Monday, February 14, 2011

Jane Toppan, "The Nightmare Nurse"

Jane was born in 1857 as Honora Kelley. Her mother died when she was just a little girl, leaving to live with her alcoholic father. After living a few years in poverty, Jane and her sister were sent to Boston Female Asylum. After a few years, Jane was adopted by Mrs. Ann Toppan, and was given her new identity: Jane Toppan. Growing up, Jane was very jealous of her beautiful step-sister and built up a pattern of lies. She moved out in 1885 to become a nurse, knowing that there was nobody who wanted to marry her ("Jane toppan: female").

The facility that Jane began to work at had very low supervision and security. Thus, Jane was free to do whatever she pleased with no risk of being caught. She soon began experimenting with drugs on the patients that she wasn't so fond of. She regularly used Morphine and atropine to kill her patients and nobody suspected a thing. This was because to everyone else, Jane was known as "Jolly Jane." She came off as being happy and so careful of her patients who she spent so much time with. Little did her fellow workers know that the time Jane spent alone in her patients room was spent filling out fake charts and bringing them in and out of consciousness with drugs. Often times, she would even get into bed with them, claiming that she got a sexual thrill from being around people near death ("Jane toppan: female").

Thirty-one patients died at Jane's hand. She often referred to herself as the "Angel of Death," a bringer of "mercy," and a provident dispenser of mortal relief ("Jane toppan", 2010). It is said that Jane adopted this strange love of death during nursing school where she developed a strange love for autopsies ("Jane toppan, nightmare," 2007). Jane worked in a few medical hospitals including Massachusetts General Hospital and also became a private nurse in Cambridge. Her services were high in demand, even though many of her patients ended up dead ("Jane toppan: female").

Jane's death brigade would soon come to an end when she began renting a home from a family named Davis. Jane didn't pay her rent and when one of the daughter's of the family came to talk to Jane, she mysteriously ended up dead. The Davis's then asked Jane to move into their home. Soon after the other Davis daughter died. The father of this family soon became very concerned about all these healthy people dying and he got the help of a Harvard Medical School graduate to come and investigate. A few months later Jane was arrested for the murder of Minnie Gibbs, one of the Davis daughters ("Jane toppan: female").

Jane's trial took place in 1902. The court listened to testimony from Jane and from doctors all claiming that Jane suffered from insanity. It was suggested that the insanity was hereditary because her father and sisters all suffered from it also. For this reason, Jane was declared mentally insane and was sent to an asylum. She died there in 1938 at the age of 84 ("Jane toppan, nightmare," 2007).


Jane toppan: female lust killer. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Jane toppan. (2010, March, 28). Retrieved from

Jane toppan, nightmare nurse. (2007, March 26). Retrieved from


  1. thanks for writing the blog... it's very useful for researches... :)

  2. btw, can I ask what is/are her mental disorder(s)? because she was declared mentally insane but it was not said what mental disorders did she suffer from. thanks. :)

  3. great blog! glad to see someone else out there with an affinity for female serial killers.

  4. I would think that in today's world of modern psychiatry, she would have been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Otherwise, there would have been diagnoses' such as her having Antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Antisocial personality because she showed no regard for the rights of others, no feelings of remorse for violating the basic rights of others. She in all likelihood felt as though laws didn't apply to her. She resorted to criminality in order to get a sense of "justice." She was an injustice collector. Borderline personality because she had feelings of inadequacy, fear of being abandoned, and morbid jealously. Paranoid schizophrenia later on as her illness progressed, because she felt that everyone was trying to kill her or poison her like she had done to her victims. She began to become delusional while incarcerated in the mental asylum so much so that she starved herself to death and weighted only 60 lbs at the time of her demise. If she was more resilient with her failures, she may have gone on to eventually become successful and marry and thus become happy. But she unfortunately needed help from a very early age, but never got it.

  5. Also, I want to elaborate more on the fact that she lived in a different time and place than today. So lunatic asylums, as they were most commonly known as back in her day, have all but become obsolete. In other words, the vast majority of mental asylums in America and the United Kingdom have become shut down due to a myriad of reasons. Most of all because of monetary issues and the vigorous advocacy of lobbyists groups for the rights of mentally ill people. This phenomenon is better known as the deinstitutionalization movement which swept through first world countries starting around in the late 1950's to about the 1980's. Back in 1901/02, when she was convicted, there no known ways to effectively treat any kind of mental illness. Save by natural homeopathic remedies. That converged on the edge of downright quackery. The large asylums were available to just merely warehouse the crazies. They were nothing more than short of extensions of prisons, but were places of extreme cruelty and abuse of patients. Patients really had no rights much to speak of. Torture was rampant in these snake pits too. Insanity or paranoid schizophrenia ran in her family, unfortunately. And there were no medications around at that time to treat it. So if you had it, you were doomed to spend the rest of your life in a hell like facility. Thorazine wasn't around yet, and would not be for at least another forty or fifty years after Toppan died.

  6. I feel the need to add that ECT therapy wasn't even around or was employed in the state mental hospitals at least not until after the second world war. When modern technology began to suddenly evolve into something much more than helpful to the betterment of society. One such example is the automatic washing machine. I don't really know when Electroconvulsive shock therapy was invented, nor by whom. But, I would have suspected around after WW2. Then it would have been introduced into the medical annuals. After that Walter Freeman invented the psycho surgical technique of the trans orbital lobotomy. That didn't start until like the late 1940's. If Jane "Tapioca" Toppan had access to any one or all of these such treatments, it very well may have saved the lives of both herself and those that she poisoned.