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The 19th-Century Nurse Who Was Secretly a Serial Killer

We will probably never know exactly how many people Jane Toppan killed in the latter half of the 19th century. She was a trained and popular nurse, always very attentive to her patient's needs. However, many of her patients died. They were elderly and in pain, and most readily took the lethal doses of medicine Toppan gave them. It was difficult to prove that was murder, so she more often got fired instead.

Toppan was dismissed from Massachusetts General in 1887, yet she received a recommendation to Cambridge Hospital. However, she was dismissed from Cambridge shortly thereafter too, for similar complaints. She left Cambridge Hospital the same way she left Massachusetts General, without her nursing certification.

When she was later asked about her loss of credentials, she told the Boston Daily Journal: “I don’t care. I can make more money and have an easier time by hiring myself out.” And with her unflagging self-assurance, she did that.

Toppan served in many homes as a full-time direct-care nurse, and when she tired of caring for her fussy, elderly patients, she overdosed them, first on morphine and then atropine, drugs with counteracting symptoms that helped her experimentations go undetected. She revealed in her confession that she did not do this quickly, but rather she savored the power of pushing her victims to the brink of death and then bringing them back to life, all the while observing the effects.

In addition to her patients, Toppan killed her foster sister, her landlord, and all of her landlord's family. Read about Toppan's murderous career, including an account from a survivor and Toppan's own remarks, at Narratively. -via Damn Interesting


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