How Was Serial Killer Jane Toppan Finally Caught?

There have been many serial killers throughout history and for the longest time, it was believed that women were incapable of such heinous crimes. History has shown us there are actually more female serial killers than we initially thought. Those like Aileen Wuornos, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, and Madame LaLaurie are well known because of the gruesome nature of their crimes. However, other women chose to be more subtle about their murderous ways. One of those women was Jane Toppan.

According to the New England Historical Society, Jane Toppan was born Honora Kelley in Boston around 1857. She had a rough childhood (as a lot of serial killers do), including having siblings who ended up as sex workers or in an insane asylum. Her name was changed to Jane Toppan by the family that took her on as an indentured servant. She allegedly showed signs of being a sociopath pretty early on, but of course, nothing was really done about it. At 33, she began training to be a nurse and that is where she earned the moniker "Jolly Jane" because of her outgoing and bubbly personality.

Murder spree ends on the suspicions of one detective

When she began her work as a nurse, some of the doctors found her fascination with autopsies rather odd. Apparently, though, she was good enough at her job for them to ignore that odd quirk of hers. These doctors were also reportedly unaware that she had developed another hobby that involved experimenting on her elderly patients with morphine and atropine. Eventually, she moved from just poisoning her patients to killing them. Toppan even began murdering people who were not her patients as well. She reportedly liked to look at her victims and the effects that the drugs had on their systems and even got a sexual high watching as life left their bodies.

Over the next two decades, Jolly Jane would kill at least 31 of her patients, her foster sister, a friend, and an entire family. According to All That's Interesting, it would not be until 1901 that things took a bad turn for her. A detective believed that she had killed a man and his family a few years prior, and it was his subsequent investigation that led to her eventual arrest. During her interrogation and trial, she confessed to 31 murders, but other estimates place the body count closer to 100. Despite her confession, she was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to life in an insane asylum.