Nick Name: Giggling Granny, the Lonely Hearts Killer, the Black Widow
Birthday: November 4, 1905
Died At Age: 59
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born in: Blue Mountain, Anniston, Alabama
Famous as: Serial Killer
Spouse/Ex-: Arlie Lanning (m. ?–1950), Richard L. Morton (m. 1952–1953), Robert Franklin Harrelson (m. 1929–1945)
father: James F. Hazel
mother: Louisa Holder
children: Melvina B. Braggs Leonard
Died on: June 2, 1965
Nannie Doss was an American serial killer who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison after murdering 11 people between the 1920s and 1954. She was also known as the Giggling Granny, the Lonely Hearts Killer, the Black Widow, and Lady Blue Beard. One newspaper went as far as calling her a “self-made widow”. A native of Alabama, she grew up resenting her father, who was forceful and controlling. At the age of seven, she suffered a serious accident which caused severe bouts of headache in the years to come. Doss later blamed her mental instability on the accident. She married five times. Her first marriage, to a co-worker named Charley Braggs, was tumultuous to say the least and Braggs would later claim that he left Doss because he was afraid of her. She married a second time in 1929 to Robert Franklin Harrelson, who later became her first confirmed victim. She went on to kill all three of her subsequent husbands, Arlie Lanning, Richard L. Morton, and Samuel Doss. She also killed Lanning’s mother, her mother-in-law; Lou Hazel, her own mother; Dovie Frances Hazel Weaver, her sister; and Robert Lee Haynes, her grandson. She was also suspected of killing her granddaughter, and two of her four children with Braggs. She was apprehended in October 1954 for the murder of Doss and while she initially denied any involvement with the murder, she confessed to killing him after a thorough interrogation. She was subsequently tried and given a life sentence. In 1965, Doss died of leukaemia in the hospital ward of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Childhood & Early Life
Doss was born Nancy Hazel on November 4, 1905, in Blue Mountain, Alabama, the United States. Her parents were Louisa "Lou" (née Holder) and James F. Hazel. She had four siblings, including a brother named William Roscoe Hazel and a sister named Dovie Frances Hazel Weaver. Both Nannie and her mother despised James because of his controlling behaviour towards every member of the family. He would not let his children attend school but forced them to serve as farm-hands.
As a result, Nannie’s education suffered. When she was seven years old, she boarded a train to go to Alabama where a few of her relatives lived. During the journey, the train suddenly ceased moving and she hit her head on a metal bar on the seat opposite of her. In the years after, she had bouts of depression, headaches, and blackouts. She would later blame her mental instability on the accident.
Doss grew up reading her mother’s romance magazines and wished for a fairytale future. She would later develop a special love for the lonely hearts column. Despite James forbidding Doss and her sisters from wearing make-up and attractive clothes in fear of molestation, it still happened on several occasions. He also did not allow them to attend any dances or other social events.
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Marriage to Charley Braggs
Doss was 16 years old when she married her first husband, Charley Braggs, after knowing him only for four months. She and Braggs worked together at the Linen Thread Company in nearby Anniston. After their wedding, Braggs’ mother insisted on living with them. He was her only son and she was unmarried at the time so Doss had to accept it. However, the arrangement soon proved to be troublesome as most of Braggs’ time was taken up by his mother.
In the ensuing years, Doss gave birth to four daughters. While Braggs was an attentive father, his relationship with his wife did not improve at all. She was anxious all the time and soon enough, started drinking. Her casual smoking habit turned into a heavy addiction. Both were unhappy and suspected the other, correctly so, of infidelity. Braggs often would not be home for days on end.
In 1927, their two middle daughters died under mysterious circumstances a few months apart from each other. According to Braggs’ later statement, when he left for work the girls seemed healthy but they were crying while he was leaving and reportedly died in convulsions soon after having breakfast. Doss could not provide any reasonable explanation. It is quite possible that she had poisoned those girls.
After he was warned anonymously not to eat anything his wife prepared, Braggs fled their home, taking their eldest daughter, Melvina, with him but leaving Florine, their youngest, behind. He had the dubious and fortunate distinction of being the only husband that Doss did not murder. In the summer of 1928, Braggs came back with Melvina, a new love interest and her own child. He and Doss divorced soon after and she and her two daughters moved in with her mother.
Robert Franklin Harrelson
A year later, Doss met her second husband, Jacksonville resident Robert Franklin Harrelson, through a lonely hearts newspaper column. He courted her with poetry; she wrote passionate letters and sent him a cake and a photograph of herself. They got married that year. She was a year older than he was. However, the relationship had several issues right from the beginning, mostly due to Harrelson’s alcoholism and violent temper.
