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Nannie Doss, the Zany Granny Serial Killer

By Edited Apr 8, 2016 4 18

Grisly Giggler

Among garden variety murderers women comprise the tiniest percentage of killers.  Even rarer is the female serial killer, a woman who cunningly and systematically commits multiple murders.

Motives for such women usually transcend the fetishes or perversions of men; most of the best known female serial killers had money in mind when slaying their victims.  Another female killer – hopelessly, emotionally damaged – acted as a vigilante on her own behalf, shooting and robbing other men who were similar to a man who had brutally and sadistically raped her.

There is one, however, that stands above her peers for sheer self-delusion.  A frumpy, dumpy, lethargic, unattractive, frowsy matron had unfortunately lived her life narcissistically believing she

Nannie Doss (older)
was not only beautiful but very talented as well. And – if not for the failures of the men in her life – she would have lived the dream of a fairy-tale romance complete with Prince Charming.  

For thwarting her unrealistic fantasies, several husbands and other close family members died at the hands of Nannie Doss whose histrionics made her case one of the most compelling ever recorded.

Drama Queen
One of America’s strangest serial killers was born normally enough as Nancy Hazle on November 4, 1905.  Her birthplace was Blue Mountain, Alabama, in Calhoun County (the northeastern part of the state near Georgia). 

Her parents, James Hazle and Louisa (commonly called “Lou”) Hazle (née Holder; Lou’s mother was a remote relative of the parents of Abraham Lincoln), were typical Southern rustics of the day. 

Blue Mountain, Alabama & environs
They married only after Nancy was born, and there is a strong possibility that James was not even Nancy’s father (census data shows that the infant Nancy and her mother Lou lived on their own then; that changed after 1906 when James Hazle married the girl).

Nancy – who from her earliest years was called “Nannie” – had one brother and three sisters.  Both she and her mother loathed James Hazle.  He was a vicious disciplinarian with a violent streak that extended to excessive controlling of his wife and family. Lou’s hatred of James influenced the children, especially Nannie.

Nannie, despite her later loftier aspirations, was never a good student, and she did not learn to read well.  Although she occasionally skipped school willfully (a four-mile round-trip walk from the farm) she also attended classes irregularly as James insisted on keeping his children out of school so they could work his Blue Mountain family farm. Hard work was not spared because of youth, either – Nannie, by the age of five, had to cut wood, and learn to clear their scrubby farm of weeds and detritus. 

The family took a train trip to southern Alabama to visit relatives when Nannie was about seven years old.  The train made a sudden emergency stop; it’s jerking violently fling Nannie forward.  She cracked her forehead on the metal bar of the seat in front of her.  In the months following this mishap, she experienced pain and blackouts. She also suffered from depression and severe headaches for the rest of her life (all of which she would later blame for her murderous behavior).

As a girl, she already dwelled in a fantasy world.  Her mother, not much more than a girl herself, indulged in the romantic magazines of the day, swooning over the stories; Nannie took to reading these rags as well.  They became a great favorite, supplanted later only by photo-magazines of Hollywood stars when those came into popular circulation.

These magazines invariably featured a “lonely hearts” column, places where people ran personal ads for matrimony or wanting to meet someone.  These became Nancy’s favorite part of the romance periodicals, and she sat around dreaming of the day when her future paramour would sweep in and take her away to some exotic land to live happily ever after.

As the three girls in the Hazle house matured into their teen years, their father became even more restrictive in his disciplines.  He refused to allow them to wear makeup. Similarly, he wouldn’t allow them to wear the more fashionable clothing of the 1920s as that decade of decadence approached.  He would not let them to go to any social functions where boys and men were present (such as dances, church socials, ballgames, or seeing friends).  According to him this was to prevent their being sexually molested by men (although Nannie would claim later that these precautions failed – all the girls were molested as teens). He asserted that when the time was right, he personally would select husbands for his girls.

Bachelor Number One
As a typical farm girl in the backwoods of America, Nannie was sexually active at an early age.  She managed to sneak away into haylofts and corn cribs to spend time with the locals.  She was a giggly girl, which the boys of the area seemed to like (in addition to her willingness to be a sexual plaything). She quickly developed a local reputation as being of easy virtue.

