How Serial Killer Nannie Doss Was Finally Caught

Nannie Doss, who is commonly referred to as “The Giggling Granny” or “The Jolly Widow,” is suspected of killing at least 10 people between 1924 and 1954. As reported by Alabama Heritage, Doss eventually admitted poisoning four of her husbands. However, she is also suspected in the deaths of two of her daughters, two of her grandchildren, her sister, and her mother, who all died under unusual circumstances. Autopsies confirmed Doss’ mother and four husbands were all killed by poisoning, but authorities did not suspect “The Giggling Granny” until a physician questioned the death of her last husband, Samuel Doss.

Alabama Heritage reports Samuel and Nannie Doss separated early in their marriage amid disputes about Nannie’s hobbies and her spending habits. Although the couple eventually reunited, Samuel became gravely ill after eating prunes which was prepared by his wife. He was subsequently hospitalized for several weeks. Samuel was unaware what caused his illness, and willingly returned home with his wife. Unfortunately, his “welcome home” dinner included a cup of coffee which was heavily laced with arsenic. Within hours of consuming his meal, Samuel Doss was dead.

The attending physician, who also treated Samuel during his hospitalization, was immediately suspicious that his patient’s death was caused by poisoning. As reported by Alabama Heritage, an autopsy confirmed Samuel Doss was killed by the arsenic in his coffee. Nannie Doss was promptly arrested and charged with murder.

What really happened to Nannie Doss' family?

Following her arrest, Nannie Doss initially denied any involvement in Samuel’s death. However, as reported by Alabama Heritage, she eventually admitted she poisoned her husband because he refused to let her watch her favorite television program. She later confessed to killing her second husband, Frank Harrelson; her third, husband Arlie J. Lanning; and her fourth husband, Richard L. Morton Sr. Although Nannie Doss admitted killing her husbands, she vehemently denied killing her daughters, grandchildren, mother, and sister.

Authorities exhumed the bodies of eight of Nannie Doss’ supposed victims and confirmed all four of her husbands, and her mother, died of arsenic poisoning. The others had not been poisoned; they had been smothered.

It is unclear what prompted Nannie Doss to kill members of her family, but authorities believe it may have had something to do with money. Tulsa World reports Nannie Doss collected more than $7,000 in life insurance following the deaths of her daughters and four husbands. Doss’ friends and family said “she seemed to enjoy” planning funerals and writing death announcements and eulogies. According to some reports, Nannie Doss hired photographers to attend the funerals of her victims and take her picture with the attendees.

Nannie Doss was ultimately charged with murder in Alabama, Kansas, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. However, as reported by Encyclopedia of Alabama, she was only tried in Oklahoma. Doss was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was converted to life in prison when another judge declared her insane. She died of leukemia 10 years into her sentence.

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