Human Monsters: Nannie Doss, The Female Bluebeard.

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They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but what if life had scorned you? Nannie Doss was a woman of quiet fury. Having dealt a rough hand from the start, she found that death could better her life in a variety of ways, much to the horror of those closest to her.

nannie doss
Called the “Giggling Granny,” Doss killed 11 people, all of which were husbands or members of her own family.

Doss was one of five children born to Louisa and James Hazel in Blue Mountain, Alabama on November 4th, 1905. Her father was very controlling and wouldn’t allow Nannie or any of his daughters to wear makeup or fashionable clothing. James didn’t believe much in education, often forbidding his children from going to school so they could work on the farm.

Nannie would often seek comfort in the romance books and magazines her mother hoarded. Many speculated that Louisa hated her husband as much as her children did. Nannie longed to find a man like the ones described in those pages: the perfect mate. Someone who could take her away from the life she had.

It wasn’t long after she turned 16 that her father pressured her to marry her first husband, a young man named Charley Braggs. The marriage quickly soured once Charley moved his dominating mother into their home. Nannie often complained about how controlling the woman was, how she took all of Charley’s time. Despite their woes, Nannie and Charley had four children, one right after the other. Not long after her last child was born, Nannie’s smoking and drinking increased and so did Charley’s fear of her.

nannie doss 2
As a poisoner, it was the young and trusting upon whom Doss preyed.

Two of the children died seemingly out of the blue. Both were healthy, and Nannie couldn’t provide any real reason for their deaths. Charley began to suspect her of murder, so one morning, he took the oldest child and fled.

That left Nannie Doss with only her daughter, Florine. In dire straights, Doss packed them up and moved to Georgia. There she met her next husband, Frank Harrelson.

Now, husband and wife, the two realized they didn’t really want a kid to cramp their party lifestyle. Young Florine was soon abandoned. Her father eventually found her and took her back. Nine years later, Florine and her mother got in contact and buried the hatchet. They had made up so well, Florine felt safe enough leaving her baby son Lee with her dear mom.

Lee lived for three days before he “accidentally got into some rat poison.” The same rat poison Frank Harrelson died from just months later. Grieving, Nannie Doss used the life insurance money to build a new home for herself back in Alabama.

After that, Nannie’s taste for murder grew. She frequented the lonely hearts postings in local papers. It was there that she found husband number three, Arlie Lanning. Lanning didn’t live very long after the wedding bells, dying in 1952.

Nannie then set her sights on her sick mother who died in 1953, along with two of Nannie’s sisters. In 1954, lucky husband four, Richard Morton, met his end.

It was only after the death of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss, that Nannie’s reign of terror came to an end. All of her victims showed the same symptoms: convulsions and stomach cramps. These were so pronounced in Mr. Doss that an autopsy was performed, from which it was discovered that he’d been poisoned with enough arsenic to kill more than a dozen men.

vintage rat poison
Rat poison was Nannie Doss’ preferred method of murder.

When confronted, Doss confessed to the murders spanning more than 30 years. She was sentenced to life in prison, though she only served ten years before dying of leukemia in 1965. Throughout all the interviews and right up until her death, Nannie Doss always claimed it had never been about the money. She killed her husbands out of boredom, always looking for “…the real romance of life.” As for why then she murdered her children and family, Nannie Doss remained silent.

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