Nannie found work at the Linen Thread Company in 1921.  This gave her an opportunity to get away from her overbearing father and bitter mother daily.  The 16-year-old struck up a relationship with a co-worker named Charley Braggs. Surprisingly, when James Hazle learned of Charley Braggs’ interest in his Nannie, he approved heartily.  This was because, to James Hazle, Charley Braggs was no trifler – he did not fritter away his leisure hours hanging out in the cafés in town (as some did), nor did he listen to those “race records” (jass, or jazz) coming out of New York City.  As the only child of an unwed mother he was pathologically fixated on her, abnormally devoted. His paycheck from the Linen Thread Company went to support her and her household.  He fawned over and doted on her slavishly. 

He was similarly attached to Nannie, and it can only be presumed the easy access to sex with her helped this attachment for him (with willing sexual partners not always in abundance, finding a girl who “put out” was a very grand coup for such country youths as Charley Braggs).

James Hazle’s approval of Charley Braggs’ quaint motherly devotion mistranslated into a healthy respect (in James’ mind) for his “elders”.  Braggs, however, cared little for that – since he had already passed muster, he married Nannie within four months of meeting her.  However, this marriage was arranged by Braggs and James Hazle – Nannie claimed she only married Charley because her father wanted it.  Nannie wrote years afterward [grammatical errors are preserved]:

“I married, as my father wished, in 1921 to a boy I only knowed about four or five months who had no family, only a mother who was unwed and who had taken over my life completely when we were married. She never seen anything wrong with what he done, but she would take spells. She would not let my own mother stay all night...”

Married life for the couple was not peaceful nor particularly eventful or satisfying in any way.  Nannie’s mother-in-law (with whom the teens lived) dominated every aspect of their lives.  Charley’s mother often faked illnesses or fainting spells in displays of passive-aggression to get what she wanted.  If Nannie wanted to dine out in a local café, and Charley’s mother didn’t, she would fake a sudden dizzy spell or fainting fit, or complain of some nebulous condition that forced the entire family to stay home and tend to her.  Or, similarly, if Nannie wanted to go see a movie and the mater didn’t, she would again fake symptoms of distress, and the family would instead stay in and play Mah-Jongg with her.

In quick succession Nannie gave birth to four daughters between 1923 and 1927 (Melvina was the first; the even more strangely named Florine was the last).  As a teenage mother living in a house with a harpy and an immature mama’s boy for a husband Nannie started drinking heavily.  She already smoked cigarettes (which was sinful, according to Charley’s saintly mother), and her smoking became an addictive crutch.  In the brief intervals she was not pregnant she spent time in the illegal area gin mills (Prohibition was in place).  She drank and let the yokels paw at her as an ego stroke to insure she was still desirable.

Charley, meanwhile, drank a lot, too, and was either passed out drunk at home early in the day or he had gone off to spend time with another woman. Sometimes he disappeared for days without explanation.   This freed up Nannie to do as she pleased with other men.  She sought sexual partners as opportunities presented themselves.  The pair was miserable together, but seemed ill-equipped to do anything about it.  With four children underfoot – and Charley’s mother’s demands – there seemed little chance of prosperity or happiness. 

Something was in the air, however.  In early 1927, the two children between Melvina and Florine died suddenly of what was presumed to be food poisoning.  Strangely, both girls had been fine at the breakfast table, and neither Melvina nor baby Florine was affected. But by lunchtime they were both dead.

Charley Braggs, in a paranoid moment that probably saved his life, suspected Nannie of poisoning the two girls, her twisted way of easing their financial burden.  He also knew she had a temper and with her sudden mood changes, he remarked once he knew never to eat or drink anything she might give him when she was in one of her snits.

The deaths of the girls were ruled accidental, but Charley’s fear compelled him to abandon Nannie, taking the oldest girl, Melvina, with him (she was his pet).  It is unclear why he chose to leave the more vulnerable infant or his precious mother still in Nannie’s care (Nannie cooked all the meals for the household). Coincidentally, the curmudgeonly Mrs. Braggs died about the same time (of purported natural causes) as this separation drama wound down.  Nannie, alone with Florine, took a job in a cotton mill so she could be self-sufficient.

