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America's First Female Serial Killer with
Mary Kay McBrayer
Images & Transcript

Photo of Mary Kay McBrayer next to a window looking at the camera

Author Mary Kay McBrayer

Author Mary Kay McBrayer seated with hands on her lap in front of a green velvet background

Transcript: Season 2, Book Bonus Episode


people, jane, women, written, book, Mary Kay, town, funeral, story, serial killer, called, bizarre, read, podcast, talk, true, lived, female, nurse, facts


Penny, Mary Kay


Penny  00:00

Hi. I'm Penny Dearmin, and this is Blood Town. This episode was recorded in 2020. I'm super excited for our very first book bonus episode and Mary Kay McBrayer is joining us today. And she is the author of America's first female serial killer Jane Toppan and the making of a monster. Mary Kay is a podcast aficionado, I guess our podcasts like children, Mary Kay, when you get one, you just start having a bunch of 'em because why not? You're feeding one, you might as well feed them all. Like, how did you even come have to have two podcasts?


Mary Kay  00:45

Well, I don't have any kids. So maybe it's like that. But I co host and co founded one of them that everything trying to kill you, which is about horror movies, where we analyze them, and also ruthlessly mock them. Because you might notice in horror movies, there's like a bunch of tropes that are really unsatisfying. So you know, we do like the old movies and the new movies. And some of the old ones really hold up. And some of them really, really don't. And some of them like, they're like, nostalgic, like, for me, the craft was one of them. That was like Yeah, fucking feminism. And then it's not that at all, like when you rewatch it. So that's one of them. And then Book Riot, a company that I write for, I wanted to do a literary fiction podcast, and they held auditions. And I was like, Well, I'm gonna do it. And then they I got selected to do it. So that's kind of how it happened. One of them, I waterbirthed my own self. And then the other one, someone was like, Hey, come take care of this kid. If we were doing this metaphor, I don't do it by myself, either of them, but they're really different experiences. Because I think one of them is like, real professional like the literary fiction. One is very professional representing a company. And then the reason that we did the horror movie one and we started it is because at the time I was teaching a lot of horror movies, but I couldn't say the shit that I really wanted to say while I was in the classroom.


Penny  02:09

 Yeah, absolutely. 


Mary Kay  02:10

So we get increasingly drunk and talk about how, how dare he ask her to go to that dinner party that his ex wife is hosting and that kind of stuff. 


Penny  02:19

Yeah, I love it. You're the trailblazer for me to finally put my toe in the water to podcast because we listen to a lot of the same ones. And so yeah, and I was reading, you know, in your introduction, you were saying how you first found out about Jane Toppan and is you were actually listening to a podcast. 


Mary Kay  02:38

yeah, I was. My favorite murder is of course, for me the gold standard of podcast comedy. And I remember listening and they tell you to like I know that blood town is very factual and very like investigative and I love that. And then my favorite murder is like, don't rely on us for facts at all. This is our book report that we cheated on. 


Mary Kay  03:01

So as I was listening to them tell the story about Jane Toppan. And I was like, Oh, they're leaving some stuff out for the sake of you know, comedy. And then I went to research her more and really, they kind of gave most of what there was like Harold Schecter wrote a book and it's fantastic. It's super well researched, and I leaned on his research heavily as well as some of his sources. I went in more depth, but yeah, it was it to me like although his book is fantastic, it wasn't what I wanted to read. Like it was all the facts and none of the story, and I wanted somewhere between Harold Schecter which listeners, I'm sure you all are familiar with him, even if his name doesn't ring a bell. Like if you've ever watched a true crime documentary or series, he is the talking head, like he has the gray curly hair and the wiry glasses. You'll know him immediately when you find when you are like what's this guy? Yeah, you'll recognize him. But I wanted somewhere between him and Karen and Georgia. And that's kind of where I started, you know? Yeah, you go down like the Wikipedia wormhole.


Penny  03:01



Penny  04:03



Mary Kay  04:04

When you get interested in something. And I was like, well, it's nobody's written her story the way that I want to read it. And so I started to do it.


