|Birth name:||Honora Kelley|
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died:||1938 (aged 84)
|Cause of death:||Natural causes|
|Number of victims:||31|
|Span of killings:||1885 – 1901|
|Date apprehended:||October 29, 1901|
Jane Toppan (1854 - 1938), born Honora Kelley, was an American serial killer and female lust murderer. She confessed to 31 murders in 1901. She is quoted as saying that her ambition was "to have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman who ever lived...".
Her father was a single father who left her in an orphanage when she was six years old. She was taken in by a wealthy family but she was treated more like a servant than a member of the family. Her father was later shown to be insane.
In 1885, Toppan began training to be a nurse at Cambridge Hospital. During her residency, she used her patients as guinea pigs in experiments with morphine and atropine; she would alter their prescribed dosages to see what it did to their nervous systems. However, she would spend a lot of time alone with those patients, making up fake charts and medicating them to drift in and out of consciousness and even get into bed with them. It is not known whether any sexual activity went on when her victims were in this stage but when Jane Toppan was asked after her arrest, she answered that she derived a sexual thrill from patients being near death, coming back to life and then dying again. Toppan would administer a drug mixture to patients she chose as her victims, lie in bed with them and hold them close to her body as they died. This is quite rare for female serial killers who usually murder for financial gain and not sexual thrills. She was nevertheless recommended for the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital in 1889; there, she claimed several more victims before being fired the following year. She briefly returned to Cambridge, but was soon dismissed for prescribing opiates recklessly. She then began a career as a private nurse, which flourished despite complaints of petty theft.
She began her poisoning spree in earnest in 1895 by killing her landlords. In 1899, she killed her foster sister Elizabeth with a dose of strychnine.
In 1901, Toppan moved in with the elderly Alden Davis and his family in Cataumet to take care of him after the death of his wife (whom Toppan herself had murdered). Within weeks, she killed Davis and two of his daughters. She then moved back to her hometown and began courting her late foster sister's husband, killing his sister and poisoning him so she could prove herself by nursing him back to health. She even poisoned herself to evoke his sympathy. The ruse didn't work, however, and he cast her out of his house.
By this time, the surviving members of the Davis family ordered a toxicology exam on Alden Davis' youngest daughter. The report found that she had been poisoned, and local authorities put a police detail on Toppan. On October 26, 1901, she was arrested for murder.
Soon after the trial, one of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers, the New York Journal, printed what was purported to be Toppan's confession to her lawyer that she had killed more than 31 people, and that she wanted the jury to find her insane so she could eventually have a chance at being released. Whether or not that was truly Toppan's intention is unknown, but she nevertheless remained at Taunton for the rest of her life.
Toppan is widely believed to have been the inspiration for "the Incomparable Bessie Denker", a character in William March's novel the The Bad Seed, which Maxwell Anderson would turn into a successful play and movie. Like Toppan, Denker was a serial poisoner who began killing at a young age.
In the independent film American Nightmare, written and directed by John Keyes, Debbie Rochon portrays a multiple murderer named "Jane Toppan" who manages to kill numerous characters throughout the course of the film via various means. Her character is also employed as a nurse, as mentioned at the beginning of the film. This character was inspired by the real Jane Toppan, but her methodology of murder differs completely and the film is not meant as a biography.