Her killing spree really began in 1895 upon killing her landlord and his wife. She later explained they had gotten “‘feeble and fussy”’ and “‘old and cranky”.”’ Her colleagues in nursing school remembered her saying there was no use keeping old people alive.
In 1889, 70-year-old Mary McLear fell ill on a visit to Cambridge. Her doctor sent Jane Toppan, “‘one of my best nurses,’” to care for her. Jane poisoned Mary McLear.
A month later, she killed a close friend with strychnine so she could take her job as dining hall matron at St. John’s Theological School in Cambridge. She got the job, but it didn’t last. The administration couldn’t ignore complaints of missing money and her incompetence.
In 1899, Jane targeted her own sister. Elizabeth complained of depression, and Jane invited her down to the Cape. One day she took Elizabeth to the beach for a picnic of cold corned beef, taffy and mineral water laced with strychnine. “I held her in my arms and watched with delight as she gasped her life out,” Jane later said.
Jane Toppan then decided to insert herself into the household of Elizabeth’s widower, Oramel, because she wanted to marry him. Within three days, she killed the housekeeper. She took over household chores and tried to impress Oramel with her housekeeping skills. Brigham made it clear he didn’t want her as a housekeeper or as a wife.
Jane decided to win his love by poisoning him and then nursing him back to health. That didn’t work either, so she threatened to claim he’d gotten her pregnant. Enraged, Oramel ordered Jane out of the house. She tried to commit suicide with an overdose of morphine, but failed.