Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! This week we’re looking at a woman known for murdering her husbands, a woman who earned the nickname the “Giggling Granny.”
Nannie Doss’s first marriage happened in 1921 when she was just sixteen. Her father approved a marriage to Charley Braggs after a brief acquaintance. Doss and Braggs moved in with his abusive mother and went on to have four children between 1921-1927. In 1927, the marriage fell apart. Two of their children mysteriously died shortly after that. The couple divorced in 1928.
The second marriage, and start of her killing spree (depending on what you think happened to the children), happened a year after the divorce. Doss met Frank Harrelson through a Lonely Hearts column. The marriage was troubled, but it lasted until 1945.
In 1945, two of her grandchildren died in her care, mysteriously like her children years before. Sometime after this Harrelson sexually assaulted Doss and she decided that was enough of that. She mixed something into his drink and he died within a week. Doss collected life insurance. The death was said to be the result of food poisoning… until later.
Her sister would die after Doss visited in 1950. Her third husband’s mother would die the same year, and her husband, Arlie Lanning would die two years later. Her mother went to live with her and her fourth husband, Richard Morton, and would die soon after moving in. Morton would die in 1953.
Shortly after Morton’s death, she met and married Samuel Doss. In 1954, Mr. Doss went to the hospital with an illness courtesy of his wife’s poisoned prune cake. He spent several weeks recovering in the hospital, and when he went home, Mrs. Doss poisoned his coffee. She had two life insurance policies on Samuel Doss and collected both.
After Doss’s death, something didn’t sit right with his doctor. He talked to Nannie Doss about performing an autopsy. She agreed. He found a large amount of arsenic in Samuel Doss’s system. Previous victims were later exhumed and found to have arsenic or rat poison in their systems or else there was evidence of suffocation.
After she was arrested, Nannie Doss confessed to killing four of her husbands. There are conflicting reports regarding the deaths of her family members. Some sources say she denied killing them, other sources say she confessed. Journalists gave Doss the nickname the “Giggling Granny” because she would often start to laugh when she spoke of her husbands’ deaths. It seems the insurance money was not the only reason for killing her husbands. When asked, she said she was always looking for her true love, like the kind she read about.
Whether it was for the insurance money or in pursuit of romance, Nannie Doss killed eleven people before she was caught. She was sentenced to life in prison in 1955 after a guilty plea, and that’s where she stayed until her death in 1964.
What case will we look at next week? As always, there’s one way to find out!