Penny  04:11

 Well, I don't think anyone's written anyone's story, the way that you wrote Jane, Jolly Jane's, story. It is a fascinating imagining, combined with research. And that is something that we do as nonfiction writers, we put ourself in the place of the character that we're writing about who is an actual person and I would love to talk to you about your nonfiction behind it, because I that's what I'm fascinated with. I mean, this story is beautifully written and constructed. I love this structure so much. It's one of my favorite parts about it.


Mary Kay  04:49

Thank you so much for saying that. I feel like it can be sort of disorienting, because like you were saying the point of view kind of rotates. And I felt like, to your point, I mean, nonfiction is such like a gray area and kind of a wily beast that unless you are telling just straight facts, and you get all of them, right, someone's going to point something out and say, That's not probably the way it went. So, I mean, I try to be, and I'm sure that you, you have experienced this somewhat as well, because you're a nonfiction writer too. But for me, it's like, if I just establish a contract with the reader in the beginning, saying, like, everything that can check out, should check out. But sometimes I just have to decide some stuff, you know, like, there's not the research to be had on it. So I did that. And then I decided on the structure is being mostly chronological, which I think helps make it somewhat linear. But also, in the research that I found Jane didn't really have a voice. Like even when they wrote her confession in the newspaper, which is included in the book, I've tried to as many times as I could, when a newspaper article rung particularly true include it, which was really nice thing I could do, because the copyrights were long gone. On those. Yeah, it was really nice. Actually, I think you were the one you were one of the people that I messaged to be like, so tell me about copyright laws, because I don't ever want to, you know, I want to give credit where credit is due, but


Penny  06:23

That's a benefit. Yeah. Researching in the far past,


Mary Kay  06:27

right. And I think that was really freeing for me too. Because when listeners Penny and I went to the same graduate program, but we didn't overlap, we're just yet also making mutual friends that we can't be friends too. But when I was at Georgia College, I wrote mostly about people who were living, and there's only so much shit that you can drag out on people who are living without making an actual enemy. You know, 


Penny  06:51

it's problematic.


Mary Kay  06:53

It is, even if it's true, especially if it's true,


Penny  06:57

especially the truth, it's the most dangerous thing of all,


Mary Kay  07:01

you're so right. I had the benefit of this being historical. So everything was, you know, this is what you have whatever was there was what was there and the way I put it together was my best attempt at being respectful to the victims, including Jane, because she was a victim before she hurt people, if that makes sense. So, you know, like hurt people hurt people. 


Penny  07:24

Yeah. I mean, that's one of the things that I admired about that. Because that is a unique perspective. We never, and I think maybe that's somewhat easier in our society to do with a woman perpetrator to humanize her a little bit more, because I think women are more likely to become victims, but way less likely to become the perpetrator later on in their life. 


Mary Kay  07:46



Penny  07:47

I think that that was an interesting angle for you to take. And I didn't think that you, you let her get away with it. That wasn't what I walked away with. But,


Mary Kay  07:56

Good. yeah, no, she was a monster for sure.


Penny  07:58

She Yeah, definitely made her a monster so that you did not let her get away with it. But you know, and also, a lot of people don't understand the way that Irish were discriminated against when they came to America during that time. Most people have no idea about that. And I thought you did a good job with that as well. 


Mary Kay  08:18

Thanks. Yeah, she's a really complex character in that I wanted for in the beginning, because as I was hearing the story, just on my favorite murder, I was like, Oh, there's more to this girl, though. Like nobody just like, is born evil like that. Like she had a terrible childhood. She was made to hate her ethnicity and identity. They changed her name. Because they didn't want her to sound Irish. Even though she was a maid. They never adopted her. She was an indentured servant. And I just like any one of those things would traumatize me. Yeah. And I'm not saying that that gives her a right to go out and poison a whole bunch of people. But also, I would be mad. Like, I would be mad at that. And I think it's also interesting too how so many people went through similar situations as she did and didn't kill 30 people.


Penny  09:11

I mean, it's kind of shocking that that more people weren't murdered because of the way they were treated, to be honest with you. 


