Sweet, funny, loud, always giggling, happy. A serial killer can never be that, right? They’re always sad, depressed, and mad because of the actions they undertake. Well if you have heard of Nancy Hazle, otherwise known for many nicknames like “Giggling Granny” or “Jolly Black Widow”, then you can say there is such a thing as a happy serial killer. History knows her by Nannie Doss which is the most common name she has. Nannie Doss was an American serial killer who was responsible for the deaths of at least eight people between the years of 1920 and 1954. She even chopped limbs off from her own family tree! Despite her actions, she must have had a reason behind all this chaos, correct? This causal analysis explains Nannie’s life growing up, her crimes, and causes to why she may have killed these certain people.
Nannie Doss was born in 1905 in Alabama to James and Louisa Hazel. She was one of five children with three sisters and one brother. The article titled “Serial Killers” by writer and editor Charlotte Greig informs us that Nannie Doss had a tough childhood. Nannies parents were poor farmers from a tiny town in Alabama. As a young girl her parents prioritized farm labor over schooling, and would be beaten up by the father if they failed to keep up with his demanding pace of work. Furthermore around seven years old she suffered a traumatic head injury that plagued her for life and, she said, eventually contributed to her murderous impulses. Some believe that the cause of her murderous commitment was from the head injury, while others counterclaim that she was just bad from the start. Nanny also believed that reading romantic novels while her father prohibited his daughters from attending social events and not dating boys lead her to not knowing what to do in romantic situations (2017). Due to her blame for not having enough experiences to learn from (romantic situations) and from a traumatic head injury leads to Monter Thesis #1: The Monster Body is a Cultural Body. The monster signifies something other than itself; Nanny blames events that happened in her past life. A monster plays on the culture’s “fears, anxieties, fantasies”; Nanny believes having strict parents lead her to fantasies and dreams of having a perfect mate while disregarding the arguments and maintenance that can happen with a significant other.
She loved reading those romance novels and the trait lead her to getting married at the age of sixteen. Charles Braggs married Nannie Doss after a couple months of knowing her as co-workers, and eventually had four kids by 1927. According to the article “The Giggling Granny” by author Pam Jones, Charles later recalls: “Nannie was a pretty girl and lots of fun. Our marriage started off pretty well, but after a couple of years she started going off” (2007). Now you are curious right? At some point in the marriage, both parties began to escape their demons through drinking binges and extramarital affairs. Senseless behavior started to happen. The year Charles and Nannies youngest child was born, the two middle daughter unexpectedly died of “suspecting food poisoning.” Although both deaths were ruled accidental at the time, family members and law enforcements officials now believe these killings were the beginning of Nannies decades-long killing spree. Charles packed up his oldest daughter and left leaving the youngest behind. Nannies first marriage therefore ended with divorce (2007). Lucky Charles. Her next four marriages end with death by unnatural causes.
Just a year after her divorce, Nanny married her second husband. He was an abusive alcoholic from Jacksonville named Frank Harrelson. The two met through a lonely hearts column. Despite the abuse, the marriage lasted 16 years until 1945. During this period, Nanny likely killed her own newborn granddaughter a few days after the birth by using a hairpin to stab her in the brain. A few months after the granddaughter’s death, her two-year-old grandson, Robert, died of asphyxiation while in Nannies care. These two kids belonged to Melvina, Nannies oldest child. Frank was next on the murderer’s list. Following a night of drunken revelry at the end of World War II, Nanny mixed a secret ingredient into his hidden jar of moonshine. He was dead less than a week later on Sept. 15, 1945. People assumed he died of food poisoning. Meanwhile, Nannie collected enough life insurance money from Frank’s death to buy a plot of land and a house in Lexington, North Carolina (2017).
