The following tale of Alabama serial killer Nannie Doss, aka the Giggling Granny, is excerpted from my book, “Forgotten Tales of Alabama.” To order a signed copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the early 1950s, Nannie Doss looked like a typical grandmother. She wore cat-eye glasses and a bouffant hairdo and enjoyed caring for her family. The problem was, Nannie’s care proved deadly.
By 1955, she would be on trial for murder after authorities began to grow curious about the series of deaths that seemed to follow her.
She was dubbed by the press as The Giggling Granny because of her inappropriate, girlish giggling despite the serious nature of the charges she faced. Law officials eventually determined she killed four husbands in four states – Alabama, North Carolina, Kansas and Oklahoma – but her victims likely numbered 14, including her mother, two daughters, a grandson, a nephew and one of her mothers-in-law.
She would finally face trial in the death of her husband Samuel Doss in Tusla, Oklahoma, in 1954.
Nannie was born Nancy Hazle on November 4, 1905, to James and Lou Hazle in Blue Mountain near Anniston, Alabama. Nannie had one brother and three sisters. They were raised by a father known to be extremely strict and controlling. Their education was erratic because the children often were taken from school to work on the family farm. Nannie spent much of her time reading her mother’s romance magazines, particularly the lonely hearts column. Because she would later meet men through this method, some dubbed her the Lonely Hearts Husband Killer.
Nannie’s first husband was the lucky one. She married Charlie Braggs in 1921 when she was 16, just four months after meeting him. They would have four daughters. When they divorced in 1928, he was still very much alive.
Nannie resumed reading lonely hearts columns and writing to men. She would soon meet Frank Harrelson of Jacksonville. They married in 1929. He reportedly was an abusive alcoholic. Frank died suddenly in 1945. By 1943, Nannie had two grandchildren. By 1945, they, too, died mysteriously while in her care.
Nannie’s third husband was Arlie Lanning of Lexington, North Carolina, an Alabama native. She met him in 1947 through, of course, a lonely hearts column and married him three days later. She wouldn’t stay with him long. In 1950, Arlie died after collapsing just after drinking a cup of coffee and eating a bowl of prunes. His cause of death was listed as heart failure. His last words were reportedly: “It must have been the coffee.” During Nannie’s marriage to Arlie, Arlie’s mother died in her sleep, another death later attributed to Nannie.
When Nannie left Arlie, she went to stay with her sister Dovie, who was bedridden. Soon after Nannie came to stay, Dovie, too, died.
In 1952, Nannie met and married retired businessman Richard L. Morton of Emporia, Kansas. Within months, Richard was dead.
In June 1953, Nannie married Samuel Doss of Tulsa. In September, Samuel was admitted to the hospital and would soon die.
This time, authorities were suspicious. After an investigation, Nannie was arrested. Nannie confessed to killing four of her husbands, her mother, her sister Dovie, her grandson Robert and Arlie Lanning’s mother, but she was taken to trial only in the death of Samuel Doss. Nannie pleaded guilty on May 17, 1955, and was sentenced to life in prison.
She died of leukemia in the hospital ward of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in 1965.