Mary Kay  09:17

I mean, truly, and to your point earlier, as well about women being able to get away with more, especially her because she was, like you said jolly, right, which is code for chubby even by Victorian standards. And she was, she was, I mean, looking at pictures of her. She looks kind of wild in the eyes, of course, but she's not unattractive. And like people said that in the newspaper as well. But she was working class, you know, she was a nurse, and those are the people who are supposed to take care of the upper class, so you really don't want to suspect them of anything, especially your nurse.


Penny  09:54

I mean, we're kind of talking about telling the truth about people, the people who she worked for when never want to tell The truth about her because she could tell their truth like no one else. And they definitely don't want that out there. Right, there's that barrier. I liked the way that you said that the way that you told the story, it feels the truest. And I think that that's something that people outside of nonfiction don't understand how you write a character that you don't know even if they are alive or not, you might not know them, but it's a story that needs to be told. And you've decided to take it on to be the teller. So talk to me about how you kind of got into her skin, because that is definitely how the story is told as if from within Jane's skin, not to be all Silence of the Lambs on y'all.


Mary Kay  10:43

I was just talking about Silence of the Lambs today. It's one of my favorites, for sure. I always forget how good it is. And then I go look at it. And I'm like, gosh, this is amazing. 


Penny  10:57

I'm gonna have to watch it tonight. Now just


Mary Kay  11:00

do it. It's so good. Oh, my gosh. And all the performances are just iconic. And I love I love it. Anyway, I think you asked about how you get in someone's head like that. It honestly was very disturbing place to try to go. 


Penny  11:16



Mary Kay  11:17

Which is, I think, a large reason why so little of the book is written in Jane's voice as well. 


Penny  11:25

Yes, I noticed that. 


Mary Kay  11:27

So there are parts of but there's not much like there's a part where she's basically giving commentary on a news article written about her, which was real fun for me to do because she was livid and sarcastic. And she was kind of a genius, too. So she was like proofreading all their typos. And she's like, is anyone reading this? Like, this is exactly wrong. 


Penny  11:51



Mary Kay  11:51

how did you get your job, I don't understand it. It's just it's really snarky. And that was pretty fun for me to write. But I also think that to go on kind of a darker aspect of her. So on the surface to everyone else, she was the most amenable, fun to talk to easy to be around, just put you at ease when she was in the room. Very knowledgeable, very eager to please. And that is how I started writing her as a child because to me what little facts we had about her childhood. It looked to me like she was a very precocious kid who had been neglected. So anytime she could get any praise for anything. She was there and she was doing it that you like these baseboards cool. Let me do the rest of the place. And then, you know, she just thrived on any sort of praise, but because she was neglected and somewhat abused. I think, although that's not written down so much. It's more like implied because this also happened during the Victorian time when they couldn't say regular-ass words. Like, right there. The reasons we have tablecloths because the legs of the table are too sexy. Okay. Anyway, so there's that and I tried to build on how a child that eager to please could sort of go off the rails in such a way that she stopped caring what other people thought of her. She stopped caring about what people thought of her at her core, she was only like, very superficial with her interactions. And I think for me, I had to find where best I thought that she would start letting that resentment seep in one of my favorite chapters to read whenever, you know, whenever we start having readings again, in person is when her foster mother or the woman who indentured her out, dies, leaves her nothing in the will and she has to organize the whole funeral. I mean, organizing a funeral in general is very stressful, like even now like because there's so much feeling. There's so many feelings involved. There's so much money involved. There's so much less now but there's so much decorum. And the Victorians were obsessed with funerals. Like they had a parlor and they had a living room one was so they could have wakes in and then they would like rebranded the living room so people would forget about the funeral. This is where Widow's weeds come from. It was just a really extravagant ordeal for her to put together and she was grieving because as well, she remembered her mother and then her mother in her will basically like kicked her in the chest. Not her actual mother, but her foster mom, which is not what they would have called it. They never adopted her, which I also think is really tragic. Although they did make her change her name legally. And I just I felt like at that point, even the most resilient person would be like, No, fuck this. I'm gonna get mine.


