Jolly Jane: the Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Sociopathic Nurse Murders up to 100 Defenseless People

Angel of Death

Angel of Death

Lena Edwards, Staff Writer

One of the most iconic female murderers is “Jolly” Jane Toppan, a woman who killed between 31 and 100 people in her time as a nurse. The girl was born in Boston with the name Honora Kelley in 1857 to a drunk abusive father who was thought to be insane and supposedly had his eyes sewn shut. Honora was sent to an orphanage with her sister Delia at age six, later to become an indentured servant to the Toppan family who changed her name to Jane.

Jane was able to disguise most of her sociopathic traits, but some of them still showed through. Even so, she was able to graduate high school and was freed from her indenture, deciding to stay with the Toppans as a servant. Some sort of dispute made Jane move out of the home she had grown up in, starting her training as a nurse at Cambridge Hospital when she was 33. Because of her friendly and outgoing personality, Jane gained the name “Jolly Jane.”

Even with the kind facade, Jane often gossiped, drank beer, and likely stole small things. Jane lost a job at Massachusetts General Hospital for carelessly giving out opiates but was still a highly coveted private nurse. She used this title in order to kill her patients with drugs, often climbing into bed with them and saying that she got a “sexual thrill” from this. Even the Toppan family was not safe from the woman, with Jane Toppan’s foster sister Elizabeth being killed because of her husband.

Jane Toppan ended up caught because of the short amount of time between the deaths of the Davis family, whose cottage she rented. The deaths of healthy people caused a family member to call a toxicologist, who confirmed that the family was poisoned. Toppan was arrested on October 29, 1901, and was put on trial for murder in 1902. She said that she murdered at least 31 people, claiming she began killing because she broke up with her boyfriend at age 16. “If I had been a married woman, I probably would not have killed all those people,” said Toppan, who was found not guilty because of insanity. In the hospital she spent the rest of her life, attendants recalled her bringing them into her room and telling them to “get some morphine” to go out into the ward and have “a lot of fun seeing [other patients] die.”