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
I’m sure that she was misunderstood and suffered from a number of complex and dysfunctional environmental and relational obstacles that resulted in a deficiency of empathy. Then again, it’s possible—as we say in Texas—that she was born an [censored gender-nonspecific anatomical reference] and just got bigger.
Oh I’m sure she did. I’ve been researching psychopathy for my new book, and the current belief it’s that it’s a combo of nature and nurture. She certainly had both going for her. LOL. Thanks for the comment!
What a compelling story. I’m sure I’ve read about it (because I’ve read the book you mentioned), but I had forgotten it. It sounds to me like she was a sociopath. I wonder if it’s something that began in her isolated childhood. I’m sure the info is lost.
You know I get caught up watching junk on You Tube. I found this movie called Just, Melvin. It was about this guy who married a woman with several kids and molested them all. They had two of their own children who this guy molested. They split up and he remarried another woman with daughters. He molested all of them, plus the daughter he had with that woman. It was interesting seeing the impact it had on this family.
Anyway, the movie is neither here nor there. Your post just reminded me of it.
I think she was, too. Sounds like her father was a real gem. Ugh. Is that movie a true story? People like that should be castrated and hanged. Zero forgiveness for child molesters.
The movie is a true story. It was filmed documentary style, with interviews from each of the adults who the guy molested as children. It was one of those things that was horrible, but I couldn’t look away.
Yikes, she’s grinning in all those photos (folowed the link). What a creepy woman!
No way to improve on Dale’s comment above 🙂
I wish I could have posted the pics here. She’s creepy as hell, isn’t she? Thanks, Cynthia!
How awful. Nuture vs nature–they influence each other so much and the depression also indicates possible neuro/chemical imbalances. Urk. Lots of losers in this story.
They do. I think she had a big cocktail of screwed up going on. I’m just amazed she wasn’t stopped earlier. Thanks!
What really fascinates me about some of these tales is how long it goes on before someone says, “Hello! Something is very, very wrong here!!” I clicked over to the first link you provided and looked at the photo gallery. The newspaper photo with Nannie smiling and her daughter scowling at her was illuminating. I can’t imagine how the children and grandchildren fared from after living with this woman. What an (interesting) mess, Stacy!
Me too! That’s the photo I really wanted to share, too. I can’t imagine how screwed up her living children are. I don’t know how she got away with it for so long, but I suspect some of it is because she was female, and society just doesn’t want to believe women are capable of such things.
Laura Pauling (@laurapauling)
Oo creepy. I’d say she probably had some mental issues. Scary!
She definitely had some mental issues. Thanks for stopping by, Laura.
just goes to show how twisted our minds can become…
Yes it does. Thanks for commenting.
I kept wondering why no one suspected anything for so long. What drives someone to kill? A baby? That’s just so twisted.
That’s the most mind blowing to me. How you can kill a child, especially one who is related to you, is something I can’t understand. Thanks for stopping by.
Stacey Joy Netzel
Crazy. That’s the only word I can think of besides what everyone else has already said. 🙂
You’re right. That’s pretty much it. Thanks for stopping by, Stacey!
W o w! I can’t believe it took so long for them to catch up to her. And crazy that she killed husbands children…it didn’t matter. *shudders*
I think part of the reason is because during the time period this happened, the idea of women as killers was nearly unheard of. Her gender helped her to hide her misdeeds for a long time. Thanks, Angela.
Creepy!!! I think she was a sociopath. It just amazes me that it went on so long before anyone suspected her but it was likely due to that period in time where they had access to less investigative methods and were perhaps less suspecting of women? CREEPY though.
Love serial September!!!
She was definitely a sociopath, and primed to be one thanks to her upbringing. That’s what baffles me as well, but you make a good point. Investigative methods were vastly different then, and criminal investigators know a lot more about predators now. Thanks!
This is very creepy, and I agree that she was a sociopath. I feel terrible that the events went on so long before anyone intervened. Pictures sent a shiver up my back. Ugh.
Aren’t they creepy? I can’t imagine interviewing someone like her. Thanks for stopping by:)