Sue Coletta is a long-time friend of mine. Her fiction is fantastic, but today she has something that isn’t fiction. It’s going to make your skin crawl, and is perfect for this time of year. Make Sue feel welcome, and make sure to use those sharing buttons at the end.
Thanks for inviting me back to Entertaining Stories, Craig!
Ever wonder what drives someone to kill?
While researching the cases of the five female serial killers in Pretty Evil New England, I examined their entire lives, not only their crimes. To show a complete picture — and perhaps, to help explain their motivations — I delved into their backgrounds, childhoods, and early adulthood.
The horrors I found could rattle the foundation beneath even the most stoic, and I couldn’t help but be affected.
Jane Toppan in particular had a brutal beginning. Her mother died when she was a mere toddler and her father — nicknamed “Kelley the crack” as in “crackpot” — was such a severe alcoholic, the townsfolk would catch him stumbling down the street while muttering to himself. You know the type. When Jane was only five, Peter Kelley (her father) dropped her off at an asylum. Yes, you read that right. An asylum!
Imagine what that does to a child? And that’s only one small piece of what led to her ultimate destruction, and sadly, to the destruction of many others as well.
Now, you may be thinking, no matter the circumstances, she still didn’t have the right to murder innocent people. You’re right. But it does shed an interesting light on why she turned out the way she did.
This sounds like a segway into an excerpt about her childhood, doesn’t it? Yeah, it’s not. LOL What fun would that be? The following excerpt continues from the story I shared on Staci’s blog, where Jane is in the middle of murdering her friend, Mattie Davis, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The passages in italics are Jane’s words, taken from her confession. Enjoy!
The following afternoon, Wednesday, June 26, Genevieve arrived at the Beedles’ home to find her mother lying unconscious in a darkened room hung with ice sheets; Nurse Toppan sat by her mother’s sickbed. Even though Jane said she could care for Mattie without assistance, Genevieve insisted on calling a physician to take a look at her. But the blistering eastern heat wave of 1901—the most destructive disaster of its type in US history—caused many to flee the city. Finding a doctor wasn’t easy under these circumstances.
After telephoning four different general practitioners, the Beedles finally reached Dr. John T. G. Nichols—the same man who misdiagnosed arsenic poisoning fifteen years earlier in the Sarah Jane Robinson case. Now, he would be called to the bedside of another victim of a female serial killer. Would he redeem himself or cause this patient to perish by misdiagnosing her symptoms? And more importantly, allow “Jolly Jane” to keep on killing?
Only time would tell. Unfortunately for him and Mattie Davis, Dr. Nichols had no idea who he was up against.
Jane introduced herself as “Nurse Toppan, an old friend of the Davis family.” Then she informed Dr. Nichols that Mattie was a diabetic. Earlier, Mattie had refused to heed Jane’s warnings and treated herself to a nice slice of Mrs. Beedle’s white-frosted velvet cake at dinnertime, Jane claimed, collapsing shortly thereafter, probably due to her overindulgence. There was no need for the doctor to take more urine; Jane had collected a sample for him to test before he arrived.
By all accounts, Jane appeared to be a competent caretaker. With no reason to suspect Nurse Toppan of anything nefarious, how could he have known she’d tampered with the sample?
Under the watchful eyes of Dr. Nichols, Genevieve Gordon, and Mr. and Mrs. Beedle, Jane toyed with Mattie Davis, reveling in her control over life and death. By varying the doses of atropine, a derivative of belladonna, which counteracted the effects of the morphine she’d also administered, Jane produced a wide range of symptoms.
If Jane lessened the dose of narcotic, Mattie would shake out of the foggy haze of partial consciousness. She even allowed Mattie to rise to full lucidity, as though to offer the family a glimmer of hope before plunging her back into a medicinally induced coma.
I always had my own way. I would not allow either the doctors or members of the family where I was working to dictate to me. They usually liked me, though, because I was so jolly, and didn’t mind my bossing them.
After “playing” with her patient for a solid week, Jane administered the fatal dose on the Fourth of July, and Mattie died.
No one in Cataumet was particularly surprised by the news of Mattie’s passing. The eastern heat wave of 1901 claimed the lives of 9,500 men, women, and children that year. Mattie Davis, the townsfolk said, really hadn’t been well for quite some time.
Genevieve in no way suspected Nurse Toppan; in fact, she begged Jane to return to Cataumet with her. She couldn’t bear to take her mother’s body back alone.
Reluctantly, Jane agreed.
There were many friends of the family who had come down from Cambridge to attend the funeral. I thought to myself and I wanted to say to them: ‘You had better wait and in a little while I will have another funeral for you. If you wait it will save your going back and forth.’
“I went to the funeral and was as jolly as can be,” Jane gloated, “and nobody thought anything of it.”
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