Penny  14:53

Yeah, because then they made her, this is creepy to me because I didn't understand this about funerals back then or wakes as they would have been called in Irish culture and in the Victorian era where they would lay them out in the house. And they made Jane who just her, quote unquote, mother just died and they made her wash and somehow scrunch her ass into her wedding dress, put on her jewels. 


Mary Kay  15:23



Penny  15:24

And so Jane is this person who goes on to be responsible for the death of others. And I think you, you did a good job of crystallizing that moment that that is when she decided that if I'm going to be responsible for their dead, I'm going to really be responsible for their dead.


Mary Kay  15:44

Right. And I think that's also a lot of how she got past it, especially and I don't want to give too much away. But yeah, the the thing that eventually gets her caught, right, is that there are deaths all in the same area. And I think that's how she tricked people is that she was a nurse. So of course, she would be there when people passed, of course, that's normal. But she also was so helpful with organizing that part. And just kind of saying, like, Okay, this is how you do it, you know, like, this is the formula, this is how I'm just gonna guide you, I'm just gonna do this for you. So you don't have to think about it. I mean, just the gratitude that people must have felt toward her for just like helping them out in a time where they were just kind of flailing. Right? Like it will make you overlook a lot. If someone is there when you need them to be.


Penny  16:33

I mean, lots of people have a wedding planner, she was in essence a free funeral planner,


Mary Kay  16:38

right? Like it is So it's so bizarre to at that time period, you would hire mourners to like set the tone in the cemetery? Isn't that wild?


Penny  16:49

It is insane. And I think it's fascinating that they would have that in their house. And then they're not supposed to open up the windows or the drapes, because they're in mourning, and they're supposed to keep it inside. 


Mary Kay  17:00

Oh my gosh, I know, 


Penny  17:02

which is, you know, a beautiful symbol for how we're supposed to take our grief in but the smell, it just shows you that what you're supposed to do with your grief is let it out. 


Mary Kay  17:12



Penny  17:13

Don't let those smells be in your house.


Mary Kay  17:15

Yeah, so I think that's actually why they started calling the living room, the living room is so like instead of a parlor, because they would have wakes and sometimes funerals there. And depending on how posh you want it to be, they would sort of outsource it to a funeral home. If you didn't want it in the house. That was like a thing that was becoming popular. And fun fact, the flower arrangements that we have at funerals now are reminiscent of the time when they would have huge bouquets of flowers to drown out the smell of decomposition.


Penny  17:48

Now that I did know. Fun fact. 


Mary Kay  17:50

Isn't it gross? 


Penny  17:51

 I already knew that.


Mary Kay  17:52

 I figured most people know that. But I'm also like, it's just weird that still, like traditions just sort of Die Hard. I didn't mean that pun, but it happened.


Penny  18:01

 Yes, you did.


Mary Kay  18:03

It happened. Pardon the pun.


Penny  18:07

Okay, so kind of circling back, because we're on a conference call for a corporation. So like you talked about that the point of view shifts, and I didn't find it jarring. I really enjoyed it. I think that having the sections in the book was very helpful to orienting the reader in space and time.


Mary Kay  18:25

Good. And that means a lot to hear. Because I was it was a struggle. So thank you.


Penny  18:31

I mean, it's a huge story to tell. So I mean, kudos for you to be able to take that on. You know, in the beginning, you talked about the asylum where Jane started out living and from what she was indentured to the family later. And then the town where, again, not wanting to give too much up, but where several people died. You know, you use that first person we and I mean, I felt it felt so Rose for Emily for me. 


Mary Kay  19:00



Penny  19:00

And so 


Mary Kay  19:01

definitely, yeah. 


Penny  19:01

i wanted to Talk to you about that.


Mary Kay  19:04

i Oh, of course, that was a big inspiration  for writing it that way. And then I yeah, you and I've talked about this before how William Faulkner while an asshole was an amazing writer. 


Penny  19:17

Yeah, for sure. 


Mary Kay  19:18

I mean, many things can be true, but 


Penny  19:21

All things can be true and nothing Can be true at the same time. 


Mary Kay  19:24

It's so true.


