This is the story of “Jolly” Jane Toppan, a nurse who had an obsession with poison, and death.
Here drink this, it will help you feel better
The nurse said as she lifted my head to drink some water. It tasted bitter, and I didn’t like the way it made my throat go dry. I turned away from her as she tried to give me more. I grew drowsy and started drifting off to sleep. Then, the bed dipped and creaked. I felt the blankets being pulled off of me and someone lying next to me. I knew it was her. She started caressing me, kissing me.
I tried to get away but she pulled me closer. She was with me for what seemed like an eternity. But she heard someone approach and she quickly left the ward.
When I awoke the next morning, it felt like a dream. I was embarrassed so I didn’t bring it up to the staff.
It was so odd, it couldn’t have actually happened.
It wasn’t until 14 years later, when I saw it in the papers. That it wasn’t a dream, it had actually happened. In that moment, I realized.
I was almost a victim of Jane Toppan.
To learn about how someone can become a serial killer, we must go back to the beginning. We need to follow to their lives to see, at what moment, things in their mind began to turn dark.
It was 1863 when Peter Kelley, took two of his daughter, 6 year old Anora and 8 year old Delia to the Boston female asylum. He was abusive, a drunk and unable to care for his girls after the passing of his wife Bridgette.
A few years later, Anora was place in an indentured adoption to the Toppan family, with the clause that “If at any time they became dissatisfied with her before the age of 18, they could return her to the orphanage.”
The Toppan’s were quick to change her name to Jane, and they passed her off as a French orphan, whose parents died at sea. Because, to be Irish, was an embarrassment.
Jane excelled at school and was liked by her peers, but she had also been known for her exaggerated lies.
She told me that her father sailed across the world, and lived in China.
Jane said her sister was a renowned beauty, who married an English Lord.
But what they didn’t know, was that in reality, her true father Peter was also known as “Kelley the Crack” he went mad after he abandoned the girl, and was institutionalized after attempting to sew his eyelids shut.
Her sister, by her 20’s was also institutionalized.
It would have seemed that Jane was lucky to get away from the insanity of the Kelley family, unfortunately, the Toppan’s didn’t make her life any easier.
Anne Toppan was strict, and despite sharing the Toppan name, she treated Jane like a servant. One day while Jane was sweeping the floor, Anne was giving a present to her Foster sister Elizabeth. And she came over to admire the gift and Anne became mad.
Girl! Get back to your work, I did not tell you that you were finished!
The only one in the family who treated her with respect and kindness was Elizabeth, but as they grew up Jane became jealous of her. Elizabeth was incredibly beautiful, not only loved by her adoptive parents, but everyone else.
When Jane turned 18, she was released of her servitude. But she stayed with the Toppan family, exchanging housekeeping services for room and board. She graduated high school and was set to marry her sweetheart, but life had other plans.
He left her at the alter.
She began to believe that no man would love her, and she decided then to become a nurse. She was accepted into Cambridge Hospital Nursing school in Boston. Jane’s fellow nursing students remembered her as being “Gregarious and Jolly” loved by the school staff and patients. They have given her the name “Jolly Jane.” She wasn’t however, liked by some of her peers. They saw a darker side to her.
Jane liked to spread rumors, especially about those she didn’t like.
With the rumors came consequences to those who were affected, they were dismissed from the school with no chance to prove their innocence. It was said that Jane would celebrate their dismissal. There were some students who suspected Jane was stealing from the hospital and patients. But no charges were ever made from these allegations.
After Anne Toppan passed away, Elizabeth inherited everything. Which deepened Jane’s hate for her. But it was when Elizabeth got married to a wealthy victor, that drove Jane to Madness.
Jane began to experiment with medications at the hospital. Often testing them on her patients, watching them drift in and out of consciousness. Jane admitted after being arrested that she would often climb into bed with them as they were dying that she got sexual satisfaction watching them e so close to death and her bringing them back to life.
Jane eventually her position at Cambridge, due to over prescribing opiates to patients, and that’s when she decided to work as a private nurse.
Jane killed her landlord Isreal Dunham, and his wife Levi in 1899. That’s when she set her sights on her foster sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth would often invite Jane to come stay with them. But it was when Elizabeth complained of depression that Jane took her up on her offer. While in bed during one of her bouts of depression, Jane laced her water with strychnine. Moments later she held her foster sister and watched with delight as she “Gasped her life out.”
In 1901, Jane was rented a cottage in Bourne, from the Davis family. However, she often fell past due. One day, when Maddie Davis came to collect rent from her. Jane poisoned her with a cocktail of morphine and atropine. Jane moved in with Alden Davis, and his family after that to take care of him after the death of his wife. Within weeks, the whole family was dead, and she moved back to her hometown.
Jane began to court her late foster sisters Husband, killing his sister and poisoning him just to prove her self by nursing him back to health. She went as far as poisoning herself to win his sympathy. It didn’t work however, and he kicked her out of his house.
The remaining members of the Davis family ordered toxicology exam on Alden’s youngest daughter. It came back to find that she was poisoned.
Jane Toppan was arrested on October 26th 1901, for the Murder of the Davis Family.
By 1902, Jane had confessed to 31 murders, and by June of that year at her trial. They had finally reached a verdict.
Do you wish to say anything concerning the order which the court is to make upon this verdict?
I have nothing to say.
The clerk will enter this order and announcement to the defendant.
Superior Court, Barnstable, SS June 1902
Commonwealth by indictment VS Jane Toppan
And now in this case the jury having returned on said indictment a verdict of Not Guilty by reason of insanity. It is now ordered, by the court that she the said Jane Toppan be committed to the Taunton Insane Asylum at Taunton in the county of Bristol during her natural life and that she be and remain in the custody of the sheriff of the county of Barnstable until she be removed pursuant to this order.
It was document that in the final years of her life, Jane went truly mad. Refusing to take her medication, she believed that the nurses and doctors were trying to poison her. But unlike her, they were truly trying to help her get better.
Jane died in 1938 at the age of 84, she was remember by those who cared her as a “quiet old lady” but those who were there for much longer. Remembered her smile as she beckoned them into her room.
Get some morphine dearie, and we’ll go out into the ward. You and I will have a lot of fun seeing them die.
Jane had once said. “If I had been a married woman, I’d probably would not have killed all these people.”