What do you think of when you hear the term “serial killer”? Most people would think of a dark, cold, calculating individual with a disturbed past, and a possible statement to make. But what if that wasn’t the only type? What if this type of person was just angry at the world, or just didn’t let anyone get in their way? Worse yet, what if they were simply bored, or decided to eliminate their problems permanently?
Nannie Doss, 59, aka “The Giggling Grannie”, “Arsenic Nannie”, was an American lady, born Nancy Hazel in Blue Mountain, Alabama in 1905. One of five children, she didn’t attend school, due to her abusive, and controlling father, James’ belief that the children should be helping to tend the family farm. She was also restricted on her attire, and upkeep in attempt to ward off any would-be male attention.
At 16, she worked in a nearby linen factory, where she met her first husband, Charley Braggs, who after only four to five months of dating, asked her to be his bride, after receiving her father’s approval. They wed in 1921, and had four children between the years 1923-1927, all the while living with Braggs’ very controlling mother. The marriage was tumultuous at best, after Nannie had her first child.
Braggs became an alcoholic, and neglected Nannie due to his mother’s involvement, limiting her activities. Nannie, who was severely stressed by her situation, also turned to alcohol, and heavy smoking. The couple also, correctly, suspected each other of cheating, with Mr. Braggs disappearing for days on end.
Things took a turn for the worse, when the couple’s two middle children, died suddenly. The doctors suspected food poisoning at the time. Charley Braggs, upset with the situation, took their first child, Melvina with him, and left Nannie alone with their newborn daughter, Florine, in his mother’s home. Mrs. Braggs died, not long after the split. Charley Braggs returned in the summer of 1928, with their daughter, and a new girlfriend with child of her own. Nannie and Charley divorced soon after, and Nannie left with both of her girls.
In 1929, Nannie met her second husband, Franklin Harrelson in Jacksonville, FL through her favorite romance novels, and reading the “Lonely Hearts” column found in the back. After some correspondence, and a few months of dating, found out he had a record for assault, and was also a drunk. Despite this knowledge, she married him anyway, lasting 16 years. In 1943, her first born daughter, Melvina gave birth to a baby girl. While floating in and out of sedated consciousness, she believed she saw her mother, Nannie, stick a hairpin into the baby’s head. The doctor’s, however, couldn’t point out any obvious cause, and ruled it a complication from child-birth. The drove Melvina, and the baby’s father apart, and eventually led her into the arms of a soldier, of whom Nannie disapproved.
In 1945, Melvina had a second child, Robert Lee Haynes. Nannie was baby-sitting Robert one night, July 7th, 1945, and as he was dropped off, Melvina and Nannie had a large argument about her dating choices. Later in the night, Robert was found his crib dead, authorities ruling it “crib death” by asphyxiation. Two months later, Nannie collected a $500 life insurance check, taken out on the child.
On Sept. 2nd, 1945, Frank Harrelson, was out celebrating with the guys of Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII. He came home a bit frisky, and despite her refusal, Nannie was sexually assaulted by her own husband. Nannie decided that to get back at Franklin, her best bet would be to top off his favorite whiskey with some rat poison, and watch him die that night, a slow and excruciating death.
Nannie returned back to romantic ‘want ads’, and met Arlie Lanning in North Carolina, becoming his bride three days later. As if she hadn’t learned her previous lessons, Lanning was also a long alcoholic, and a womanizer. However, Nannie was the one who disappear, sometimes for months, to have her own fun. But when she was home, she was the loving wife, and the townspeople cared for her when her husband died of what was said to be “heart failure”. The house she lived in was was found to be willed to Lanning’s sister. Two days before she could come to collect the house, it burned down, with Nannie to collect the insurance money.
In 1952, Nannie decided to meet someone through a dating service called, The Diamond Circle Club. He wasn’t a drinker, but he was a cheater. Richard L Morton died not long after, Nannie’s own mother, who came to live with them in 1953, after breaking her hip in a fall. She died in January 1953, Morton in May. Nannie left to stay with her sister, Dovie. And again, like the others, Dovie, soon met her fate.
Nannie moved to Tulsa, OK in June 1953. She met and married Samuel Doss, who while in love with Nannie, was a Christian minister, and a bit of a bore. He forbade any televisions, radios, in bed by 9:30p, and most certainly not her favorite romance novels, she loved to read. That September, Samuel was admitted to the hospital for severe flu-like systems. He was diagnosed with a severe digestive tract system infection, and was finally released after a month-long treatment, in Oct. 5th, 1953.
After Samuel arrived back at home, Nannie convinced him to take out two insurance policies in case he was to get sick again. He agreed despite having strict control of his finances, and usually giving her a small allowance. On Oct. 12, Samuel was dead. The doctor who originally treated him was suspicious, and alarmed, convincing Nannie that an autopsy would be necessary for further medical study. Nannie agreed, and a huge amount of arsenic was found in his system, enough to kill ten people. The doctor alerted the authorities, who promptly arrested Nannie. She later revealed that she miss measured the dose.
Nannie baffled investigators with her calm demeanor, and sometimes laughing when recalling the details of crimes. She kept a smile on her face, and admitted to killing four of her five husbands, her own mother, sister Dovie, her grandson, and mother-law, but was suspected of more. She plead guilty on May 17, 1955, and received life in prison due to her gender, rather than the death penalty. Nannie Doss was not convicted of the other confessed deaths, only her final husband Samuel. Though, later exhumations of the bodies she confessed to, showed, during testing, the same arsenic residue in their system. Nanny Doss died of Leukemia in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, in 1965.