They call nurses 'angels of mercy' - and to all appearances, Jane Toppan fit that description. Besides her obvious competence, she seemed to be a sensitive, sympathetic woman who had worked for some of Boston's best families. Of course, none of her employers know anything about Jane's early years. They didn't know about her mother's tragic death when Jane was just an infant - or her father's subsequent insanity, which impelled him to stitch his eyelids together one day in his Boston tailor shop. They weren't aware of Jane's own suicide attempts after being jilted by her fiance, or the morbid obsessions she displayed during her student nursing years at a Cambridge hospital, where her bizarre fascination with autopsies became a source of dismay to her supervisors. It wasn't until members of the Davis family began dropping like flies in the summer of 1901 that the terrible truth about the skilled, seemingly compassionate nurse finally came to light. Far from being an 'angel of mercy,' Jane Toppan turned out to be one of America's most bloodthirsty 'angels of death.'
Harold Schechter is Professor at Queen's College, The City University of New York. Renowned for his true-crime writing, he is the author of five non-fiction books: BESTIAL, DEVIANT, DERANGED, DEPRAVED and THE A TO Z ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SERIAL KILLERS.