Mary Kay  19:25

Yeah. So I also particularly wanted to do that with the sort of orderly staff because they would have had a similar job to Jane as she had later. Plus, for anyone who has maybe not even been a resident of but visited or just even seen on TV a workforce like that. The point is to be faceless. You know, like if you're doing your job, well, nobody notices. That's your whole purpose. So the collective sort of first person plural  voice that I use at the beginning was kind of intended that and then it was also kind of, for me like a sales pitch of like you will love these kids. And but I tried really, really hard to distinguish that first person plural from the one of the town because the town is more of like a groupthink they all hate that one family, or they don't hate them actively. But it's a very passive aggressive, like, well, they shouldn't have been talking shit, like, if they didn't want to get killed, or been doing crazy stuff.


Penny  20:33

 Yeah, I don't want to get too far into that. Because I really, I really want the readers to be able to go into that blind and really not catch that at first. And I'm going to recommend everyone they read it twice, like first just to read it through and get Jane's story and then go back and then notice all the things that were setups for later, because you will miss them the first time, it's just not possible because you're fascinated by what we have here is a woman serial killer, the very first one. And so it's fascinating to read her story. And there's so many nuances that you miss the first time that you read it. 


Penny  20:34

Well, thank you. And I think there are women serial killers before her but she's like the first confirmed one that's in America. And people will say too, what is her name? Bell gunness, she was in America and she was a serial killer. But she wasn't American, if that makes sense. Like she was from somewhere she was from Norway. 


Penny  21:35

She just lived in America


Mary Kay  21:36

And then, right, and then there's another as well, whose name is escaping me, I want to say Lucretia, but she might have been after, but Jane is the first American one that we know of. And I also think that her story is so American, because there's this illusion of manifest destiny of like, if you work hard, and believe in yourself, every pizza can be a personal pan pizza, you know, and, and that's just not the case. It's just not like you can work hard and be a genius and, and still not get where you want to go. Because you were born, where you were born, or you or your parents were who they were, or you had some sort of significant disadvantage. And I think now, I mean, like we were talking about earlier, like the world is on fire, everything is broken. But sometimes you got to kind of burn it down to make it make it better. I do think it's come a long way since this time period where it was just open hostility, but I mean, even now like it's not a level playing field. 


Mary Kay  21:47

No. they don't they don't have the signs in the Windows anymore saying you can't come here because you're Irish, they don't you know, they don't do that. But if anything, it was more honest then; not that it's right then or now I'm just saying.


Mary Kay  22:57

Yeah, I don't know which is worse, a closet asshole or an open asshole.


Penny  23:00

Yeah, I'm gonna say an open asshole. In my opinion, open asshole for 500 Alex.


Mary Kay  23:09

That's the name of our band. I think.


Penny  23:13

I've already got the T shirts ordered and the stickers. I've got a Sticker Mule coupon. 


Mary Kay  23:20



Penny  23:20

Okay, I'm gonna read you this quote from chapter 13. I want us to talk about it. 


Mary Kay  23:25



Penny  23:25

"Groups of women who are consistently oppressed believe that in order to succeed, they have to succeed alone. This way, they can be an exception to the rule that women are generally not great at anything." One of the interesting complexities of her character is Since Jane was in servitude, and then she became a nurse. These are both female dominated professions. And I just want to talk a little bit about, you know, what it means to be successful then, and now even, it's very different, but in a group of women, and how Jane decided early on that she wasn't going to try to win the female. You know, the females over she went for the doctors who were all men, by the way. 


Mary Kay  24:13

Oh, yeah. 


Penny  24:14

She became their pets. And she didn't even try to win over the women because she knew that there was no chance that she could beat them at their own game. So she decided to play by totally different rules.