After being gone for over a year, Charley suddenly returned in the summer of 1928 with their daughter Melvina and a strange woman in tow.  His new flame was a divorcée with a dependent child.  This time, she and Charley properly divorced, and she was given Melvina back.  Swallowing her pride, Nannie took Melvina and Florine and moved back to her own mother’s house. Charley Braggs faded into the background, and presumably lived happily ever after . . . with someone else. [Braggs, when run to ground much later, claimed he left Nannie because he was afraid of her.]

The Second Time Around
Robert Frank Harrelson was a 23-year-old factory worker from Jacksonville, Alabama (a small town in Calhoun County, about 10 miles northeast of Blue Mountain).  As was common, he placed an ad in the matrimonial section of a popular magazine, True Romance (whose readership was almost exclusively love-starved, unrealistically idealistic, or flighty women). 

Nannie had found work in Anniston (seat of Calhoun County, barely three miles south of her hometown).  She whiled away her lonelier hours poring over the sloppy love stories in True Romance magazine and scanning the lonely hearts columns.  Sometimes she wrote to the men who posted in the magazine’s pages.  One in particular seemed more promising than the others: Robert Frank Harrelson (or “Frank” as he preferred).

They struck up a correspondence.  Frank sent her romantic poetry which played easily with Nannie’s sense of chivalry and sentimentality.  He also sent her a glossy black-and-white photo of himself.  Nannie thought his wavy hair and dimpled cheeks made him look like one of her favorite movie stars, Clark Gable.

Her gift to him was a prune cake.  The met in 1929 and married the same year.  After her tumultuous few years with Charley Braggs, her drinking and smoking, and four children, Nannie’s blush was long gone from her rose, but she was still attractive enough. Her response to his letter was to send him a cake, with personal letter that leaned heavily toward the sexual. To her credit, she represented herself truthfully to Frank as a divorced woman of two children.

Frank, with her picture in hand, made a quick decision to travel the few miles to Anniston, Alabama, to meet her in 1929.   When he found her waiting for him, he thought she was more attractive than her photo.  He liked her dark hair and coal-black eyes, and in the same year they met they married. , and he immediately however, had not been so forthcoming in his letters to her. The couple set up housekeeping in Jacksonville, a major relief for Nannie to be from under her cantankerous father’s watchful eye.  Her mother, however, had enjoyed having Melvina and Florine living with them and was loath to see them leave.

While Nannie had been honest with Frank about herself in their “courting” letters, he had not returned the favor.  Within a few months of their marriage Nannie learned Frank was a raging alcoholic, and he also had a criminal record, having spent time incarcerated for felonious assault.

The couple fought often, with the girls hearing the arguments.  Police were a common sight at the Harrelson household, either having been called in on a domestic violence incident or bringing the news that Frank was once again in jail for public drunkenness or brawling. Apparently giving up her quest for true love, Nannie elected to stay married. The girls grew up with Frank as a stepfather.

In 1943, Melvina (married by then to a man named Mosie) gave birth to the first of her children, a boy she named Robert Lee Haynes.  Her second pregnancy ended in 1945 (likely in January 1945).  Melvina was in a local hospital in labor.  Delirious from pain and frightened she asked Mosie to go for her mother.  Nannie came to help; she stayed up all night, wiping down her daughter’s feverish skin and comforting her.  Nannie had Mosie running errands for her (fetching glasses of water or towels).  Melvina was finally delivered of a healthy baby girl.  Within the hour of her birth, the baby was dead.

Mosie, who had been sleeping in a chair when the baby died, saw nothing. At one point, Melvina, under the influence of ether and semi-conscious, roused long enough to spy Nannie sitting in a chair near the hospital bed holding the newborn girl.  Melvina thought she saw Nannie stick a hatpin into the baby’s skull, skewering its brain. But, not knowing until later her baby had died, Melvina slipped back into unconsciousness, and wrote off the vision as a drug-influenced dream. 

Doctors could not determine the cause of death for the baby girl.  Melvina and Mosie went home, and a few days later she told Mosie and her especially since the doctors could not account for the child's death. Back at home a few days later, Melvina told her husband and little sister Florine (now grown and married as well) what she thought she’d seen Nannie doing.  Although neither had seen any unusual behavior toward the infant Mosie and Florine both reported having seen Nannie absent-mindedly toying with a hatpin while attending Melvina. No charges of anything untoward in the death of this baby were ever filed.

