Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nannie Doss: Lonely Hearts Lady Loved Her Man to Death


The morning after the confessions, Page and other detectives from Tulsa fanned out to Kansas, North Carolina and Alabama to take part in the exhumations of her husbands, her mother, her sister Dovie, her nephew Robert and her mother-in-law, Arlie Lanning's mother. Arsenic traces were heavy in every one of the deceased spouses and in her mother. Bodies of the other family members, while not indicating toxic substance, all appeared to have perished by asphyxia. Strong suspicion animated that they were probably smothered in their sleep.

"The Giggling Granny" outside court with daughter Florine and grandkids
"The Giggling Granny" outside court with daughter Florine and grandkids

Several days after Nannie's arrest, a man by the name of John Keel stepped forth from North Carolina, looking very relieved. He was a dairy farmer who had been corresponding with Nannie after finding her ad in a lonely heart's column. She had told him she was a widow and yearning for a good man with whom to settle; she sent him a homemade cake. And that was why Keel was relieved it hadn't been his favorite, apple and prune. Or else, he might, keeled over, too.

First husband Charley Braggs, the "husband who got away," as Nannie's family historian Sherby Green calls him, was prime reporter material. As the laboratory findings from Nannie's corpses came in, newspapermen swarmed upon Braggs for his take on the case. His opinions and recollections of his ex-wife provided excellent, sometimes even witty, material for column upon column.

"She was always running off with one man or another, never home, and was about town more than me!" he exclaimed when one reporter asked him if it was true that their marriage had been adulterous. "And anyway, to tell you the truth, I was glad when she was off. It got to a point I was afraid to eat anything she cooked...I smelled a rat!"

He had asked that the bodies of his two daughters be disinterred along with the others that the papers had listed as being suspect. But, the government had obviously figured that they had enough on Mrs. Doss to send her away for a long, long time.

The state of Oklahoma, deciding the case, centered its allegations on the death of Doss only, who died in Tulsa. The states where the litter of victims were uncovered still wanted her for the respective deaths within their jurisdiction. She was never tried outside Oklahoma, however.

When newshounds finally caught up with Nannie after her indictment, they asked her what she thought should be done with her for poisoning Doss. Her answer came in the form of her familiar jocularity. Grinning into their flashbulbs, she replied, "Why, anything. Anything they care to do is all right by me."

After a quartet of psychiatrists diagnosed her mentally sane, her trial date was set for June 2, 1955, in the Criminal Court of Tulsa, Oklahoma. But, on May 17, she decided to forget the rigmarole and, simply because her lawyers did not know how else to advise, she pleaded guilty.

After a brief hearing, Judge Elmer Adams sentenced her to life imprisonment, barring the electric chair because of her sex. According to Sherby Williams, Nannie spent the rest of her days "in the Oklahoma State penitentiary, still dreaming of eternal love".

Nannie Doss died of leukemia in the prison's hospital ward in 1965. Her hopes by that time were as rusty as the armor of the knights she had known.

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