From lonely hearts, she found husbands to kill.
September 29, 2014
“COME ON, ELLIS.” Langston welcomed his friend into the den.
“I can’t let you have this forever, it’s my prize lure, but I thought I would let you look at it or take a picture of it and maybe you can find another somewhere—but they are very rare.” Langston explained.
“Great!” Langston took the remarkable fishing lure from his friend’s hand and set it on a piece of dark fabric to photograph. “Yes. I will just snap some pictures of it from all angles and if I can’t find another after some research, I may attempt to make one,” he said.
“Make one? I hadn’t thought of that, but it would probably work,” Ellis replied. “Say what’s this?” Ellis’ eyes had found their way to Langston’s card table. “Who are these weird people, anyway? Not relatives, I hope.”
“That’s my rogues’ gallery. I am printing off pictures of creepy people. I am making a study of their facial characteristics for a paper I am writing,” Langston answered.”
Ellis laughed. “Only you would come up with that. They are all bizarre but this one here is really bothering me.” Ellis picked up the computer print. “She is almost too happy—very creepy.”
“She is known as The Giggling Granny. Yes, she seems not quite right, in her giddiness. People who are sympathetic to her plight said it was because of a brain injury. Well, she did have a brain injury, and pitiful early life circumstances, but surely it could not entirely excuse her crimes. Everyone who has a sad, sad existence does not have a blank check to be evil, in my opinion,” Langston concluded.
“Her crimes? What did she do?” Ellis asked.
“Nannie Doss, Nancy Hazel was her birth name, was born in 1905. She was a poisoner. Arsenic was her poison and she often collected on insurance policies. She was born in Alabama. Her father was mean. He wouldn’t let his kids go to school because he put them all to work in some way shape or form. He was a controlling and abusive man with a bad temper. They were all scarred for life. Then, she banged her head violently on some metal during a rough train ride. From then on she had headaches, blackouts and depression. As a young girl she loved romance and was addicted to reading whatever romance magazines she could get her hands on.”
“Who did she kill first?”
“In 1921, at age sixteen, she got married to a Charley Braggs. It was a rocky marriage. They had four daughters and Nannie couldn’t cope. She also had a mother-in-law living in the house that interfered. In 1927 their two middle daughters died of food poisoning. Charley became suspicious and left, taking the oldest daughter, Malvina with him. The Braggs were divorced. Charley’s mother died soon after. Nannie had to get a job in a cotton mill. Soon, the oldest daughter returned to Nannie’s household.”
“Were any of these deaths considered murders?” Ellis asked.
Langston continued. “Not at the time. Besides liking romance, Nannie liked to comb the lonely hearts columns. She soon snagged husband number two, Frank Harrelson. After a short and very romantic courtship, they married in 1929. Malvina, Nannie’s oldest daughter, already had one baby. Shortly after giving birth to her second baby, she saw Nannie standing near the newborn with a hatpin in her hand. Malvina was groggy and did not quite believe her own eyes. Nannie announced to the new mother that the baby was dead. A doctor consulted later could not come to an exact cause for the baby’s death. When Malvina went to visit a relative, her son Robert died while in Nannie’s care. Asphyxia was determined to be the cause of death, but Nannie collected five hundred dollars from a life insurance company.
“Still no one was the wiser?” Ellis asked.
“Apparently not. Harrelson was a big drinker and he had been drinking a lot in 1945. Nannie knew where he kept one of his liquor jars buried. She dug it up and added some rat poison to it. That was all there was of Frank Harrelson. Nannie went back to reading the lonely hearts columns and married husband number three, Arlie Lanning. After a while he died of heart failure and Nannie seemed to have the sympathy of the whole community in North Carolina, where they lived. After the funeral their house burned. Nannie got the insurance money for that. Arlie Lanning’s mother then died in her sleep. Nannie decided to leave the area and went to live with her sister, Dovie. Dovie was bedridden and soon died—not long after Nannie’s arrival.”
“That is quite a few people.”
“It’s not over yet. Nannie roped in husband number four, Richard Morton of Kansas. Nannie’s mother came to live with them. Morton died in 1953, and Nannie’s own mother died three months later. Her fifth husband, Samuel Doss, was of exceptionally good character. Her other husbands had been drinkers and womanizers. He did not approve of some of Nannie’s hobbies. He got very ill and ended up in the hospital. He was treated for a digestive ailment and released. This was not part of the plan. He died the night he was released from additional doses of arsenic. Nannie had taken out large insurance policies on him. The doctor who had treated him earlier in the day got suspicious and ordered an autopsy. When the arsenic was found, Nannie was finally arrested. She confessed to murdering eight people but she is suspected of killing eleven people in all. Oklahoma only tried her for the murder of Samuel Doss and promptly sent her to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for a life sentence.”
“My goodness. It is a big mystery why people do such things, but an even bigger mystery as to why it can go on for so long without detection,” Ellis concluded.
“I have been reading her entire life story for the last few days. It is chilling. And this memory chilled me even more.”
“When I was a lad, oh about eleven or twelve, we made many road trips up through Oklahoma to visit relatives in the north. It was faster to take the turnpike through the state, so we had to travel through McAlester. They have the big prison there and there are signs all along the highway: ‘Don’t pick up hitchhikers.’ The signs go on to explain that the hitchhikers you pick up could be escaped inmates, even murderers.”
“That would scare a boy, for sure—give him nightmares.”
“It gave me plenty of nightmares. I never even stopped to think about it at the time, but there was also a women’s unit. Guess who was there!”
“The Giggling Granny!”
“Yep. She had been incarcerated there for awhile and actually died there of Leukemia in 1965. On the road the trips when we were driving through, less that five hundred
feet away, was the Giggling Granny, an inmate. It makes you wonder what she was like in there before she became terminally ill. Was she the life of the party?”
“It makes you wonder. What are they like when thrown in with others of their circumstances? And I also wonder something else,” Ellis said.
“I wonder if they let her work in the kitchen.”
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