Mary Kay McBrayer, America’s First Female Serial Killer

America’s first female serial killer was a poor Irish nurse named Honora Kelley, later known as Jane Toppan. She poisoned at least thirty-one victims in Victorian-era Boston. 

If that comes as a surprise to you, you’re in good company. As Mary Kay McBrayer writes, notorious murderers like Jack the Ripper and Lizzie Borden have been studied in great detail, but Toppan remains relatively unknown, in part because she was poor and Irish, a hardworking and unvalued laborer who her patients and bosses overlooked. “The fact that someone so unimportant and unwanted could commit so many murders without being caught was, basically, embarrassing,” McBrayer writes (14). 

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