After the death of this baby, Melvina and Mosie argued frequently.  Their marriage deteriorated, and she took up gallivanting with a soldier of whom neither Nannie nor step-daddy Frank approved.  Melvina and Mosie quarreled violently, they split up, and Melvina stormed off in a huff to stay with her biological father, Charley Braggs.  She had left her son Robert with his granny, Nannie.  On July 7, 1945, Nannie’s 3-year-old grandson Robert died mysteriously. His cause of death was recorded as asphyxiation of unknown origin.  Nannie threw herself into hysterics at the boy’s graveside. She also collected $500 a few weeks later a life insurance policy she carried on the boy. Frank Harrelson, meanwhile, was increasingly violent and drunk.  After Japan surrendered, signaling the end of World War II, Frank (along with most of America) went out celebrating more often.  One special night, September 15, 1945, he was out in a tavern welcoming home some of his friends who had been overseas. 

He was extremely drunk by the time he found his way home.  Wanting sex, he began harassing Nannie.  She rebuffed him, not wanting to engage him sexually when he was so drunk.  He became violent and smashed his fist into the wall – rather than risk a severe beating, Nannie grudgingly submitted to his demands. 

The 40-year-old matron, now out of shape and looking nothing like her former, prettier self, felt this rape was the last straw.  Her life had been wasted on this man; she’d put up with his abuses for 16 years.  Nannie was tending her rose garden the day after her rape: hidden deep in her flower-bed was a jar of corn liquor stashed there by Frank.  Nannie took up the jar, went to a storeroom, and dumped some of the liquor out.  She replaced what was missing with a lethal dose of rat poison. She put the jar back where she found it.

Harrelson, apparently thinking he’d gotten one over on her, downed most of this hidden jar of liquor over the course of the evening.  He died that night, age 38, in what doctors believed must have been a terribly agonizing demise. She calmly washed out the jar of any traces of poison about an hour after his death. 

Nannie later whined that she had married Frank “for love” but, like all her “amours” (a word the barely literate Nannie loved the European sound of) Frank Harrelson was no Sir Lancelot, no chivalric knight in shining armor.  Her disappointment in this was her justification for killing.

Third Strike
Nannie’s movements after the death of Frank until her next surfacing in Lexington, North Carolina, in 1947 are purely speculative.  Reportedly, she may have traveled around the country by rail but this seems unlikely considering her financial situation.  Other reports claim she might have married a man (last name of Hendrix) and while certain sources support this, nothing concrete has been developed.  This latter action may make more sense given what was to come – Nannie married some hapless man named Hendrix, stayed married to him long enough to realize he could not, or would not, fulfill her romantic dreams, and killed him.

It was on a trip to Lexington, North Carolina, aging Nannie Hazle Braggs Harrelson met her next victim.  She found this latest ragtag Romeo through another lonely hearts ad, and within three days of meeting him she was Mrs. Arlie Lanning.  Arlie (an Alabama native) was very similar in disposition to Frank Harrelson: Arlie, too, was a drunken womanizer minus the violent streak.  This time, however, it was Nannie who was the vagabond, and she would leave Arlie alone for months at a time, disappearing to no one knew where or with whom.  Sometimes Arlie got cablegrams from her during these vanishings: “Send money”, or “Be home soon”.  He noted they came from different places.

For appearances sake, though, when she was at home, Nannie was the perfect domestic, doting on Arlie, tending the house, and cooking.  The locals wondered at Nannie’s extended absences, and she covered by saying she was off visiting relatives during her disappearances.  This carried a kernel of truth.  One of Nannie’s sisters, Dovie (who had incurable cancer), lived in Gadsden. Alabama.  Other times, Arlie’s 84-year-old mother (who lived near Lexington) was also occasionally visited by Nannie; she sometimes dropped in and cleaned house for the old woman.