Mary Kay  24:28

Yeah, I think it's a really unfortunate part of the patriarchy that women feel like they have to compete with each other. And generally the bar is so low, or I guess the bar is high, but the baseline is so low, that we feel like we can't all be in it together. And that is really unfortunate because there is room at the top. Gosh, I don't know how I would have done anything if I hadn't had the help of other women. It's so meaningful to have someone like maybe five years ahead of you and where you want to be, just be able to, like turn around and be like, oh, yeah, you got this, like, just even that little bit can be like, oh, yeah, I can do you know, it's so encouraging. And for Jane to recognize that she was out ahead, and rather than, like, pull someone else up, she would just be like, just go ahead and go die. Literally, she would just, you know, poison them, and be like Oh, she was drunk at work, BYE. It's a really terrible thing that I think not to that degree, of course, is ingrained in was ingrained in women then and now. Like, it can be a good thing in the professional world. Not to like sabotage someone purposefully, but to be competitive. But we see it a lot too. And you're competing for the attention of men. And to a degree, she kind of was doing that. But not in like a romantic way. She's more like, Oh, I got this for you. Like for the doctor, she was just going above and beyond while sabotaging the other women. And that's really not the way that should ever that it should ever be. Because there would have been, it would have been such a stronger situation had all of the nurses come together and been like, this situation is insufferable. Like you have to do something. Yeah, I think it's a really important thing. And also, like even just such like banal seeming phrases as like, Well, I'm not like other girls. Yes, you are, like, we're all in this together. 


Mary Kay  26:42

You know what I mean? Like that, like, just go watch a movie from the early 2000s. And you'll be like, Oh, my gosh, what were we teaching ourselves? What are we consuming? That 


Penny  26:42



Penny  26:51

I'm still trying to figure that out. I'm so I'm sorry to say, but it wasn't right the right thing.


Mary Kay  26:56

I know, it's a lot of unknowns, a series of cascading failures, we have to kind of try to just get a tourniquet on.


Penny  27:03

 And we have to move past that like, you know, triage phase of development. And yeah, that's why I think the way that you said that was very poignant, because it really articulated what a lot of how a lot of women might act or approach things, even though it's not really what they think or believe, 


Mary Kay  27:22



Penny  27:22

It's the way that they're expected to behave. 


Mary Kay  27:25

Yeah. And it's a, it's an like, exactly, like you said, an expectation and kind of a habit, you can say and believe things that you don't think, and vice versa.


Penny  27:37

One of the things that I really like is that your book has pictures. 


Mary Kay  27:41



Penny  27:43

Which is awesome. 


Mary Kay  27:44

I love pictures in books! 


Penny  27:45

I do too. And I love how you have, you know, the newspaper article about her, you know, in several places and I'm sure you've noticed this. But next to the article about Jane, there's a headline that's kind of cut off and it says husband, slays bride in a theater. 


Mary Kay  28:03



Penny  28:05

We're still doing this. This is this is what we're still doing. What we're still talking about. And, ah, I mean, to think that we're still talking about murder, and we're still trying to solve crimes,


Mary Kay  28:20

again, like you were saying, looking through those slides, of the old newspapers and just seeing like, the advertisements, like a waist trainer, oh, we're still doing that. We're still doing that, like, that's still a thing that we care about. It's just wild that you know, so much has changed, and, and also nothing at all.


Penny  28:42

I want to talk about, you know, the fact that we have both lived in Blood Town, we lived in Milledgeville even though we didn't live there at the same time. And that's how we kind of ended up finding out about each other since we have mutual friends. And this nature of the bizarre even remotely being possible in in the town of Milledgeville. 


Mary Kay  29:03

Oh, yeah. 


Penny  29:04

I just thought I would just now that I have somebody here to talk to me about how there's nothing that could possibly happen that comes out of that town that would surprise me. 


Mary Kay  29:14



Penny  29:15

And how to articulate that to people who've never been there who don't know anything about it. They just think of Georgia, you know, as the southern state. That's all they know, most people.


Mary Kay  29:25

Yeah, it Milledgeville man, I have called it so many names. Because just like you're saying, there's just.. I'm like having to hold my face together to not say all the things that I want to say about it.


Penny  29:41

Fucking say it. Who cares? We don't have to put it in there but 


Mary Kay  29:44

It is like a time capsule of the Southern Gothic. it truly is so wild. I told my grandmother who just passed when I got accepted to the program. She went to school there for one semester in the, would've been like 1960 or 1959, she was like, so have you visited Milledgeville? And I was like, Yeah. And she was like, Are you sure that's where you want to go? Like she was like, even then she was like it was. She went when Central State Hospital was still in full swing like it was. She said that she hated driving by there, because she could just women would just be standing at the window staring out for hours. It's so sad, you know, because so many people who went to mill, I mean, they like even in Georgia, and when I was working at that or serving at that facility. And I told people I was going to Milledgeville. They're like, for the crazy house, like for the lunatic asylum, which is actually what it was called, I think through the 70s. 


