Serial Killer Nannie Doss: The Giggling Granny
Nannie Doss was born in 1905, and she was arrested 50 years later. During this time, many critical events took place, including the murder of 11 people. Her decades-long killing spree ending with the death of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss.
Nannie's Early Life
A native of Alabama, Nannie grew up with four siblings in a town near Jacksonville. She wasn’t a happy child. Her father didn’t treat her or her siblings well and made them stay home to work around the house instead of going to school like the other kids in town.
Even as a little girl, Nannie loved her romance magazines, but her father discouraged her dreams by prohibiting any kind of makeup or dressy clothing. In contrast to her later years, she was rarely laughing as a child. Her mother, though kind, could not protect her children from her husband, nor could she keep Nannie from a traumatic injury that may have changed everything.
Nannie was just seven when she was riding a train that came to a sudden and abrupt stop. This caused her to lurch forward and smash her head on a metal seat in front of her. From this time on, she suffered from excruciating headaches. Nannie would later admit that it was this unfortunate chance event that was the root of all of her evil and strange behavior.
Samuel Doss's Death
Imagine you got into a fight with your significant other. Arguments happen, right? And this one hardly seemed serious. It was just over some trashy magazines and how you should both read better, more educational material, as well as be smarter with your finances. Your partner was a bit less than understanding, and after some unexpected raging, just up and vanished . . . Until you made your bank account a joint one and took out two life insurance policies on yourself, listing your spouse as the sole beneficiary. Because after a marital spat that is completely logical and normal.
So, you’re not the brightest, but your heart’s in the right place. After all, you truly love your life partner. And, in time, you believe he or she has forgiven you for that silly argument. You have a real reason to think this, too, as you come home after work one day and a delicious prune cake is just sitting there waiting for you. That’s one of your absolute favorite treats. What’s not to love about simmered prunes mixed with cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar and baked into a moist and flavorful dessert?
Well, after you’d eaten about three large slices and downed a few glasses of milk, you lay down completely stuffed and unusually tired. You take a nap, not expecting to wake up anytime soon. Until you do, approximately half an hour later. Your head is pounding and you can’t think except to run to the bathroom where you have nonstop and explosive diarrhea. Your stomach is absolutely killing you, and what is really weird is that you are also drooling everywhere. You’re still on the toilet when you pass out.
You wake up wearing a hospital gown in a bed at the hospital with a doctor looming over you. He is really eyeballing you and asking you all sorts of questions. “What did you do right before you started feeling sick?” is one he asks more than once. But all you do is groan, as your head is throbbing and you have no desire for small talk. You miss your spouse and are looking around the room. The doctor seems to notice. “Don’t worry, we’re alone,” he tells you. Worry? Why would you be worried? And more importantly, why are you by yourself?
That flu hit you hard, but a month later you’re back on your feet again. You’re glad you are. You’re looking forward to leaving the hospital and making up for lost time with your significant other. Once in your nice, comfortable house, everything is peaceful. You sit down to a homemade dinner of juicy and tender pork roast. You sigh contentedly and wash it down with a large thermos of coffee. You really needed that caffeine. Too bad it was the last thing you would ever drink. Or do, period.
Other than throw up and convulse until you die while your significant other happily laughed in the background. You really didn’t see that one coming. See, there was a secret ingredient in both that cake and that coffee that you weren’t aware of: generous doses of arsenic. Contrary to what you believed, neither was prepared with love, and your multiple apologies were not truly accepted. All you wanted was for him or her to read a good book and to get rid of those trashy magazines. And be a bit careful about money. Turns out what your spouse wanted was for you to be dead and to collect on those two insurance policies.
And this is how Samuel Doss really was killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, the doctor who had cared for him in the hospital didn’t believe he had just succumbed to illness. He had other suspicions. He spoke with Samuel’s wife, Nannie, and asked her if he could examine the body for research purposes. She gave her permission.
It turns out that what he found confirmed the worst. In Samuel’s system was much more than lethal amounts of poison. Then came the police. In exchange for a trashy romance magazine, Nannie admitted to murdering not just Samuel but many others. After all, Samuel was far from her only husband and Nannie considered family in general quite expendable. To make matters worse, as she talked to the police about each of the people she had killed, she smiled and giggled. Was Nannie's behavior all because of her childhood train injury?
Nannie's First Marriage
Long before Nannie met Samuel, she had several other marriages. Nannie met her first husband a little less than a decade after her train injury, while still a teenager. After a few months of courtship, they married and moved in with his unhappy and unpleasant mother. Nannie then had four children. In time, a bitter mother-in-law and a hoard of screaming offspring were more than they could handle.
