Before reading this article, take a moment and think about your grandmother. Hopefully, a warm and loving image comes to mind, and if you’re lucky, she might even be baking you cookies or a sweet potato pie. Not everyone has this experience, of course, with some unfortunate souls stuck with less-than-perfect grandmothers, who might even be mean, nasty, or unpleasant to be around. Even if that’s the case, chances are, your grandmother was at least a bit nicer than Nancy Hazel, better known as Nannie Doss, not to mention a few unsettling nicknames.
While the media has called her the “Giggling Granny,” one of many “Lonely Hearts Killers,” the world’s jolliest “self-made widow,” or any other string of sobriquets, the state of Oklahoma felt a more appropriate term for her was “murderer.” Given Nannie had no less than 11 victims, it would also be accurate to designate Doss as a full-blown serial killer. From 1927 to 1954, Doss took the lives of four husbands, two daughters, a sister, her mother, and one mother-in-law, and that’s not even the scariest part of her tale.
After getting caught for her crimes, Nannie Doss had no choice but to confess, and that’s where her true terror became clear. Rather than show remorse, regret, or any sort of shame whatsoever, Doss reportedly chuckled through her confession, giggling with glee as she recounted to police officers how she ended her victims’ lives. The fact her crimes were coming to light seemed to genuinely delight the woman, as though she took pride in the terrible acts she’d committed. To find out exactly what she was smiling about, keep reading and learn 15 chilling facts about “The Giggling Granny,” Nannie Doss.
15. Nannie’s First Victims Were Probably Her Daughters
Officially speaking, Nannie Doss was only ever charged with one murder, though she confessed to several more. On top of that, there were also a few earlier deaths authorities and experts assume were probably caused by her destructive habits, though these inclinations have never been proven. That said, the evidence Nannie poisoned two of her daughters in 1927 is pretty strong on its own. One day in 1927, Charley Braggs returned home to discover his two girls dead on the floor, officially attributed to food poisoning at the time. Nannie’s demeanor was highly unsettling to her husband, however, to the extent he was terrified to even be in the same house as her and reportedly refused to eat any food she baked when “in a bad mood.” Eventually, Braggs took one of their survivor daughters and fled, genuinely afraid Nannie might take his life next.
14. Nannie’s Second Husband Came Next
After Charley Braggs left her, Nannie Doss wasted no time in moving on to her second husband, Robert Franklin Harrelson, whom she met through a classified ad, as is her M.O. Surprisingly, that marriage lasted a solid 16 years of chaos, with both participants becoming increasingly severe alcoholics who probably continued their lifelong habits of infidelity. The tumultuous affair came to an end in 1945, shortly after VJ Day, when Harrelson allegedly sexually assaulted his wife after a night of serious partying. Not letting this sort of behavior stand, the very next morning, Nannie loaded his favorite jar of corn whiskey with rat poison, causing a violent death that same evening. Obviously, Harrelson’s behavior in this story was downright abhorrent as well, and the time it took place might mean Nannie didn’t have much of a choice in reporting him through proper means. Unfortunately, the experience also caused Nannie to finally realize something about herself—she liked killing people and wasn’t going to stop.
13. Nannie Is Also Suspected Of Killing Her Grandchild
Some people probably view the way Nannie Doss killed her second husband as an act of self-defense or at least an issue of just revenge being served, and it would be hard to argue that point. However, Nannie’s two daughters didn’t do anything whatsoever to deserve getting poisoned, and her infant grandchild was wholly innocent when she was rumored to take his life. This one is the most speculative of the entire list, as no one was really sure what happened to Melvina Braggs’s second baby, except that Nannie Doss was the last person to see him alive. Also, Melvina believed she saw her mother stab the child with a hatpin, though she had to admit the experience of childbirth made her too groggy to say this for certain. More clear is what happened to Melvina’s other son—he too died in Nanny’s care, and though doctors called it asphyxiation, she later confessed to murdering him.