Penny  30:50

Yeah, it was 


Mary Kay  30:51

they still use that phrase in Georgia of Going to Milledgeville as like being sent to a crazy house. And I'm using scare quotes, because obviously, that's not how we feel about it now. 


Penny  31:01



Mary Kay  31:01

But that's how you I mean, that's what it was. And then I think somebody, again, I could be just paraphrasing this incorrectly. But it seems like someone was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, what the fuck? Let these people out. And if you weren't crazy, before you went into a place like that you definitely would be after. And I think that so many families were just like, we don't have a place for you anymore, or they didn't know where to go home to that they just stayed in Milledgeville. And so we have the descendants of like, very unstable people there now.


Penny  31:32

Even though Central State Hospital is operating, you know, on some level, it's never going to be what it was 


Mary Kay  31:38



Penny  31:39

even though you don't drive by there, and you don't see those women or other patients, I even hesitate to call them patients, because I feel like they're prisoners. 


Mary Kay  31:50



Penny  31:50

even though you know,


Mary Kay  31:51

I mean, it was then; now I think it is a criminal, like a criminally insane sort of institution, if I'm not mistaken, or at least it was last time I was there. 


Penny  32:03

Yeah, I think that a lot of the buildings are used for those people that need medical care or psychiatric care that are either on parole and have nowhere to go. Or they're, you know, maybe even incarcerated, and they treat them there. But even though even though they're not there, at that level, or at that volume, you can almost like still feel them and see them, 


Mary Kay  32:26

oh, my gosh, if anywhere in the whole world is haunted. it's gotta be there.


Penny  32:30



Mary Kay  32:31

It's gotta be, 


Penny  32:32

you know, if it's that way. And we weren't even born there. So we didn't grow up there our whole lives. Right? And, you know, I'm trying to tell this story of a place and a people from which I do not originate. And it's not my story, which is its own complexity, then, what do you say, to the people of that town, and those whose story you're trying to tell? How do you convey that to someone outside of that circle of influence?


Mary Kay  33:07

I mean, that's the question. I mean, my book takes place in Boston, and I'm sure you can tell by just listening to my voice that I'm not from Boston. 


Penny  33:17



Mary Kay  33:19

But I think that sometimes going in as a sort of outsider, while you might not be able to get like the inside scoop, you also might, and then because people know that you're not like gonna go snitch them out to their friend like you're not buddy, buddy, you don't have allegiances that preclude you from telling the truth or whatever. I think also you can kind of see things more for how they are because it doesn't seem normal. You know, like, if you and I had grown up in Milledgeville, the fact that that institution existed and was still in operation would not be weird to us. Because that was something that we grew up with, it actually kind of better equips you to see more from an objective place. And then of course, you're a very great researcher, like you're not going to leave stones unturned, you're not going to half ass anything, which is I think, what people assume, when they hear that stranger is going to report on their town. They're like, Oh, they're just gonna get the story and go, they don't really care about the whole picture. But I think that's not true. As far as you and blood town, of course,


Penny  34:27

you know, and I know as writers, you have to care about your subject, or you wouldn't take time away from your life to write about it and spend time on it. I mean, it's obviously something that I care deeply about, or I wouldn't do that. You want to do it justice, but you also want to throw your hands up in the air sometimes. Because if you are from that town, and you happen upon this scene, and you say, that's the most bizarre scene you've ever seen in your life, I gotta call bullshit on that, Mary Kay. I have I have lived there. are not. I mean, just to be clear, I'm not from there. But I have lived there long enough to know that there is no fucking way that that is the most bizarre thing they've ever seen. That is such bullshit. 


Mary Kay  35:12

What bizarre thing? 


