Jane Toppan- Angel of Darkness, Angel of Death

Jane Toppan

Birth Name: Honora Kelley
Born: 1857
Parents: Peter & Bridget Kelley
Siblings: Delia, Nellie, (Others unknown)
Mothers Cause of death: Tuberculosis

It was 1863 when Peter Kelley took two of his daughter (6-year-old Honora, and 8-year-old Delia to Boston Female Asylum. He was abusive, a drunk and unable to care for his girls after the passing of his wife, Bridget.

 Detail of 1846 Map of Boston, showing Female Asylum on Washington St. in the South End; map engraved by G.G. Smith

Detail of 1846 Map of Boston, showing Female Asylum on Washington St. in the South End; map engraved by G.G. Smith

A few years later Honora was placed 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. Some of her peers remembered the stories she told:

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 in reality, her true father Peter, was also known as “Kelley the Crack” Soon went mad after he abandoned his girls and was institutionalized after attempting to sew his eye lids shut.

Her sister, by her twenties 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.

Ann Toppan was strict, and despite sharing the Toppan name, she treated Jane like a servant. While Jane was sweeping the floor, Ann was giving a present to Her foster sister Elizabeth. She came over to Admire the gift and Ann became mad.

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 adopted 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 altar.


She began to believe no man would love her, and she decided then to become a nurse. She was accepted into the Cambridge Hospital Nursing school in Boston. Janes fellow nursing students remembered her as gregarious and jolly. Loved by the school staff and patients. They had given her the nickname “Jolly Jane”. She wasn’t however, well-liked by some of her peers. They saw a darker side to her.


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 of stealing from the Hospital and patients. But No charges were ever made.


After Ann Toppan passed away, Elizabeth inherited everything. Which deepened Janes hate for her. But it was when Elizabeth got married to a wealthy vicar 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 be so close to death and her bringing them back to life. Jane left Cambridge for a time and went to

She lost her position at Cambridge due to over prescribing opiates to patients and decided to work as a private nurse.

Jane killed her landlords, and went on to Kill her foster sister Elizabeth with Strychnine. Thus, starting her poisoning spree.


Jane moved in with an elderly man named Alden Davis and his family 1901 in Cataumet. She was to take care of him after the death of his wife- She was also a victim of Jane’s poison. Within weeks, the whole family was dead, and she moved back to her hometown. Jane began to court her late foster sister Elizabeth’s husband, killing his sister and poisoning him just to prove herself by nursing him back to health. She went as far as to poison herself to win his sympathy. It didn’t work and he kicked her out of his house.

The remaining members of the Davis family ordered a 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.


Except from Jane's Trial:

Superior Court

Barnstable ss. June 1902

Commonwealth by Indictment,


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 here that she, the said Jane Toppan, be committed to the Taunton Insane Hospital 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.

 Taunton State Hospital

Taunton State Hospital

It was documented that in the final years of her life, Jane went truly mad. Refusing to take her medicine, she believed 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 remembered by those who cared for 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