12. Nannie Found Three More Husbands Through Dating Services
When a person experiences one bad marriage, it isn’t necessarily her fault. Two bad marriages, and maybe she should rethink the type of person she dates, not to mention the people she dates should think twice before going out with her. Amazingly, even after she had killed two grandchildren, two daughters, and one husband, who ran away from her in fear for his life, Nannie Doss somehow managed to make three more men fall in love with her. Nannie’s third husband was Arlie Lanning, another man she met through classified ads. Richard Morton was next, met through a mail-order dating service called The Diamond Circle Club. Lastly, there was the highly religious Samuel Doss, who gave Nannie her most famous name and also led to her downfall when she dispatched of him in an uncharacteristically sloppy manner. Which brings us to our next point…
11. …And She Killed Them All
Oh, yeah, we almost forgot—Nannie went through so many husbands so quickly because she killed them all, usually within mere months of getting wed. Quite frankly, none of Nannie’s husbands were the dreamboats she had read about in her romance novels, and that was exactly the problem. Lanning was a womanizer, Morton had lied in most of his letters, and Doss was worst of all, at least in her mind, due to his strict religious upbringing banning her biggest loves in television, radio, and of course, romance novels. Of course, none of these offenses are so severe Nannie’s only recourse was to poison them, which she always did—either putting it in their coffee or favorite pie, depending on what the situation called for. Each time, Nannie also cashed in hefty life insurance policies upon her husband’s deaths, but according to her, this wasn’t why she did it. In her own words, Nannie was simply looking for the perfect romance, and her disappointment at being unable to find it caused her to fight back against her weak husbands with extreme force.
10. Nannie Also Killed Her Sister And Mother-In-Law
By this point, we should’ve painted a picture of Nannie Doss that presents her as a deceptive monster, taking the fury of a woman scorned to its furthest conclusion four times running. Let’s not forget she also murdered her own offspring and grandchildren, as well, and this article hasn’t even finished covering all of her victims. On top of that already significant body count, Nannie was also responsible for poisoning her mother Louisa and sister Dovie. Dovie’s death came first, shortly after Nannie’s marriage to/murder of Arlie Lanning. Looking for a place to lie low after committing several murders, Nannie moved in with her sister, only to almost immediately poison her to death. For whatever reason, Nannie’s mother didn’t see this or the other murders as warning signs, moving in with her daughter not long after when she was married to Richard Morton. Again, almost immediately after she started living with Nannie, Louisa was found poisoned to death.
9. Nannie Was Only Officially Charged With One Murder
For all we know about her crimes today, the police of Nannie Doss’ day were utterly clueless about what she had done. While a lack of advanced technology likely played a role, it isn’t like these cops were bumbling fools. Make no mistake about it: Nannie Doss was good at covering up her actions and acting like the friendly, bereaved widow when the situation called for it. However, there was no hiding a medical examiner’s inquest on Samuel Doss’s body, which discovered more than forty times the amount of arsenic necessary to kill a horse inside his system. Apparently, Nannie had been impatient when her initial attempt to poison him backfired and went seriously overboard in sealing the deal on round two. It was also her downfall, as police immediately arrested Doss and began a lengthy interrogation that ended with her finally coming clean.
8. Nannie Had Only One Request To The Police
Fans of crime-based TV shows are probably used to criminals asking for a whole lot before they finally come clean and start giving a confession. Not only do they need proof the police have them nailed, but accused criminals can also ask for food, protection, or promises of lesser jail time for their cooperation. Nannie Doss didn’t need any of this during her interrogation, however, instead making only one modest request the cops quite frankly should have seen coming: that they let her read a romance magazine throughout the ordeal. That request was naturally granted, and though it made it a little hard for investigators to keep Nannie’s attention throughout their interview, they gradually got her to confess to the murders of her former husbands and other family members. Doss didn’t give it up right away, waiting until the medical examiner had evidence against her, and the way she reacted to this news is the most chilling part of her entire story…
7. Nannie Laughed Through Her Confession And Life Sentence
So, the police had Nannie Doss nailed with irrefutable evidence her latest husband Samuel Doss was poisoned with a metric ton of arsenic. Not only that, they caught her in a number of lies, inspiring further investigation to just about everything she had ever told them. Most criminals would sweat profusely, shift around erratically, or maybe flat out burst into tears, but not Nannie Doss—instead, she treated it like the best joke she had ever heard. From the moment investigators got Doss to start confessing her crimes all the way to her incarceration, the Jolly Black Widow earned her nickname by giggling hysterically. Each detail the police wanted her to confirm made the murderous grandmother guffaw harder and prouder, as though she were fully content with what she had done, even proud of it. When asked what she found so funny, all she could reply was that her conscience was clear.
