My Review (5 stars out of 5)
Exploring murder in nineteenth century New England, crime writer Sue Coletta tells the stories of five female serial killers – Jane Toppan, Lydia Sherman, Nellie Webb, Harriet E. Nason and Sarah Jane Robinson. Delving into their individual backgrounds, she looks at the events that drove these women to a point where they chose to commit murder. Between the five, they killed more than one hundred people, many of which were members of their own families.
Though I’m familiar with many of the famous serial killers of the 1800s in my own country (UK), I’m less aware of America’s Victorian murderers, so hadn’t heard of any of these women or the details of their crimes. Carrying out meticulous research, the author recounts how each one went about their nefarious deeds and the ensuing consequences. What I found most interesting was that the preferred method of all five was to use poison – that old stalwart of Victorian killers – arsenic. It’s also interesting that many of the women murdered their own children and husbands – in some cases several husbands!
Using witness testimonies and court records, Sue Coletta tells a captivating tale of lies, deceit and an appalling number of murders. She also reveals how some of the attending physicians involved managed to make colossal mistakes in their diagnoses (in terms of cause of death). If these serial killers hadn’t knocked off so many people, perhaps they might never have been caught.
A fascinating account of Victorian murders in New England.