Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nannie Doss: Lonely Hearts Lady Loved Her Man to Death

Choosing to Kill

Nannie in her prime
Nannie in her prime

For most of her life, Nancy Hazle later to be called Nannie -- loved two things: romance magazines and prunes. An odd combination indeed, but, oh, so necessary in sustaining herself day to day; that is, to keep her fresh as a daisy despite the reality of the world's disappointments. Romance or at least the conception of it -- provided her with an escape into a reverie of delightful images of knights in shining armor carrying her off to wonderland.

Prunes, known for their medicinal power of natural elimination, helped her carry out another type of elimination: one husband after another.

When arrested, she chuckled. And she continued to chuckle through the ensuing police interrogation, even as she named the men she killed, prune-fed and unsuspecting. The press dubbed her "The Giggling Granny" and "The Jolly Widow." Whether because of embarrassment or to cover a mean streak that burned rabid inside a side she wouldn't allow herself to emanate for all to see she never quite showed remorse, repentance nor, for that matter, a real understanding of her crimes. She went to prison for life, giggling.

Nannie Doss got around. She was found to have killed four husbands one in Alabama, one in North Carolina, one in Kansas and one in Oklahoma the last one, Samuel Doss, for whose murder she was eventually tried and convicted. And there are other purported victims as well. Nannie is also alleged to have killed her mother, two of her four daughters, a mother-in-law and other family members, either by her favorite form of homicide, prunes salted with rat arsenic, or through one or another spontaneous means of annihilation.

The Crime Library hails its fortune to have been able to interview Sherby Green, a direct relative of Nannie whose search for her family genealogy brought her to studying Mrs. Doss over the last ten years.

"My great grandmother and Nannie's mother were sisters. That makes me a cousin twice removed. My family doesn't like to talk about Nannie; she's the bloodline black sheep," Sherby confides, "the skeleton in our closet."

Nonetheless, Sherby has found her cousin fascinating in a macabre way: "Nannie lived, she committed atrocities. Good or bad, she's become folkloric here," alluding to the northeastern corner of Alabama where she and Nannie grew up. "In Blue Mountain, where Nannie was born, she's a legend."

Nannie, however, legend and color aside, was a killer. "She killed because she liked it," attests The A-Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Harold Schechter and Everitt David.

And it is a testimony to which Sherby, despite her familial ties, agrees. "Each of us determines our fate or destiny, as well as what type of life we live. No one put a gun to her head or twisted her arm to make her commit such cold, heartless crimes. They were her decision."

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