Nannie Doss (1905-1963)

She knew the right man was out there, somewhere. Her knight in shining armor, who would sweep her off her feet and adore her and treat her as the queen she was meant to be. After all, the romance novels and magazines Nannie devoured were full of those types of men. She was determined to find him…

Being an incurable romantic, she had spent her life looking for the perfect man, the one portrayed in those magazines and books….getting rid of those husbands who fell very short of this ideal man, as well as the family members who got in the way. She didn’t care! She just had to find that one special man to take her away to that fairy tale land that she had imagined in her head! He had to be out there somewhere! But she never did find him, and unfortunately, those who didn’t add up to those standards, would have to go…….

When Nancy Hazel Braggs Harrelson Lanning Morton Doss, known to the world as Nannie, the Giggling Grandma, passed away in her jail cell in Tulsa, Oklahoma from Leukemia on June 2, 1965, she died with stacks of romance books and magazines in every corner of her cell, to her proof that the man she had been searching for did exist!

Life in the poor farming community of Blue Mountain Arkansas in the early 1900’s was not an easy life. This was especially true for a young girl born on November 4, 1905, Nancy Hazle. Nancy was the oldest child of 5 children born to James and Loulisa “Lou” Hazle (4 girls and one boy). James was a hard, cruel man who terrorized his family and ruled his house with an abusive iron fist. Lou, who was a gentle woman, was very afraid of her husband and catered to his every word. Despite the hard life, the young girl was soon nicknamed Nannie, because of her sweet disposition.

James treated his children as slaves and made them work the farm at his will, pulling them from school when there was work to be done. The farm was the priority in the Hazle family and school was not, consequently, Nannie only attended school until the 6th grade.

Social activities were not allowed at all, either was makeup or pretty dresses or anything else that would make his daughters look pretty, and they were especially not allowed to have any friendships with boys. James wanted the girls to stay at home as long as possible to work the farm. But evidently Nannie found a way around this by secretly meeting some of the local boys for a roll in the hay! There was also some mention that Nannie had been molested by some of the men around the area, whether this is true or not I do not know.

Nannie began her love of romance magazines and books at an early age. She would pour over her mother’s magazines and dream of the day that her ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ would come and take her away!!

HUSBAND #1 – CHARLEY BRAGG -THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY

In 1921 when Nannie was 15 or 16 her father let her go to work in the local linen factory, the Linen Thread Company. There she met her first husband, Charles Braggs. Nannie was smitten with this tall, handsome man! She was sure that he was the one to make all her dreams come true and best of all, take her away from her controlling father. With her father’s blessing she soon married him after knowing him 5 months. At last she was free from her father’s rule!!

Little did Nannie know that she was trading the chains from her father for the ones from her new mother-in-law. Charley’s mom had never married and Charley doted on her, something that annoyed Nannie. If they wanted to go out and his mom didn’t, she would complain of illness so the couple would have to stay in. Momma Braggs ruled the house and the lives of the young couple.

The marriage was anything but perfect, but the couple had 4 daughters quickly, Melvina, the oldest, was born in 1923, and the youngest, Florine, born in 1927. Charley was known for his drinking binges and he cheated on Nannie all the time, sometimes disappearing for days on end. Poor Nannie, she had been so certain that Charley was her prince! She grew tired of Charley’s absences, and Nannie soon began to drink as well, and would sneak out when Charley was passed out or absent from the home. She would head to the local bars where she would seek much needed comfort from the men she would meet there and began having affairs of her own. What else was she to do??

Soon after the birth of Florine in 1927, tragedy struck the young family, their 2 middle daughters died suddenly, close together. Charley later recounted that on the days the girls died, they appeared fine in the morning when he left, clinging to him to not leave, but were gone by noon. The deaths mystified Charley, but the coroner ruled them as food poisoning, and no investigations were made. A small insurance payment was made to Nannie for each of their deaths.

Charley would later say that he was afraid of Nannie and her mean streak, and often avoided any food she cooked when she was in ‘one of her moods’. His growing suspicion of his wife increased, and fearing for his own life, he soon took his favorite daughter, Melvina, and left town. They returned a year later in 1928, soon after the death of his mother of natural causes. But Charley and Melvina did not return alone, they returned with Charley’s new girlfriend, promptly kicking Nannie out of his mothers’ house.

HUSBAND #2 – FRANK HARRELSON – THE PERFECT MAN!! (??)

But Nannie was determined to find her prince and soon she was sure she found him when she met Mr. Frank Harrelson. Poor Nannie was wrong again.
After being kicked out of the house by Charley, and having no place else to go, Nannie and the children moved back in with her parents. To support herself and her children, Nannie went to work at a cotton mill just outside of Blue Mountain, in Anniston. Always on the look out for her prince, Nanny enjoyed the attention of the men in the mill. However, she was going to make sure she did not repeat her mistake again and marry some local hick like Charley!!! Instead she turned to reading the lonely hearts advertisements, responding to many advertisements, and soon settled on 23 year old Frank Harrelson, who lived in nearby Jacksonville. He sent her a letter full of lovely, flowing verse and sent along his picture. She was smitten!! He reminded her of Clark Gable, with his dimpled cheeks and his wavy hair. She sent a letter back to Frank full of sexual innuendos, as well as her photo, and a cake!! After receiving the letter, Frank hopped into his car and headed to meet this enticing woman!!! He found her so much more alluring in person and asked her to marry him on the spot, she accepted!!! They soon married in 1929.

The first few months were wonderful!! She adored her tall, handsome husband! But Nannie soon realized that he was an alcoholic!! Not only that but she also found out that her husband had been arrested for assault! Nannie soon realized that her prince was not so much of a prince after all!

