Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nannie Doss: Lonely Hearts Lady Loved Her Man to Death


Nannie, however, did manage to sneak away here and there and learned that if the hayloft or the corncrib was the only place to please the boys, and get a little loving herself away from James Hazle's eyes, then where was the harm? The boys liked her; her hair was dark, her eyes were dark, and her giggle was bright. Plus, she was easy. Lou might have known of her daughter's escapades, but kept quiet. Her reconciliation may have been that if Nannie "came with child" then at least she would be able to do something that the mama herself was unable to do: get away from the dictator.

Evidently, Squire Hazle approved of young Charley Braggs, Nannie's attentive co-worker at Linen Thread Company where she went to work in 1921. Tall, handsome, curly-haired, he hung on 16-year-old Nannie's shadow and doted. The elder Hazle noted that, unlike the other boys in Blue Mountain who idled their time in cafes and at parties, playing those crazy, jazzy records coming out of New York, Charley's main preoccupation even above Nannie was his mother. His paycheck supported her and he treated the old lady like the Queen of Alabama. That was good, estimated James Hazle; good old-fashioned respect for his elders, something his own daughters could learn.

Braggs was "in like Flynn," and within four months after bringing the boy home for supper one casual day, Nannie found herself walking down the aisle on her way to marital bliss. Whether she wanted it or not.

Years later, Nannie wrote, "I married, as my father wished, in 1921 to a boy I only knowed about four or five months who had no family, only a mother who was unwed and who had taken over my life completely when we were married. She never seen anything wrong with what he done, but she would take spells. She would not let my own mother stay all night..."

Rephrased, Nannie hadn't lost a demanding poppa; she gained a mother-in-law of identical cloth. If Nannie wanted to dine out and Mrs. Braggs didn't, the latter would contract a dizzy spell or a stomach cramp until her son was forced to relent; they stayed in. If Nannie wanted to attend the picture show at the Bijou and Mrs. Braggs didn't, the symptoms would return; and they'd spend the evening at home playing Mah-Jongg at the kitchen table.

The Braggses had four daughters within a four-year period, the first, Melvina, in 1923, and the last, Florine, in 1927. Pressures from raising babies, pleasing Mother Braggs and cooking for a ravenous husband mounted she began to partake of the family's liquor closet and what had been a casual smoking habit escalated to chronic. Eventually these built-up tensions exploded within her. Her only recourse was to cry onto the shoulders of strangers.

Between her pregnancies she found time to seek coventry in Blue Mountain's assorted gin mills where drunken men pawed at her and drooled over her and made her feel that she was still attractive.

Her indiscretions were fairly easy to pull off because she chose to effect them when Braggs himself was inebriated and cozy in the arms of another woman or two on the outskirts of town. He would disappear for days, she later testified, forgetting to remind herself that she looked forward to his binges. And hers.

The marriage was down and up, mostly down, flat on its back. Having both found sexual satisfaction in others, even the marriage bed, the one factor that might have kept them together, albeit carnally, faded. Their sexual AWOLs increased and if the couple happened to be together once a week say, at the dinner table it was quite by accident.

Early in 1927, the Braggses lost their two middle daughters, both, says Terry Manners in Deadlier Than the Male, to "suspected food poisoning." Each child seemed fine at breakfast, but had died by lunchtime. Although the local medics called their deaths accidental, Charley Braggs wasn't convinced. He evidently had seen something [wrong] in Nannie's coal eyes, up close. He soon bolted, taking his oldest daughter Melvina, his pet, with him. He left newborn Florine behind.

Of the two deceased children, although there is no proof, there is little doubt that their mother consciously slew them. Overwhelmed and unable to cope with the responsibilities of her situation, with her own reality, Nannie simply and cold-heartedly trashed those two extra mouths to feed. To her, it was a matter of deadly economics.

According to family historian Sherby Green, "Braggs has gone on record to state that he was frightened of his wife, as was his mother and the rest of his family. He never drank or ate anything that she prepared when in a foul mood. Those at the time who knew her less intimately than Charley might have laughed at his suspicions, for she always appeared domestic and happy. She ceremoniously outlined every meal, complete with coffee for Charley and milk for the kids."

When hubby left this time with Melvina it wasn't for his usual three or four days; this time he disappeared for months. His mother had died in the meantime, a natural death, and he remained apart from something he was afraid of. Not knowing where he had gone nor if he would ever return, Nannie was forced to take a job at the nearest cotton mill to support herself and Florine.

Charley finally reappeared in Blue Mountain in late summer 1928, a year after he had departed. He brought back with him more than himself and Melvina he also came arm in arm with another woman, a divorcee, and her own child. Few words were spoken between the awkward adults and Nannie took the hint. She packed her personal belongings, dressed her two daughters, and left, cursing Charley, cursing Charley's girlfriend, cursing her own bad fortune. Cursing...cursing...cursing.

"Charley is known as 'the husband who got away,'" Sherby reports. "Husbands number two, three, four and five wouldn't see the handwriting on the wall that he had seen. They died horrible deaths."

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