Written By: Trixie Jamito
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Jane Toppan took the lives of at least 31 people into her own hands between 1885 to 1901. She served at hospitals tending to the sick and terminally ill, but in doing so, also gave lethal injections to her patients to satisfy her sexual desires. She was referred to as “The Killer Nurse”. Her death called a media uproar, falsely believing she was the first female serial killer in America.
The Innocence of Honora Kelley
Jane Toppan was born Honora Kelley in Boston on March 31, 1854. She was the youngest of four daughters whose parents were Irish immigrants. Her mother died because of tuberculosis, leaving all of them at a very young age under the custody of their abusive father.
Her father, Peter Kelley, was known as “Kelley the Crack” as in a crackpot, a drunkard, and an addict. It was said that he had lost his mind, sewing his own eyelids shut using his tools from a tailoring job.
In earlier time, Peter tried to raise the girls but was suspected of abusing them. By the year 1863, he decided to take 6-year-old Honora and her sister, Delia, who was 2 years older than Honora, to the Boston Female Asylum (BFA), an orphanage in the city’s South End. He vowed to never see his daughters ever again. BFA noted that these two girls were “rescued from a miserable home”.
Delia had a rougher fate than her younger sister as she became a prostitute and an alcoholic, while another sister Nellie ended up in an insane asylum. Honora had the better opportunity when she became an indentured servant to Mrs. Ann Toppan who passed her off as an orphaned Italian girl due to immigration issues, changing her name to Jane Toppan.
Jane excelled in academics and had many friends, but she became unattractively fat. Her life was again miserable, unconsciously making her awaken the preexisting earmarks of a sociopath. When Jane came of age, she was freed as a servant and was given $50 but she continued to serve the family until Ann died and her daughter Elizabeth married. There was an unknown dispute between Elizabeth’s husband and Jane so she left the house she lived in for 20 years and to live on her own.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Jane decided to go to Cambridge Hospital in 1885 to train to be a nurse. There, she gained the hearts of her colleagues and patients for her pleasant and upbeat personality, earning the nickname “Jolly Jane”. She was even recommended by residing doctors as one of the best nurses in the hospital.
When not wearing her nurse’s uniform, Jane used her free time to profusely get drunk while telling dirty jokes, and mindlessly gossip to turn her friends on one another. On duty, however, she was viewed as a highly-skilled and compassionate professional.
Jane’s obsession with autopsies concerned the hospital administration. It wasn’t long before the doctors realized that something wrong is going on between Jane and her patients. Jane reported on her arrest later on that she injected immense amount of painkillers, particularly morphine or atropine, to her patients just to see what it will do to their nervous system. It was also attested that she derived sexual thrills as her victims drifted in and out of death.
The String of Murders
Four years later, Jane was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital where she claimed more lives using the same modus operandi which resulted in her termination from that job the following year. Even so, she was still recommended by doctors to rich clients as a private nurse.
Jane’s colleagues remembered her saying that there was no use keeping old people alive. It was even quoted that her goal was “to have killed more people – helpless people – than any other man or woman who ever lived”.
And so Jane’s killing spree reached its peak. She began to murder people who weren’t stranger to her. Starting off with her landlord and his wife, whom she killed because they’ve gotten “old and cranky”. Next she targeted her close friend working as dining hall matron at St. John’s Theological School so she could take her job. Then she went after Elizabeth Toppan, her foster sister who treated her as family.
Jane Toppan was allegedly quoted in saying that her goal was “to have killed more people – helpless people – than any other man or woman who ever lived”
A Tinge of Love in All the Lies
Elizabeth Toppan often invited Jane to visit and spend the afternoon catching up. One fateful day, Elizabeth and Jane decided to go to the beach for a picnic, but Jane had something else in mind. She served corned beef, taffy, and water laced with strychnine.
“I held her in my arms and watched with delight as she gasped her life out.”, Jane was quoted saying.
Later on, she moved in with Elizabeth’s widower, Oramel Brigham, and asked to marry him. Unbeknownst to everyone that the dispute between Oramel and Jane was because Jane was in love with Oramel. Oramel, of course, declined the marriage proposal and Jane didn’t take it well. She poisoned him and nursed him back to health, but his answer remained the same then he threw her out of the house.
Not Guilty Beyond A Reasonable Doubt
Jane rented a house with the Davis family, but she wasn’t able to pay her rent, so she killed them one by one including the two married daughters of Alden Davis, Minnie Gibbs and Geraldine Gordon.
Minnie’s father-in-law wouldn’t accept that a whole family suddenly dies of unknown causes so he ordered an investigation. It was revealed that Minnie died of morphine and atropine poisoning, which leads back to Jane Toppan’s previous cases.
Police finally arrested Jane in 1901 after almost two decades of the jolly nurse facade. She confessed to all her crimes not lower than the body count of 31. Victims who survived her assaults came forward to attest her claims, saying they dreamed of being poisoned and sexually harassed , only to find out they weren’t dreaming in the first place.
Jane’s admission was enough for a decision to be made. Allegedly, it only took the jury 27 minutes to deem her not guilty by reason of insanity. She was then sentenced to spend the rest of her days in the Taunton State Hospital which is an insane asylum in Massachusetts.
Year after year, a single voice can be heard throughout the hallway coming from Jane’s padded cell, calling out to nurses who would give in.
“Get some morphine, dearie, and we’ll go out in the ward. You and I will have a lot of fun seeing them die.”
It wasn’t until August 17, 1938 that the voice was silenced. Jane Toppan finally succumbed to her own death at the ripe old age of 84.
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