The marriage lasted for 16 years and during that time Nannie would put up with his drunken fights in town!! Many nights she was woken by the cops at their door, letting her know that Frank was again in jail, and she would angrily trudge down to the jail to bail out her drunken husband. Frank was also abusive, hitting her many times during their marriage, especially during his drunken rages. Poor Nannie!!

By 1945 Florine had seemed to forgive her mom for abandoning her and they had reconnected. Melvina, who had gotten married, was the mother of a young son, Robert Lee and was pregnant with a second child. In February 1945, after a very long and agonizing birth, with Nannie never leaving her side, Melvina gave birth to a baby girl.

What next happened Melvina was never able to decide if it were a nightmare or reality!! While semi-conscious from the medication taken during childbirth, she thought she saw her mother stick a long hat pin into the infants head; the child died within an hour of birth. The doctors were unable to determine why the baby had died.

Unable to shake the ‘dream’ she told her husband and her sister Florine of the nightmare. Both shocked, told Melvina that they had seen Nannie with a hatpin in her hands before the baby had died!!!

Despite her fears, Melvina decided to entrust Nannie to watch her son Robert Lee while she went to visit her dad after an argument with her husband; 3 days later the poor child was dead. Unable to determine a cause of death, the doctor attributed his passing as to asphyxia. Oh did Nannie grieve over his passing, crying hysterically at his funeral; several months later Nannie received an insurance payout of $500 for a policy she had on the little boy.

In September, 1945, after a heavy night of drinking, Frank came home and after Nannie refused him sex, he smashed her against the wall, stating “woman I may not be here next week” After giving in to his demands, she was more determined than ever to get rid of Frank. By the next evening Frank was dead after having drunk from his ‘hidden’ corn liquor jar that Nannie had found and topped off with rat poison!!!

HUSBAND #3 – ARLIE LANNING

Not one to be alone for long, and after collecting Franks insurance, Nannie soon found her next husband in 1947. Figuring it had worked once to snag a husband, Doss returned to the classified ads to find her next true love. It worked and within two days of meeting each other, Doss and Arlie Lanning, a labourer from Lexington, North Carolina, were married. Just like her late husband, Lanning was an alcoholic, but not a violent one. However this time it was Doss who took off for weeks and sometimes months at a time!!

In 1950, after two and a half years of marriage, Lanning became ill and died. At the time it was believed that he died of a heart attack brought on by a flu that was going around. He showed all the symptoms – fever, vomiting, stomach pains. With his history of drinking, doctors believed his body simply succumbed to it and an autopsy was not performed.

Alas, tragedy again struck Nannie when the home she had shared with Arlie, which had been left to Arlie’s sister, and before she had taken over ownership, burned to the ground within 2 months of his death!

With no place else to go, Doss moved in temporarily with her mother-in law, but when she received an insurance check to cover the damages of the burned house she took the check for herself and went to be with her sister Dovie, who was dying of cancer. Before she left however, her mother-in-law died in her sleep…..Not surprisingly, Dovie soon died while in Doss’ care!

HUSBAND #4 – RICHARD L. MORTON

This time around Doss decided instead of searching for a husband through just the classified ads, she would try joining a singles club. She joined the Diamond Circle Club  where she met her fourth husband, Richard L. Morton of Emporia, Kansas.

The two married in October 1952 and made their home in Kansas. Unlike her previous two husbands, Morton was not an alcoholic, but he did turn out to be an adulterous. When Doss learned that her new husband was seeing his old girlfriend on the side, he didn’t have long to live. Besides, she already had her sights on a new man from Kansas named Samuel Doss.

But before she could take care of Richard, her father died and her mother Louisa came for a visit. Within days her mother was dead after complaining of severe stomach cramps. Morton succumbed to the same fate three months later!

HUSBAND #5 – SAMUEL DOSS

After the death of Morton, Nannie moved to Oklahoma and soon became Mrs. Samuel Doss. Sam Doss was unlike other men in Doss’ life; he was not a drunk, womanizer or a wife abuser. He was instead a decent church-going man who fell head over heels for Nannie. Unfortunately Samuel Doss had one major flaw that would be his demise, he was painfully frugal and boring.

Nannie’s 5th husband led a regimented life and expected the same of his new bride. No romance novels or love stories on television were permitted and bedtime was at 9:30 p.m. every night. He also kept tight control over the money and gave very little to his new wife. This didn’t sit right with Nannie, so she returned to Alabama, but soon came back after Samuel agreed to sign her onto the checking account.

With the couple reunited and Doss having access to the money, she acted the role of the caring doting wife. She convinced Samuel to take out two life insurance policies leaving her as the only benefactor. Almost before the ink dried, Samuel was in the hospital complaining of stomach problems. He managed to survive almost two weeks and recovered enough to return home. On his first night home from the hospital Doss served him a nice home cooked meal and hours later Samuel was dead.

Samuel Doss’ doctors were alarmed at his sudden passing and ordered an autopsy. It turned out his organs were full of arsenic and all fingers were pointing at Nannie Doss as the culprit.

NANNIE IS FINALLY CAUGHT!!

Police brought Doss in for questioning and she confessed to killing four of her husbands, her mother, her sister Dovie, her grandson Robert and her mother-in-law, Arlie Lanning’s mother.

Despite being a horrific murderer, Doss seemed to enjoy the limelight of her arrest and often joked about her dead husbands and the method she used to kill them! She was sentenced to life for the murder of Samuel Doss.

On June 2nd, 1963, all her hopes of finally finding the perfect man were gone, she died of leukemia in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in Tulsa, with copies of the true romance novels she loved, in every corner of her cell!

 

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