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Nannie Doss (born November 4, 1905 ‚Äď June 2, 1965) was a serial killer responsible for the deaths of eleven people between the 1920s and 1954. She finally confessed to the murders in October 1954, when her fifth husband had died in a small hospital in Tulsamarker, Oklahomamarker. In all, it was revealed that she had killed four husbands, two children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson and a nephew. She has been given the monikers "The Giggling Nanny", "The Giggling Granny" and "The Jolly Black Widow".

Early life

Doss was born in Blue Mountainmarker, Alabamamarker as Nancy Hazle, to James and Lou Hazle. Nannie was one of five children; she had one brother and three sisters. Both Nannie and her mother hated James, who was a strict, controlling father and husband with a nasty streak. There is evidence that Doss was conceived illegitimately, as James and Lou married after 1905; census records also show that in 1905 she and her mother were living on their own. She had an unhappy childhood. She was a poor student who never learned to read well; her education was erratic because her father forced his children to work on the family farm instead of attending school. When she was around seven years old, the family was taking a train to visit relatives in southern Alabama; when the train stopped suddenly, Nannie hit her head on the metal bar on the seat in front of her. For years after, she suffered severe headaches, blackouts and depression; she blamed these and her mental instability on that accident. During childhood, her favorite hobby was reading her mother's romance magazines and dreaming of her own romantic future. Later, her favorite part was the lonely hearts column. The Hazle sisters' teenage years were restricted by their father; he forbade them to wear makeup and attractive clothing. He was trying to prevent them from being molested by men, which happened on several occasions. He also forbade them to go to dances and other social events.

First marriage

Doss was first married at age sixteen, to Charlie Braggs. They had met at the Linen Thread factory where they both worked, and with her father's approval they married after dating for just four months. He was the only son of his unmarried mother, who insisted on living with them. Doss later wrote
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...
Braggs' mother took up a lot of his attention, and she often prevented Nannie from doing things she wanted to do. The marriage produced four daughters over a four-year period of 1923-1927. Under a lot of stress, Doss started drinking and her casual smoking habit became a heavy addiction. The marriage was an unhappy one, and both suspected each other, correctly, of infidelity. Braggs often disappeared for days on end. In early 1927, they lost their two middle daughters to suspected food poisoning. Suspecting she had killed them, he fled from her, taking eldest daughter Melvina with him and leaving newborn Florine behind. His mother also died around this time. Doss took a job in a cotton mill to support Florine and herself.

Braggs returned in the summer of 1928. With him and Melvina was another woman, a divorcée with her own child. Doss and Braggs soon divorced, and she returned to her mother's home taking her two daughters with her. He always maintained he left her because he was frightened of her.

Second marriage

Living and working in Anniston, Doss soothed her loneliness by reading True Romance and other such reading matter. She also resumed poring over the lonely hearts column, and wrote to men advertising there. A particular advert that interested her was that of Robert (Frank) Harrelson, a 23-year-old factory worker from Jacksonvillemarker. He sent her romantic poetry, and she sent him a cake. They met and married in 1929, when she was 24, 2 years after her divorce from Braggs. They lived together in Jacksonville, with Doss's two surviving daughters. After a few months, she discovered that he was alcoholic and had a criminal record for assault. Despite this, the marriage lasted sixteen years.


Melvina, Doss's oldest daughter, gave birth to Robert Lee Haynes in 1943. February 1945 found her about to see the end of a difficult pregnancy, which she and her husband Mosie thought was only seven months along when she went into labor. Doss came to help, and after a painful few hours a baby girl was born, but died soon after. Melvina, exhausted from labor and groggy from ether, thought she saw Doss stick a hatpin into the baby's head, and later told Mosie and Florine. They told her how Nannie had said the baby was dead, and they noticed she was holding a pin. However, the doctors could not come up with an explanation for the death. After this, Melvina and Mosie drifted apart and Melvina began to date a soldier. Doss disapproved of him, and while Melvina was visiting her father after a particularly nasty fight with Doss, her son Robert died mysteriously under Doss's care on July 7, 1945. The cause of the death was diagnosed as asphyxia from unknown causes, and two months later she collected the $500 life insurance she had taken out on Robert.

Death of Frank

In 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied powers at the end of World War II, and Harrelson, Doss' 2nd husband, was one of the many people who celebrated rather robustly. After an evening of particularly heavy drinking, he raped Doss. The following day, as she was tending her rose garden, Doss discovered Harrelson's corn whiskey jar buried in the ground. The rape had been the last straw for her, so she took the jar and topped it off with rat poison. Harrelson died a painful death that evening.

Third marriage

Doss met her third husband whilst travelling in Lexingtonmarker, North Carolinamarker. He was Arlie Lanning and she married him within three days of meeting him through another lonely hearts column. Lanning was in many ways like his predecessor, Harrelson: he was an alcoholic and a womanizer. However, in this marriage, it was Doss who often disappeared for months on end. When she was at home, however, she played a doting housewife, and when her husband died of what was said to be heart failure, the whole town turned up to his funeral in support of her. Afterwards, the house the couple lived in burned to the ground. Coincidently, it had been left to Lanning's sister, and had it survived it would have gone to her. As it happened, the insurance money went to Doss, and she quickly banked it. She soon left North Carolina, but only after Lanning's elderly mother had died in her sleep. She ended up at her sister Dovie's home. Dovie was bedridden and soon after Doss's arrival she died.

Fourth marriage

Doss had joined the Diamond Circle Club, looking for another husband. She had met Richard L. Morton of Emporia, Kansasmarker. While he did not have the drinking problem of his predecessors, he was a womanizer. Before she could poison him, she ended up poisoning her mother, Louisa, on January 1953 when she came to live with them. Morton met his death three months later.

Fifth marriage

Doss met and married Samuel Doss, of Tulsa, Oklahomamarker, in June 1953. A clean-cut, churchgoing man, he disapproved of the romance novels and stories that Nannie adored. In September, Samuel was admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. The hospital diagnosed a severe digestive tract infection. He was treated and released on October 5. Nannie killed him that evening in her rush to collect the two life insurance policies they had taken out on him. This sudden death alerted his doctor, who ordered an autopsy. The autopsy revealed a huge amount of arsenic in his system. Nannie was promptly arrested.

Confession and conviction

Nannie confessed to killing her four husbands, her mother, her sister Dovie, her grandson Robert and her mother-in-law, Arlie Lanning's mother. The state of Oklahoma centered its case only on Samuel Doss. The prosecution found her mentally fit for trial. Nannie pleaded guilty on May 17, 1955. She was sentenced to life. The state did not pursue the death penalty due to her gender. Doss was never charged with the other deaths. She died of leukemia in the hospital ward of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1965.


  • Wilson, Colin. The Mammoth Book of True Crime. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0-7867-0536-1
  • Nannie Doss the Lonely Hearts Husband Killer. [202380]

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