy) Dunlap family of Macon, Georgia—lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. He listened to the radio as the news reported that his wife had just been murdered. Police soon ruled out robbery as a motive, and suspicion centered upon the Ku Klux Klan, which two weeks earlier had descended upon his house to protest his renting of homes in white neighborhoods to black families. Then, on June 1, Chester was charged with the murder, and when the trial finally began, the sweet Southern town of Macon witnessed a story of epic proportions—a tale of white-columned mansions, an insane asylum, real people as “Southern grotesque” as the characters of Flannery O'Connor, and a volatile mix of taboo interracial relationships and homosexuality.

This was a story as fantastical as a Greek tragedy, complete with a stunning conclusion. It is told in riveting detail in Richard Jay Hutto's A Peculiar Tribe of People.

Chester Burge was a walking streak of deception and sex. After weaseling his way to be the caretaker of the last Dunlap sister and forcing his way into her will, Burge and his family inherited a fortune as well as one of the family mansions. Then came his numerous assignations with men—including his black chauffeur—and, either single-handedly or with help from a lover, the murder of his wife.

The trial would spawn the first testimony in Georgia history of a black man disclosing that he had been a white man's sexual partner. Burge would be acquitted of murder, but convicted of sodomy. And yet, this Southern grotesque tale would take even more twists and turns before coming to an explosive conclusion.

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