Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nannie Doss: Lonely Hearts Lady Loved Her Man to Death

Young Nannie

Born to poor farming parents in Blue Mountain, a tiny hamlet nestled in the bottomlands of Alabama's northeast hill country, Nancy Hazle's life promised little glamour, meager romance. Glamour did not attract her, but of love; she would spend a lifetime pursuing it. The nearest claim to fame she had, and it was little, was that her Grandma Holder was remotely related to the Lincoln family that produced Honest Abe.

Nancy's mother, Loulisa (Lou) was a caring creature, though deathly afraid of her husband, one hot-tempered James Hazle. "There is some evidence that Nancy was born before Lou married James," says Sherby. "Census records right after Nancy's birth in 1905 show Lou as living alone with a daughter. James appears to have come on the scene later. From where or exactly when he appeared is a mystery."

Nancy's childhood wasn't happy. Nannie Nancy became known by this nickname at an early age wandered aimlessly on an erratic schedule to and from and around school; sometimes she went, other times she didn't. So did a trio of sisters and a brother who came after her. If their father wanted the kids on the farm that morning to help with the fieldwork, the never-ending field work, the entire brood stayed home. After all, James Hazle was the boss and, if rumors are correct, he wouldn't spare the switch on his daughters or his wife to get what he wanted.

"By the age of five, Nannie was made to cut wood, plough the fields and clear the land of weeds and debris," says Terry Manners in his book on Nannie and other serial killers, Deadlier Than the Male. "Ballgames and seeing friends were forbidden." And when Nannie was able to traipse to school, well, that was hard work too, adds Manners. "It was a two-mile walk there and...two miles back."

Of fun, there was none. If the Hazle's lights stayed on late into the evening it was to finish the pots and pans and the sweeping required in their little house, or to mend a shutter or clean out the dustbin. Before the crow of the cock, it was up and out of bed, Old Man Hazle grunting, Into your calicos, and hurry down to the harvest!

In an interview Nannie gave to Life magazine in her later life, she tended to blame her adult problems on a head injury she received when seven years old. She had gone with her family to visit a relative in downstate Alabama; the train ride was the thrill of her young life; she'd never been off the farm, muchtheless on a vacation, to anywhere. But, when the locomotive was forced to make an emergency stop, Nannie jolted forward to slam her head on the iron seat frame in front of her. She suffered "pains and blackouts for months, and headaches the remainder of my life," she asserts.

While some writers with a social bent point to the train accident as the cause of her dementia-to-come, Sherby Green scoffs. Tongue in cheek, she replies, "No, Nannie just had a plain old mean streak. I am addicted to genealogy, and in studying my family I have learned that many of our members carried a fierce pride and a tough, tough, tough reputation. While they didn't take lives, they were nonetheless hard people. I believe Nannie bore that trait, but simply took her bad humor dangerously further."

According to author Manners, "Nannie, who had terrible mood swings, dreamed of love and of finding her own Prince Charming. Her only interest was her mother's romantic magazines and she would sit for hours in her bedroom just looking at the loving couples staring out at her from the pages. As she grew older, her favorite bits were the ads for the lonely hearts clubs."

The early 1900s were the age of romantic frivolity, when every female wanted to look like a Gibson Girl, cherubic and lovely at all angles. Men were the bosses in their high-starched collars and walrus mustaches, but all of society knew that it was the feminine sex who, under coy smile and blossoming fragrance, really ruled the world.

As Nannie entered dating age, she was held back from the ready boys of Calhoun County by a father who saw Nannie and her three sisters as field hands that he wasn't too eager to give up. He forbade them from attending the church socials and the Saturday night hootenannies at Crispin's Tavern or the community hall. Makeup was outlawed, silk stockings were considered sinful, fixed hair hell-bent and form-fitting dresses absolutely slutty. No daughter of his would tempt the male libido! When the time came, he often growled, [he] would pick the husbands for his daughters.

Weekend nights would find the sisters Hazle staring in sorrow at the flickering lights in so and so's barn down the road where a dance was in progress; they were barred from its premises by Papa Hazle, but at least they could watch the glow of the lanterns bouncing in rhythm to the neighborhood mandolins and the stomp only a muffle to their far-off ears of the feet of the rest of Blue Mountain's youths having a hell of a time.

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