The Sweet Old Granny Who Became a Serial Killer

Behind her giggling and sweet-looking facade lay true evil

Anita Durairaj
Jan 21 · 5 min read
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Image Source: The Sun

Nannie Doss would giggle whenever she was interviewed by the police about the murders of her husbands and family members. She came to be known as the Giggling Granny serial killer.

She had been married 5 times but 4 of her husbands had died under mysterious circumstances. Doss also killed her new-born granddaughter by using a hairpin to stab her in the brain. Her 2-year old grandson also died under her care.

Doss may have murdered up to 12 people and most of them were her own blood relatives.

What drove a sweet-looking and giggling granny to murder?

An Abusive Childhood

Nannie Doss was born in 1905 in a small town in Alabama. She was one of 5 children belonging to Jim and Louisa Hazle.

According to some reports, Jim Hazle was not her biological father. Hazle mistreated Doss, kept her away from school, and made her perform hard and demanding chores in their farm. Most of Doss’s childhood was spent avoiding the wrath of her father.

At the age of 7, Doss claimed that she suffered a head injury on a train. The train that she was riding suddenly slowed causing her to hit her head on the metal seat in front. This left her with a concussion and according to Doss, this could explain why she resorted to murder later in life.

After completing 6th grade, Doss left school for good but she still suffered from a restrictive and abusive homelife. As she grew older, her father would not even allow her to wear makeup or dressy clothes.

Her mother tried to be loving and introduced Doss to romance magazines. The magazines were a form of escape for Doss and very soon she became addicted to the glamor, romance, and lifestyle highlighted in the pages.

As a young woman, Doss worked in a linen factory. While working at the factory, she met Charley Braggs. They began dating and got married after 5 months. Doss moved in with Braggs and his mother. That was when the murders started.

The Murders

Doss’s first marriage was oppressive. Her mother-in-law was cruel and controlling. Her husband was also a drunk who was abusive and adulterous. In retaliation, Doss resorted to similar behavior as her husband. She started drinking and having adulterous affairs.

Although the marriage was problematic, Doss ended up having 4 children. However, 2 of the children died from suspected poisoning. Braggs believed that it was Doss who had poisoned them.

Eventually, Braggs and Doss divorced in 1928. He was the only husband that Doss did not end up killing.

Two years after her divorce, Doss married her second husband Frank Harrelson. It was during this time that Doss murdered her newborn granddaughter and 2 year old grandson. She collected the life insurance policy that she had taken out on her grandson but no one suspected anything.

The marriage between Harrelson and Doss lasted 16 years. Harrelson was an alcoholic with a criminal past and during a party in 1945, Harrelson assaulted Doss.

This was the last straw for Doss. She poisoned him.

“I put rat poison in his rotgut whiskey. “— Nannie Doss

Arlie J. Lanning was Doss’s third husband. She met him through a singles ad in a newspaper. Like her previous 2 husbands, he was also an alcoholic and a womanizer. He died by a mysterious heart attack which may have been brought about by poisoning.

Doss’s fourth husband was Richard L. Morton. They met via a ‘lonely hearts club’ ad. Morton wasn’t an alcoholic but he did love the ladies.

Doss decided to poison him after she found out that he was seeing an old girlfriend. Doss is also believed to have murdered her own mother who moved in with Doss and her fourth husband during this time.

Doss’s fifth and final husband was Samuel Doss. Out of all of Doss’s husbands, Samuel was a actually a good and decent man who was church going.

However, he was frugal and boring and restricted Doss from reading her romance novels or watching love stories on TV.

The restrictions were too much for Doss and she mixed arsenic into a prune cake and a cup of coffee for him to drink. He then succumbed to his fate.

Meanwhile, Doss was ready to move on to her next victim. Potential husband number six was a diary farmer. She had already started baking cakes for him.

Investigation and Arrest

Doss’s fifth husband, Samuel, was her undoing. His death led to an investigation. Doctors were confused by the sudden death and ordered an autopsy.

The autopsy confirmed the presence of arsenic in his body. They alerted the police who arrested Doss. During the investigation, Doss confirmed to the police that she killed 4 of her husbands.

The authorities exhumed Doss’s previous victims and found that they had all consumed large amounts of arsenic or rat poison. Doss loved to cook and serve drinks to her husbands and family members so poisoning was an easy way for her to murder them.

Despite being dubbed the Giggling Granny serial killer, Doss loved the limelight. She found her life story to be humorous and recounted the murders of her husbands with a laugh.

In addition to her 4 husbands, Doss also confessed to killing her mother, sister, grandson, and one of her mother-in-laws. She never admitted to killing the rest of her victims.

Doss pleaded guilty to murder on June 2, 1955. She was sentenced to life in prison. Although the death penalty was considered, the judge did not want to set a precedent by executing a woman who was declared insane.

Even in prison, Doss retained a cheerful disposition and almost seemed thrilled to spend life behind bars. In prison, she was a model inmate but never allowed to cook food in the kitchen.

Doss spent 8 years in prison and died of leukemia in 1963 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. She remains known as the notorious Giggling Granny serial killer.

Sources: Tulsa World, Encyclopedia of Alabama, Thoughtco., Film Daily, Wikipedia


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Anita Durairaj

Written by

I enjoy writing about books, reading, and literature. I am also a scientist who knows what it’s like to tinker in the lab.



A true crime publication, giving voices to those who no longer have theirs.

Anita Durairaj

Written by

I enjoy writing about books, reading, and literature. I am also a scientist who knows what it’s like to tinker in the lab.



A true crime publication, giving voices to those who no longer have theirs.

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