Far from being deterred in her never-ending search for love, Nannie met her third hubby Arlie Lanning through a Lonely Hearts club while travelling to Lexington. She married him three days later after meeting him. The marriage was rife with trouble – like Frank, Arlie was an alcoholic and a womanizer. But, the neighborhood saw Nannie as a doting wife. He died of what was presumed to be a heart failure, but it was obviously taken under Nannies care. Nannie’s fourth husband was a very short-lived affair. She found Richard L. Morton in a dating service. While still married to Richard, Nannies mother needed a caretaker after she broke her hip in 1953 after her father passed away. The woman died suddenly and without warning a few months after Nannie agreed to taking care of her. Shortly after her mother’s death, one of Nannies sisters died suddenly after having contact with the Nannie Doss. Richard, as well as Nannies other family members, died to an unknown illness. Nannie had promptly poisoned him to death (2017).
Nannies final victim was Samuel Doss who was neither drunk or abusive. He simply made the mistake of telling Nanny she could only read magazines or watch television shows that were for educational purposes. She then laced a prune cake with poison causing Samuel to spend a month recovering in the hospital. A few days after he got home, poison-laced coffee finished him off.
“My late husband sure did like prunes. I fixed a whole box and he ate them all.” -Nannie Doss (Schechter 2003)
After all these people passing away whom was in Nannie Doss life, you would have thought she would be caught in some way? The final murder ended up revealing her for what she was. Driven by greed, she killed Samuel on the very day he had come back home so she could collect the two insurance policies she had taken in his name. The doctor, who treated Samuel, was alerted by his sudden death. Nannie was arrested immediately. Under interrogation, and after she was told that she could keep a romance magazine, Nannie confessed to killing eight people: her four husbands Charles, Frank, Arile, Richard, and Samuel as well as her mother, sister, grandson, and mother-in-law but denied any involvement with the deaths of her two daughters and granddaughter. After she pleaded guilty on May 17, 1955, she was sentenced to life imprisonment. Nannie earned her nickname, “Giggling Granny”, because of her smiling and giggling as she discussed her crimes with the authorities (2007).
The question that goes into almost everybody’s head is: ‘Why did this happen? Why does it happen? And why will it happen?’ There is always a cause to an effect, looking at her past will show you reasons to why Nannie might have killed all these people. It’s never right to kill people of course, unless you are a monster. To look at the factors, there could be reasons to what made her do such harm like; her brain injury when she was young made her go crazy, strict parenting and being prohibited from social events, and having so much expectations from romantic novels. “Even when we know exactly what crimes a serial killer has committed, a mystery still remains. The mystery of why any human being should brutally kill at random in a compelling way. While we will be able to put the puzzle pieces together of a particular series of crimes, the existence of human evil in the form of the serial killer remains a difficult problem that we can never truly understand” (Hale, 35).
Cohen, Jeffrey. Monster Theory. 1996. Biography.
This book has sources to use a grading scale and rate the sources using the Monster Thesis. Looking up Jeffrey Cohen, he is a journalist, free lance reporter, writer, and loves writing screen plays. I used this for one of my sources because it allowed me to include a theory inside the paper. And also to identify that the murder is an actual monster.
Greig, Charlotte. Serial Killers. Arcturus Publishing, 2017.
This book describes different murders, mostly the most famous, and their motives. Charlotte Greig graduated with an MA Intellectual History from Sussex University, and started freelancing as a writer and editor for a variety of magazines, newspapers, and books. I’m using information from this book to inform Nannies past life.
Hale, Robert, and Anthony Bolin. “The female serial killer.” Contemporary perspectives on serial murder (1998): 33-58.
This book tells the different perceptions of serial killers and how any gender can be one. It also has a chapter of going over just women serial killers. Robert Hale has written many different books on cultures, crimes, ethnicities, etc. I’m using a quote from his book and using it at the end of my essay.
Jones, Pam. “THE GIGGLING GRANNY.” Alabama Heritage 83 (2007): 52.
This article is a one page description about Nannies life, brought down into smaller details for a quick reasoning. The writer Pam Jones studied creative writing at Hampshire College and is a author of two books. I’m using this article to mostly describe her crimes.
Schechter, Harold. The serial killer files: The who, what, where, how, and why of the world’s most terrifying murderers. Ballantine Books, 2003.
This book also shows the different murders with their own life/stories. It mostly has quotes for what the murders have said before. Harold Schechter is an American true crime writer who specializes in serial killers. He has a variety of best selling books published as well. I am using this book to show the quotes Nannie has said.