Nights at home with Arlie in Lexington were quiet affairs.  She still read her monthly issue of True Romance. Sometimes she read a trashy novel she might have found at a yard sale, but the subjects were always light and easily digested because of Nannie’s poor literacy. When television in the late 1940s began regular broadcasting, Nannie was one of the first to become addicted to the medium.  She almost went into a trance-like state when any love story aired on the television, settling in with her cigarettes (Camel non-filtered), an ashtray, a plate of leftovers, and with instructions that no one interrupt her viewing.  Immersed in the fantasy of TV romances, she tuned out reality for hours at a time.

Nannie developed social ties to the community in Lexington, tough, by attending church and growing close to her minister and his family.  If Arlie was off the sauce long enough, he sometimes went with her to social functions.  The community, however, was very aware of Arlie’s womanizing (both before he married Nannie and during) and they knew of his routine haunts.  Most were sympathetic to Nannie for being married to such an obvious slug.

Arlie Lanning died suddenly in February 1950 of apparent heart failure.  Most of the town turned out for his funeral in sympathy for the pathetically dumpy and martyr to a bad marriage, Nannie Hazle Braggs Harrelson Lanning.  Considering Arlie’s poor health from his lifestyle excesses, it was believed locally that an autopsy would be a pointless waste of time.  Although he had complained bitterly of intense pain for a few days before he died, lying in bed unable to move, local belief was anything could have caused that.  In fact, a flu virus had swept the state around that time – maybe he had gotten that. He certainly displayed the symptoms of flu: sweating, vomiting, and dizziness. Furthermore, his years of alcohol abuse had ulcerated his stomach and destroyed its lining.  His heart was similarly weakened by his alcoholism.

At his funeral, Nannie told some condolers, “He just sat down one morning to drink a cup of coffee and eat a bowl of prunes I especially prepared for him. Up until then, why let me tell you, he looked in fine shape. Then, well, two days later – dead.  I nursed him, believe me, I nursed him, but I failed.”  She alleged that his last words to her, melodramatically and completely unlikely, were, “Nannie, it must have been the coffee.”

The little frame house in which she and Arlie lived had been willed to Arlie’s sister.  However, before any transactional activity could take place it magically burned to the ground on April 21, 1950.  Interestingly enough neither Nannie nor her beloved television were in the house at the time of the fire, having just left before it broke out. The TV had been stashed in the back seat of the family car (Nannie claimed later she was taking it for repair).

As the house was technically still in Arlie’s name (and, by default under community property laws, Nannie’s as well), she collected on the insurance money.  With no place to live, Nannie moved in with Arlie’s aged mother.  The check for the burned house came to her issued to “Arlie Lanning, deceased.” She cashed it, and socked the money away in a bank.

Arlie’s mother, shortly after the insurance money arrived, mysteriously died in her sleep.  Nannie decamped after her funeral for her sister’s house in Gadsden, Alabama.  She brought her television with her.  As Dovie’s condition with cancer was shaky and she was bed-ridden, Nannie tended to the woman.  Under her ministrations, however, Dovie rapidly declined instead of improving, and she died in her sleep on June 30, 1950.  Thus, in less than five months, three people close to Nannie had died suddenly and without much known cause.

Fourth Down
In the aftermath of her sister Dovie’s death, the flighty Nannie Doss had joined a social networking club geared toward matchmaking.  It was called the Diamond Circle Club, and membership was $15 per year.  For that fee, Nannie had access to a long list of addresses of eligible men via a monthly newsletter the club sent out to members. 

By 1952, the once semi-attractive Nannie was a train wreck.  She was grossly overweight, very broad in the beam, she wore thick eyeglasses in an unflattering frame style, and she was puffy in the face with an unsightly double chin. She knew her (albeit limited) days of attracting a man with her physicality were long past.  Nannie, however, decided to use her personal charms instead of her physical once s for her next romantic entanglement.  She still maintained a girlish giggle and a coquettish air (absurd in such a lumbering, graceless woman), but she knew how to turn on the charm, nonetheless. She decided on a different target, the gullible and socially unskilled.

Richard L. Morton was a recently retired salesman living in Emporia, Kansas.  He, too, was a subscriber of the Diamond Circle Club’s newsletter.  Nannie found his advert in the rag, and dropped him a line. He was looking for more of a companion and sexual partner than “true” love.  Having corresponded and then met through the auspices of the Diamond Circle Club, Richard was so taken by Nannie that he wrote the matchmaking club and told them to delete both his and Nannie’s names from their newsletter’s “available” listings.  He also innocently thanked them in his letter for helping him find “the sweetest and most wonderful woman I have ever met.”  Richard and Nannie married in October 1952, and she moved into his Kansas home.