Penny  35:14

Of the Mother's Day murder. That they got there and they're saying that people are naked. And there's flowers around, you know, this poor, you know, dead woman's body that there's no way that that is the most bizarre thing you've ever seen. 


Mary Kay  35:30

No, not being from Milledgeville. 


Penny  35:32

No, there is no way.


Mary Kay  35:34

 I mean, bizarre. Yes, the most, mmm?


Penny  35:38

Yeah, I'm not saying it's normal. But have you ever seen anything Normal happen in Milledgeville? ever?


Mary Kay  35:44

 Oh, my gosh, no, even the good memories are bizarre.


Penny  35:47

All of my memories are bizarre.


Mary Kay  35:50

It's so true! It's like a little bubble. Right. It gets figuratively incestuous so fast. And I mean, that's how small towns are. 


Penny  36:00



Mary Kay  36:01

And that you're always on top of people. Yeah, 


Penny  36:03



Mary Kay  36:04

And figuratively. It works both ways.


Penny  36:07

But yeah, but it's like you're saying if you, if you look at it from the outside, you know, you notice things that they don't notice. And the more that you live there, the less bizarre things become? Yes. So that's why it doesn't make any sense to me that it's remotely possible that that is even seen as bizarre, let alone the most bizarre. Is it abnormal? Absolutely. But am I surprised by any of it? No. Anything else you want to tell us?


Mary Kay  36:39

Just that aspect of Blood Town is the one that is the most troubling to me. Like that detail about the man who did complete suicide is the one thing 


Penny  36:51

What do you think? 


Mary Kay  36:51

well, I don't know. I don't because, well, there's some negligence, I think that probably had to go into it for that to happen. But also, Oh, how frustrating like their answer was there. You know, like the answer was there. And then someone just turned their head for a second. And now it's now you have so much more work to do.


Penny  37:13

But that yeah, that doesn't help. Not that he would have probably said anything, but there'd be a chance, you know, 


Mary Kay  37:18

right. Right. 


Penny  37:20

He was pretty quiet about the shit he did and got away with. So none of the people who knew him really knew him. That's what I've learned so far. 


Mary Kay  37:28

That gave me a real chill. 


Penny  37:30

Yeah, I know. What scares me about this is that the amount of evil that hides in plain sight in that town, 


Mary Kay  37:37

everywhere, but especially there. 


Penny  37:40

You know, we've talked about this before blood town isn't just Milledgeville. It's those small towns where evil breeds and lives and nobody calls it out. Man, it's been awesome to talk to you about America's first female serial killer.


Mary Kay  37:56

Thank you so much for having me on. Penny, this was a damn delight. It was fun to talk to you another nonfiction writer.


Penny  38:04



Mary Kay  38:04

 And best of luck in your search for truth. 


Penny  38:08



Mary Kay  38:08

And I hope that your listeners like my book, and if you if anyone ever wants to message me with extreme reactions, I live for that shit. So yeah, 


Penny  38:21

we will link away for people to check out your book and your social media handles in our episode notes. We are also going to be doing a giveaway for a copy of America's First Female Serial Killer and that'll be on our social media handles. We'll throw that out for you so that you can enter that,


Mary Kay  38:41



Penny  38:41

 So that'll be awesome. 


Mary Kay  38:43

You're so good to me, Penny. Thank you so much.


Penny  38:47

Win your own copy of America's First Female Serial Killer by Mary Kay McBrayer by entering on our website, More details are on Facebook and Instagram at blood town podcast and on Twitter @bloodtownpod. Get early and ad free episodes plus bonus content at town. We'll put a link in the show notes on how to reach the author Mary Kay McBrayer or to buy her book, America's First Female Serial Killer. Here's what Grady Hendricks has to say about America's First Female Serial Killer: "Jane Toppan should be known as well as Jack the Ripper, America's first female serial killer and an angel of death with dozens of victims but also a victim herself. Mary Kay McBrayer's novel gives voice to Toppan never apologizing but explaining how this Invisible Woman refused to be ignored by racking up a body count. Her story has become as neglected as her life but McBrayer restores her to her place in our history of complicated upsetting women who refuse to comply with their own oppression often violently.

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