Welcome back to old-school Thriller Thursdays! Even though Thriller Extravaganza was a huge success, I’ve missed writing about true crime. And since it’s September and I love themes, I’ve got a great one for this month: Serial September. That’s right, this month we’re going to be looking at serial killers–but not the usual suspects. We’re going beyond the famous killers and looking at some of the lesser known–but equally terrifying–cases.
Today we’re talking about women predators. Aileen Warnous may be the most famous, but she’s certainly not the only female serial killer. In a study by Eric Hickey for Serial Murderers and their victims, female serial killers had between 400 and 600 victims! One of the worst is The Giggling Granny.
Nannie Doss – The Giggling Granny
Born in Blue Mountain, Alabama on Nov, 4, 1905, as Nancy Hazle, Doss spent much of her childhood years dealing with an abusive father. Education wasn’t a priority, and Nannie only completed the sixth grade. At the edge of seven, she suffered a head injury that caused her to suffer migraines, blackouts and depression for the rest of her life.
Her father prevented his daughters from social interaction, and Nannie didn’t get a taste of freedom until her first job at the age of 16. Her favorite pastime became romance magazines, and she loved the lonely hearts club section. She eventually married a coworker named Charley Braggs, and the two lived with his ailing mother, who was controlling and manipulative. Over the next four years, Nannie had four children and life became a prison of childcare and caring for her demanding mother-in-law. Charley was an abusive adulterer, and Nannie because drinking and barhopping to cope.
Nannie’s First Victims
In 1927, Nannie’s two middle children died from food poisoning. Her husband suspected Nannie and left with the oldest child but left Nannie alone with the newborn. His mother died soon after. Eventually the two divorced and Nannie and her children moved back in with her parents.
Nannie met her second husband through the lonely heart’s column. Robert Harrelson was yet another poorly chosen man. He was a drunk and loved bar fighting. Still, they remained married for 16 years until Harrelson’s death.
In 1943, Nannie’s oldest daughter had a son. Two years later, she gave birth to a healthy girl who died soon after birth. Her death was unexplained, but Nannie’s daughter said that while in and out of consciousness after a rough delivery, she saw her mother stick a hatpin into the infant’s head. No proof was ever found.
In July, 1945, Nannie had a fight with her daughter about the girl’s new boyfriend. Her grandson Robert was in Nannie’s care, and that night he died of asphyxia from unknown causes. Nannie collected a $500 insurance policy on the child a few months later.
That fall, Frank Harrelson allegedly came home drunk and raped Nannie. The next day she poured rat poison into his corn whiskey and watched her husband die a miserable death.
Nannie snagged Arlie Lanning from the classifieds. After two and a half years of marriage, Lanning died. He had a history of drinking, and it was believed he died of a heart attack brought on by the flu. Lanning’s house was to be inherited by his sister, but it burned down before she could take possession. Nannie got the insurance money, but not before her mother-in-law (whom Nannie was staying with) died in her sleep. Nannie then moved in with her cancer-stricken sister, who also died in Nannie’s care.
Richard Morton met Nannie at the singles club. He wasn’t a drunk but an adulterer, and Nannie had her sights set on another man already. Her recently widowed mother came for a visit and within days, died after complaining of severe stomach cramps. Richard Morton was next.
Samuel Doss was Nannie’s last husband. Unlike her other men, Samuel was good man who fell in love with Nannie. But he was very frugal and boring, and that just didn’t sit well with Nannie. His life was militant–no romance novels or love stories on television and a strict 9:30 p.m. bedtime every night. He finally gave Nannie access to the money after she took off, and then she convinced him to take out two life insurance policies with herself as the benefactor.
Then came the stomach problems. Samuel spent two weeks in the hospital. His first night home, Nannie gave him a home-cooked meal, and he died soon after.
Doctors ordered an autopsy and found arsenic poisoning. Nannie was questioned and confessed to killing four husbands, her sister, her mother, her grandson, and one mother-in-law. Remorse wasn’t her style. She joked about her dead husbands and her killing methods, earning her the nicknames of The Giggling Granny and The Jolly Widow.
Sentenced to life for Samuel Doss’s murder, Nannie Doss died in 1963 of leukemia.
What do you think?
What drove Nannie Doss to do such horrible things? Was she a psychopath or just a vicious, jealous individual? How did she manage to murder so many times without suspicion?
This is one of those cases with SO much more information than I could relay in a blog post. Visit Murderpedia for a Picture of Nannie Doss and source.
Source – Inside the Minds of Serial Killers by Katherine Ramsland