Richard doted on Nannie at first, and she basked in his attentions.  He was part Native American, and he was tall with a dark complexion.  She thought she’d finally found her knight.  As with any other man in her life, Nannie learned soon enough she was dead wrong, and Richard was yet one more disappointment in her life. He showered her in gifts of clothing, jewelry, and other bric-à-brac.

Richard had no money despite giving an air of stability.  He was heavily in debt, and the trinkets he bought for Nannie – which thrilled her girlish sense of chivalry to its core – was obtained on credit.  She also learned that he was a cheater – he was seeing a woman with whom he had been involved before marrying Nannie.  She discovered he was still having sex with this woman, using lengthy “trips to town” as cover, and he apparently had no intention of letting marriage deter him.  More outrageous, though, at least in Nannie’s warped brain, was the fact that for every gift Richard “bought” for her, he also got one for his other woman as well.

Nannie found the situation intolerable.  Two months after getting married to Richard she was scanning the Kansas newspapers’ lonely hearts columns.  She started her search for love anew. 

She received favorable responses from several men, but had to hide the mail from Richard.  She snagged it from the box as soon as it arrived, and if she was lucky enough that day to have gotten a note from a potential mate, she locked herself away in the bathroom, reading the letter again and again. This time, however, Nannie had not been truthful in her replies – she told her new crop of admirers that she was a widow, leading them all to believe she was unattached and could run away with them at the drop of a hat.  Her situation with Richard became one of complete loathing for the man, and since she now had standbys on the string she planned to get rid of him. 

Unfortunately, fate stepped in at the wrong time. Her hated father James Hazle died and her mother announced she was coming to Kansas to live with Nannie and Richard.    To exacerbate her woes, her own mother, Lou, came to live with them in Kansas.  In January 1953, having only been in Nannie’s house a few days, Lou Hazle suddenly fell ill with chronic stomach pains.  She died suddenly of this mysterious attack of stomach problems with coming. 

Three months after Louisa Hazle was buried, Richard Morton died after exhibiting the same symptoms beforehand of his mother-in-law.

A Fifth of Nannie
Less than three months after Robert Morton was planted, the bloated Nannie Hazle Braggs Harrelson Lanning Morton met and married her fifth husband, the one to whom history would
Nannie Doss (smug)
attribute her surname, in June 1953.

Samuel Doss impressed Nannie enough in his written correspondence that she took a bus out to his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As soon as possible.  The 59-year-old Samuel had a very good job as a highway inspector, he was soft-spoken, and wore a necktie frequently.  He was a straight-arrow: a clean-cut, churchgoing arch conservative of the John Birch Society mien. 

He disapproved of Nannie’s trashy romance novels and her love story magazines. Nannie knew this about him, though.  He had made it clear in one of his letters: “Christian women don’t need a television or romance magazines to be happy!” Nannie, of course, played along with his early sentiments thinking he would relax his views once she had him in her bed.

He did not, however, and the buttoned-down Samuel Doss was probably the greatest threat to her happiness, worse than if he had been a womanizer.  He forbade her the pleasure of her flights of fancy through her lightweight reading.  Broadcast media (radio and television) to Samuel Doss were tools of education; therefore, the love stories and other romantic shows Nannie loved were prohibited as tools of the imaginary Devil.  He enforced a strict bedtime curfew of 9:30 PM.  Sexual intercourse was similarly scheduled and regimented.  He had never smoked or had alcohol, he refused to play games of chance, and he never swore.  He was fastidious in his personal appearance, and his clean living resulted in his looking younger than his years.

Samuel, unlike Robert Morton before him, was thrifty to the point of miserliness, and he lavished no gifts upon Nannie, his wife. He never allowed room fans to be turned on unless the temperature was great enough to call for their use; lights were used sparingly in the house and were to be turned off immediately upon leaving a room.  If reading, only a lamp behind a reading chair was turned on.  Their furniture was covered with armchair doilies to preserve the fabric longer. Unlike her other husbands, though, Samuel did not lord over his “man of the house” status.  He helped out with the housework, often cooking meals alongside Nannie.