Despite this, the marriage lasted 16 years. Melvina had grown up by then and got married herself. She gave birth to her son Robert Lee Haynes in 1943. Two years later, she and her husband had another child, this time a daughter. Exhausted from the labour and still groggy from the ether, Melvina thought that she saw her mother kill her daughter by sticking a hairpin into the newborn’s head.
She later had a conversation with her husband and Florine, who told her that Doss had informed them earlier that the baby was dead and that they had noticed she had a hairpin in her hand. After the tragic incident, the grief-stricken couple slowly drifted apart and eventually separated. Melvina then started dating a soldier whom Doss did not particularly like. Meanwhile, Doss took out insurance worth $500 on Robert.
One day, Melvina had a particularly unpleasant argument with her mother and went to her father’s house to stay for a while. She left Robert in her mother’s care. On July 7, 1945, he died from asphyxiation and within two months after his death, Doss cashed in on Robert’s insurance.
In 1945, after the end of the World War II, The United States of America was in a full celebratory mood. Harrelson was no different. He drank without inhibition and one night, after returning home completely intoxicated, raped Doss. The following day, she found his corn whiskey jar buried while she was in the garden tending her roses. She put rat poison in the whiskey. Harrelson died an excruciating death that evening.
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Doss then met Arlie Lanning through an advertisement in the local lonely hearts column. They married three days later. She soon realised, however, that Lanning was an alcoholic womaniser like Harrelson. This time, it was Doss who would often vanish for prolonged periods. Whenever she came back, she played the role of a doting wife perfectly.
Lanning died in 1950 from what was thought to be heart failure and townspeople came out in support of his widow. After the funeral, the house they had lived in, which was inherited by Lanning’s sister, burned down and Doss got the insurance money. At that time, she was taking care of Lanning’s mother who was suffering from a broken hip. The woman died in her sleep.
She then lived with her sister, Dovie Frances Hazel Weaver, who was bedridden at the time. She too met her demise soon after Doss moved in.
Richard L. Morton
Doss was looking to get married for the fourth time. She found Richard L. Morton of Jamestown, North Carolina in a dating service called the Diamond Circle Club. While this one was not an alcoholic, he was still a womaniser. They married in 1952 in Emporia, Kansas and not long after that, Morton started to spend night after night with other women in the town.
In January 1953, Doss’ mother, Lou, moved in with them after her husband’s death. A few days later, she started to have severe stomach pains and died. Only three days after that, Morton perished after drinking from a thermos full of coffee that had been spiked by Doss with arsenic.
Within months after the death of her fourth husband, Nannie had her eyes set on a new one. She boarded a bus to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to meet Samuel Doss, a Nazarene minister who had lost his family in a tornado in Madison County, Arkansas. They were married soon.
Samuel was neither an alcoholic nor abusive nor a womaniser. She still found faults in him. He did not allow non-educational, non-enlightening TV shows and magazines in the house and disliked the romance novels and stories that his wife adored.
In September, he was hospitalised after eating an arsenic-laced prune cake. He showed flu-like symptoms and the diagnosis was a severe digestive tract infection. After a successful treatment regime, the hospital let him go. Nannie killed him that very evening with her tried and tested method of arsenic in coffee.
Arrest, Trial & Sentencing
The final murder ended up revealing her for what she was. Driven by greed, she killed Samuel on the very day he had come back home so she could collect the two insurance policies she had taken in his name. The doctor, who treated Samuel, was alerted by his sudden death. Under his orders, an autopsy was performed and they found a large amount of arsenic in his system. Nannie was arrested immediately.
Under interrogation, and after she was told that she could keep a romance magazine, Nannie confessed to killing eight people: Robert, Harrelson, Lanning, Lanning’s mother, Dovie, Lou, Morton, and Samuel but denied any involvement with the deaths of her two daughters and granddaughter. She was not given the death sentence because of her gender. Instead, after she pleaded guilty on May 17, 1955, she was sentenced to life imprisonment. Doss earned her nickname, “Giggling Granny”, because of her smiling and giggling as she discussed her crimes with the authorities.
Later Years & Death
Nannie Doss was only charged for the death of Samuel Doss. She had apparently found a possible husband number six in North Carolina based dairy farmer John H. Keel before her arrest and even sent him a cake.
After being in jail for two years, she stated that she would have preferred the death sentence. Despite this, she maintained her cheerful disposition throughout her life, often making jokes about her case. She told a reporter that the only job she was allowed to do in the prison was laundry. When she asked if she could work in the kitchen, she was politely told no.
Doss died of leukaemia on June 2, 1965, in the hospital ward of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and was subsequently laid to rest in Oak Hill Memorial Park in McAlester, Oklahoma.