6. Nannie’s Father Was A Nightmare
As is so often the case with deranged killers, the story of how Nannie Doss was led to kill likely began at a young age. The world will never know what makes serial killers tick, yet there’s a good chance Nannie’s later hatred towards men could have been inspired by her father, who tried to control every aspect of Nannie, her sisters, and her mother’s lives. This attitude caused Nannie’s mother to resent her father, and it wasn’t long before Nannie joined in on the feeling. A big part of James Hazel dictating his daughter’s behavior was telling them whom to date and even how to dress, lest they start attracting the wrong sort of men. Hazel also took Nannie and her sisters out of school at an extremely young age and instead forced them to work on his farm, leaving them largely uneducated later in life.
5. Nannie Suffered A Childhood Brain Injury
Alright, so Nannie Doss is hardly the only person in the world to suffer a controlling father, yet most people to go through that experience don’t come out of it serial killers. That said, another early childhood incident might help to explain some of Nannie’s behaviors later in life, insofar as the human brain is capable of being comprehended. Rather, perhaps we should say the explanation works insofar as we understand brain injuries, which is what Doss suffered around the age of 7. Doss was riding on a train that stopped suddenly with such force it caused her to hit her head on the seat in front of her, causing severe headaches and blackouts, in addition to possibly contributing to her depression. Knowing the human brain, there’s a good chance her behavior was affected in some way, especially considering science was fairly primitive when this happened, circa 1913.
4. Nannie Obsessed Over Romance Novels
Despite a lack of formal education and a serious brain injury leaving Nannie Doss relatively uneducated, she nonetheless learned how to read, and developed quite the imaginary life doing so. It would be one thing if Doss enjoyed fantasy novels, but the fact her literature of choice was romance novels and lonely hearts columns in newspapers makes this yet another piece of the puzzle that brought her to murder. Throw in the fact Nannie’s father wouldn’t let her date, and this obsession with classified ads looking for love makes sense, although it also makes sense she would have a pretty warped version of what romance was supposed to be. Any magazines purporting to trade in “True Romance” stories were her absolute favorite, and it was probably Nannie’s dream to one day end up in one of them herself. Unfortunately, her name wound up in papers for entirely different reasons.
3. Nannie Was Married For The First Time At 16
In the modern era, no part of how Nannie Doss came into contact with her first husband sounds like a fairytale romance. Even in 1921, it didn’t sound idyllic for a 16-year-old girl to elope with her coworker at the Linen Thread factory, which is how Nancy Hazel became Nancy Braggs, marrying a man named Charley. Being an extremely young couple, the Braggs lived with Charley’s mother, who, like Nannie’s father, was quite controlling of her activities. Worse than that, her new husband would always take his mother’s side, leading to great resentment between them. Given the times, Nannie couldn’t quite petition for divorce simply because she didn’t like her husband, and her own family was hardly sympathetic, having pushed her into the relationship despite father Hazel’s earlier reticence to the idea. Of course, none of this justifies what Nannie would do to escape her situation.
2. Nannie Gradually Developed Bad Drinking And Smoking Habits
With the way Nannie Doss’ life had been going up to her late teens and early 20s, adding a drinking problem to the mix was pretty much the worst thing she could do. Unfortunately for her family, that’s exactly what Doss did throughout the mid-1920s, growing increasingly depressed and stressed out as her first marriage produced four daughters. In addition to her drinking, Nannie’s casual smoking habit also ballooned into a serious addiction, another method used to mask the pain and inner turmoil she must have been feeling. Rumor has it both Nannie and Braggs were unfaithful to one another throughout their marriage, making it all the more surprising Charley was somehow the one husband to escape her wrath relatively unharmed. The catch is that he only managed to do so as a reaction to Nannie beginning her crime spree.
1. Nannie Died In Prison
After watching her laugh all the way through her guilty plea, it wasn’t hard for Oklahoma courts to deliver Nannie Doss a sentence of life in prison for her crimes. Not losing her positive demeanor for a second, Doss laughed at the news and kept smiling as she was sent to prison, apparently living happily ever after in her small cell. According to Doss, she would regularly ask the prison’s kitchen staff if they ever needed help, though they understandably never took her up on the offer. The offers came to an end almost 10 years to the month after she was first sent to prison when Nannie died of leukemia, still in state custody. Considering the usual sentence for murder is a whole lot worse than 10 short years, it could be said she got off easy, unlike anyone unfortunate enough to be a member of her family.
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