His stinginess and boring demeanor, however, became too much for Nannie to bear, so she left him for a spell in Alabama.  No sooner had she gone, though, he overwhelmed her with letters pleading for her return, swearing he would turn over a new leaf.  He promised to be more loose with his money; to prove it he made arrangements for her to have independent access to his bank account.  He also took out two large insurance policies on himself and named his wife Nannie Hazle Braggs Harrelson Lanning Morton Doss as his sole beneficiary.  She came home with a newfound financial looseness not present before.

One evening in September 1954 (on or around September 12), Samuel ate a piece of prune cake that Nannie had prepared especially for him as dessert after his supper.    Within hours, he was up retching.  His stomach was in agonies and, instead of going to a hospital, he stayed in bed fighting off whatever it was that had made him ill.  He lost sixteen pounds; finally, a doctor convinced his to go to a hospital. 

His symptoms mimicked flu, but soon enough he was diagnosed with a severe digestive tract infection.  He improved and was released back into Nannie’s care on October 5, 1954.  Samuel spent the day lounging in an easy chair.  He dozed off, but Nannie shook him awake in time for dinner. 

With his supper, Nannie served him coffee.  He ate heartily of a pot roast she had prepared and went to bed.  Before midnight, he died very suddenly and suspiciously.  Considering his improvement at the hospital, authorities were called in to investigate his death.  An autopsy was ordered.  In his stomach were the remains of his pork roast dinner (mostly undigested).  An extraordinary amount of arsenic was detected in his intestines and his stomach – considering the lack of digestion of the pork the attending determined that Samuel’s coffee had been spiked with the lethal poison.


Nannie Doss (speaking with authorities 1954)

Police questioned her at home, and she denied any knowledge of how Samuel could possibly have been poisoned.  As she was questioned she giggled inappropriately, and thumbed through a romance magazine, Romantic Hearts, nonchalantly.  Police had to tell her to drop the magazine and pay attention.  Nannie, with no explanation for how Samuel Doss came to have arsenic in his

Nannie Doss (with her lawyer)
body, was arrested on November 26, 1954.

Nannie’s urgent desire to cash in on Samuel Doss’ life insurance policies spelled the end of a lengthy murderous career.

Nannie’s Eleven
Police were flabbergasted by this woman’s behavior.  When she was arrested she giggled girlishly, leading the press and other court officers to later dub her “The Giggling Nanny”, “The Giggling
Nannie (with grown daughter florine, and two of Florine's children)
Granny”, “The Jolly Black Widow”, and other variations on that theme.  She preened and pranced like a school girl, batting her eyelashes at the men processing her, and at newspaper men vying to interview her.

Nannie confessed to killing four husbands (only her first, Charley Braggs, made it out alive of her spouses).  She also confessed to killing her own mother Lou (accidentally – the poison Lou ingested was meant for Richard Morton). She made a clean breast of all her murders by putting to rest the suspicious deaths of her grandson (Robert Haynes), her sister (Dovie), and her mother-in-law (Arlie Lanning’s

Nannie (mawkish)
mother). Oklahoma, however, only had jurisdiction over one charge, and that was for the murder of Samuel Doss.  Nannie’s confession to that ensured a speedy conviction.

During her interrogation, Nannie offered up her childhood head injury as a possible cause of her murderous nature.  The way she described it, however, differed somewhat.  She habitually put her eyeglasses on or took them off, saying she was neither near nor far-sighted but wore the glasses to control her bad headaches: “I’ve had terrible headaches all my life, or rather from the time I was seven.  That was when the train hit the buggy I was riding in and I was thrown out”. [Very different from striking her head on a chair rail in a train car.]

In consideration of her strange behavior (excessively and embarrassingly flirtatious, thinking she held some sexual allure for all men) a competency hearing was in order.  The prosecution found her mentally fit to go ahead.  She entered a guilty plea on May 17, 1955.  Nannie Hazle Braggs Harrelson Lanning Morton Doss received a life sentence.  Although applicable considering the capital nature of her offense, the death penalty (by electric chair) was not pursued because she was female.