Life became stressful for the couple, and both were quite over their marriage by—if not before—1927. This was also the time two of their children died not long after eating, though at the time it was thought to be due to food poisoning. Her husband went away with their oldest living child and didn’t return until the following year. If he hadn’t left, he would likely have joined his two deceased children. As it was, they simply divorced and he would be the only man who married Nannie and lived. In fact, by the time their marriage ended, he had already replaced her with another love interest.
Nannie moved in with her parents and took her two still living daughters with her. She found a replacement of her own rather quickly. She connected with her second husband through a romantic ad in a newspaper column and they were married by 1929. Again, it was not a happy union, as Frank could become violently angry and had a drinking problem.
While in these unpleasant circumstances, Nannie allegedly turned on her own grandchildren. She attacked one with a hairpin while just a newborn and suffocated another two-year-old grandchild. In the case of the toddler, she collected a large $500 life insurance policy she just so happened to have taken out on him before he died. However, despite these events, her marriage to Frank lasted.
It wasn’t until 1945 when he came home drunk and became particularly violent that Nannie decided Frank’s time was up. She put poison into a jar of his alcohol and, again, his death was inaccurately attributed to food poisoning.
Marriage to Arlie Lanning
Free once more, Nannie went in search of another victim in the romantic interest section of the local newspaper. Unbelievably, she was successful yet again and found Arlie Lanning of North Carolina. She moved to be with her new love interest, and they were married just two days after they met in person. However, this time she tired of the union rather quickly. Arlie was poisoned to death by 1950. However, many in the area were clueless about her past so no one was suspicious and thought he had died because of a heart problem or a virus. Most were none the wiser, even when the home they shared burned down seemingly randomly.
Did Nannie Also Kill Arlie's Mother?
This was particularly interesting, as her husband’s sister was designated as the one who would inherit it according to Arlie’s will. Instead, Nannie was given a check from their insurance company to cover the damages. Before she left with her spoils, Nannie is suspected of doing one more terrible deed. Arlie’s mother, who they had been living with, also died one night in her sleep. Nannie then moved in with her sister Dovie. Unfortunately, instead of being grateful for a place to stay, Nannie then killed her own sister.
Marriage to Richard Morton
Sources site either a singles club or additional romantic advertising as netting Nannie another husband by 1952. She married her newest groom, the doomed Richard Morton, in Kansas. Things got off to a rocky start as it turned out that Richard had numerous money problems. Then, things got even rockier. Nannie’s father died and so her mother came to live with the couple, which brought its own series of problems. For a while at least, Nannie seemed to care for her like a good daughter. Unfortunately, despite doing the best she could to raise Nannie right, even that didn’t save her mother.
The Mysterious Death of Nannie's Mother
She soon experienced some stomach upset and then passed away, and Morton followed her a few months later. It turns out there was an underlying reason for these crimes that made them happen one right after the other: Nannie discovered that while she had been tending to her sick mother, Richard had been unfaithful to her. It would be an understatement to say that he messed with the wrong person. The very last thing Richard did was drink coffee filled with arsenic.
Nannie's Last Murder
Nannie’s final victim was Samuel Doss, who has already been mentioned in detail. By the time they met, Nannie had years of poisoning experience, so it’s a surprise that her first prune cake attempt missed its mark. The bad news was that she got another shot. Fortunately, his murder was her last one, and upon her arrest, they uncovered large amounts of damaging evidence. Bodies of her victims were exhumed and found to contain alarming amounts of poison. She was found guilty at the end of her trial. However, she was spared the electric chair due to her obvious insanity.
The Giggling Granny's Imprisonment
Nannie continued to act crazy even as she was handed down a sentence of life in prison. As she was known to do at the most inappropriate of times, she giggled and smiled about it. She had done things like this so frequently that by this point she was already known as the Giggling Granny. As cute as the term sounds, in her case, it was extraordinarily creepy.
This glee lessened over time as she began her punishment. After a few years, she decided death may have been the better option for her. However, she continued to find humor in things. In fact, she often joked about her situation. For example, she claimed to be sick and tired of doing laundry at the prison. Furthermore, she couldn’t understand why those in charge prevented her from cooking in the kitchen—She just didn’t know why they wouldn’t want her around the food that was served to everyone.
For better or worse, Nannie didn’t live much longer. It was just 10 years after she had first been jailed that she passed away from leukemia. The good news is that although she may have killed as many as a dozen people, some still got lucky and survived coming into contact with her. But it does make you wonder if all of it could have been prevented if not for that childhood train injury. Perhaps, if that injury had never occurred, several men, women, and children could have died naturally instead of at the hands of the Giggling Granny.