ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

Nannie Doss had a friendly name and a face to match, but that makes the magnitude of the crimes she committed against her own mother, children, siblings and husbands even more hard to swallow...

This little known female serial killer's weapon of choice was poison and she was overtly generous with the portions she doled out to every imaginable branch of her family tree.

Born in 1905 in Blue Mountain Alabama, Nannie was one of five children who was dragged through childhood by Lou and James Hazel. Nannie's younger years were clouded by fear due to her abusive and controlling father and her schooling was erratic due to being forced to work to keep the family above the poverty line.

When she was around seven years old, Nannie suffered a life changing event when a train she was traveling on stopped suddenly and her head was thrust violently into a metal pole. For years afterwards, she suffered from headaches, depression and blackouts and later, Nannie blamed this traumatic head injury for her murderous streak.

As a teenager Nannie escaped into her mother's romance magazines and began to dream about her own rose tinted future with her dream man as she perused the lonely hearts column.

Unfortunately, life didn't deliver Nannie the romance that she'd always dreamed of and she married a man named Charley Briggs who she met at the linen thread factory where she worked, Nannie 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...

Their marriage was an unhappy one and Nannie descended into alcoholism and began chain smoking due to the stress of both her and her husband's string of infidelities. Despite the rift in their union, Nannie and Charley had four daughters together, although two died of food poisoning...Or so it was initially thought.

Eventually, Charley fled the marital home and he always maintained that it was fear of his erratic wife and a nagging suspicion that she killed her own children that led him to escape. He was the only one of Nannie's husbands to make it out of the marriage alive. The spouses and family members below weren't so lucky.

Husband Two: Robert Franklin "Frank" Harrelson

Nannie met Frank through a lonely hearts column after he sent her romantic poetry and she mailed him a cake in return.

Frank was not the romantic soul that Nannie initially believed he was and was instead a raging alcoholic who had a criminal record for assault.

After a 16-year marriage, Frank's time was up. When Japan surrendered to the allied forces at the end of World War II, Frank went on a drinking spree that ended with him raping his wife. In retaliation, Nannie dug up his jar of corn whiskey in the garden and topped it off with rat poison

Grandchildren: Robert and an Unnamed Baby

Possibly even more shocking than murdering her husbands, Nannie also killed two of her own grandchild in seriously disturbing circumstances.

When her daughter Melvina gave birth to her second child, she was exhausted from labor and groggy from ether when her mother came to visit. In her confused state she thought she saw Nannie drive a hat pin into her newborn babies head. When she asked her husband and sister for clarification, they said Nannie had told them the baby was dead and that they noticed that she was holding a pin. The doctors couldn't confirm the cause of death.

After her baby died, Melvina and her husband drifted apart and she began dating a soldier who her mother disapproved of. One day, after a particularly vicious argument between the mother and daughter, Melvina's son Robert died mysteriously of asphyxiation. Nannie pocketed the $500 life insurance policy she took out on the child two months later.

Husband Three: Arlie Lanning, Mother in Law and Sister

Arlie Lanning was another victim plucked from the lonely hearts column who did not meet Nannie's standards.

They pair married after meeting each other for just three days, and Arlie later died of 'heart failure.' His mother died in her sleep shortly afterwards, and when the family home burned down, the insurance money went to the seemingly grieving widow, Nannie.

Desperate for a roof over her head, Nannie stayed with her bedridden sister Dovie, and yep, you've guessed it, the disabled woman died shortly after.

Husband Four: Richard L. Morton and Mother

Looking for yet another husband, Nannie joined the Diamond Circle Club and soon met the ill fated Richard L. Morton. He died in April 1953, three months after Nannie's mother came to live with them and ended up dying of poisoning.

Husband Five: Samuel Doss

Samuel Doss of Tulsa, Oklahoma was Nannie's final victim. A clean-cut church going man, he disapproved of Nannie's beloved romance novels and probably died because of it. Three months after they married, Samuel was admitted to the hospital for what they thought was a severe digestive tract infection. He died the evening after he was released and a suspicious doctor ordered an autopsy that revealed a colossal amount of arsenic in his system. Nannie was promptly arrested.


Nannie smiles in a police interview
Nannie smiles in a police interview

After being caught red-handed, Nannie confessed to killing four of her husbands, her mother, her sister Dovie, her grandson Robert, and her mother-in-law Lanning.

Nannie pled guilty and received a life sentence, but it wasn't just her string of murders that made an impression on the public. The serial murderer also became famous for her upbeat demeanor and giggling in the courtroom. She seemed to enjoy her notoriety, and even joked about her dead husbands with the press.

In her confession, Nannie revealed that her ultimate motivation was a lot stranger than life insurance money. Instead she was driven by martial boredom and a desire to obtain the glorious romance that she read about in magazines, she told interrogators that:

I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life

Nannie died of leukemia in prison at the age of 59.

(Source: Murderpedia and Wikipedia)


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