For lack of evidence, other than her confessions, and the redundancy of the exercise she was not indicted or convicted of any of the other ten murders she claimed. [Exhumations on many of her victims later disclosed

Nannie Doss (exiting county attorney's office)
arsenic in most of them, with asphyxiation likely for Arlie’s mother, her sister Dovie, and for her grandson Robert.]  On June 2, 1965, she died of leukemia in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary’s hospital ward.  She was 59 years old. 

Nannie’s eleven killings over 27 years were all bred of her overemphasis on herself, her personal happiness, and her unrealistic expectations.  She seemed ignorant of the fact that – while the men she attracted were bums, losers, and sticks-in-the-mud – she was no prize either, and that what she got was about all she was capable of getting.  That realization, had it hit home early on, might have saved her much mental anguish; it certainly would have saved lives.

She was given insurance payouts for the deaths of her two daughters, her grandson, and various husbands.  Despite that, though, she was not motivated by profit.  Her real motivator was her boredom with ill-chosen mates, and her failure to find her ideal husband, as described in her favorite romance magazines.  “That's about it,” Nannie Doss had told one of her interrogators after confessing.  “I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life.”




Apr 12, 2012 7:11pm
You really made Nannie come alive in this article. I was interested by the hit to the head, as such injuries can damage a persons frontal lobe and cause them to become violent and lack empathy. She makes a person shudder however.
Apr 12, 2012 11:50pm
I find her particularly loathsome because of her arrested development and the fact she had absolutely no remorse for any of these murders is absurd. The husband who raped her probably deserved what he got, but her grandson, sister, 2nd mother-in-law, mother, and newborn granddaughter certainly did not. This woman was just plain deluded. Thanks for reading.
May 4, 2012 4:29am
I enjoyed reading that story. That laughing and giggling prediposition she had is particularly creepy.
May 4, 2012 4:40am
Her narcissism (despite what was obviously seen in a mirror)makes her praticualrly repugnant. Thanks for reading.
May 4, 2012 6:57am
I never heard of Nannie Doss. Thank you for an informative read and for making another forgotten person in history come alive.
May 4, 2012 11:50pm
Thanks for checking out another of my "nasties".
May 4, 2012 4:34pm
A fascinating story, scary to think how much she got away with for so long.
May 5, 2012 1:17am
That was the interesting thing for sure -- a trail of dead with no suspcions until 20 years later. Thnaks for reading.
May 5, 2012 3:23am
A great read - again. Where do you get this stuff?
May 5, 2012 6:22pm
Sadly, humanity provides the grist for my mill. Thnaks for reading.
May 5, 2012 2:42pm
Vic ur like a machine .....The way u keep churning out one amazing article after another is indded phenomenal. You are an inspiration for newbies like me.
May 5, 2012 7:17pm
Well, I like to think I do more than "churn" them out, but I get your meaning, and thanks for reading.
May 7, 2012 12:48pm
Wow - absolutely fascinating. You write brilliantly and this is really intriguing stuff. What a monster she was.
May 7, 2012 2:23pm
Yeah, she one of my all time least faves becasue of her extremely warped view of herself. Thnaks for reading.
May 7, 2012 7:38pm
Your writing makes it seem like you were her next door neighbor watching her go through life. Nice work! Can't believe I read it all in one sitting.
May 8, 2012 1:39am
Then I guess I did my job well if you burned through it that way -- thanks for reading!!
Jun 23, 2012 12:31am
Recovering narcissists(do they exist?) everywhere should read this article.
Dec 22, 2012 3:22pm
I was just going to ask if narcissists even realize how self-absorbed they are! Thanks for reading.
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  1. Sherby Green "Nannie Doss...aka, “Oklahoma’s Jolly Widow"...aka...The black Widow"." sherby.tripod.com. 31/01/2012 <Web >
  2. "Nannie Hazle Doss." skcentral.com. 31/01/2012 <Web >
  3. "Nannie Doss." en.wikipedia.org. 31/01/2012 <Web >
  4. Joseph Geringer "Nannie Doss: Lonely Hearts Lady Loved Her Man to Death." trutv.com. 31/01/2012 <Web >

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