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A True Crime Story: Nannie Doss

Hello, fellow crime junkie. Sit back and enjoy this chilling story of Nannie Doss, one of America’s few female serial killers. 

We all know relationships are difficult and sometimes they just don’t work out. Nannie Doss knew this better than anyone. 

Nannie’s story begins in Blue Mountain, Alabama. Nannie’s controlling father made it difficult for her to form friendships. He controlled her clothes, hair, makeup, schooling, and social interactions. This seclusion led her to leaving leave school after only finishing the 6th grade. In her late teenage years, she was finally permitted to get a job at a local clothing factory. There, she met her first husband, Charley Braggs. Together, they had four children. 

This is where Nannie’s story takes a turn for the worst, which is definitely why you clicked on this article. Nannie and Charley’s two middle children unexpectedly died of food poisoning (hmm…). Charley was especially suspicious of Nannie’s involvement in their deaths, which led him to flee with their oldest child. Months later, the couple divorced, a great idea on Charley’s part. 

Nannie quickly decided she needed to get back into the dating scene. She began writing men in the lonely hearts section of her favorite romance magazines. This was how she met Robert Harrelson. They quickly married and remained married for 16 years. After a drunken night out with his friends, Robert met his unfortunate fate. On September 15, 1945 Nannie fed her husband rat poison in his corn whiskey. Nannie made sure to pick up the life insurance check from Harrelson’s death. 

Brace yourself, this story takes an even darker turn next. Nannie’s oldest daughter, Melvina,  had two children. Melvina’s daughter died unexpectedly as an infant. Melvina claims she saw her mother stick a hatpin in the baby’s head. Shortly after, Melvina’s son died of asphyxia. Nannie collected $500 from a life insurance policy that she had taken out on the boy. Seeing a pattern yet?

Nannie managed to charm a third man, Arlie Lanning, into marrying her. Lanning died of a “heart attack” which was brought on by the flu. The week of his death, he had symptoms of fever, vomiting, and body pains. I’m going to guess he probably didn’t have the flu. Lanning’s will said that his sister would receive his house, but his house mysteriously burned down before she could move in. Don’t worry, she collected the insurance money on the house too. 

To avoid Lanning’s family, Nannie ran to visit her sister. While visiting, Nannie’s sister mysteriously died as well. 

Nannie went on to marry another man, Richard Morton (I guess she was a serial monogamist as well). Later, her mother-in-law came to visit. While in Nannie’s care, her mother-in-law died unexpectedly. Three months later, her husband met the same fate. 

Despite her terrible dating record, she found a fifth husband, Sam Doss. Sam was a good family man and treated Nannie with respect. Despite all his efforts, Sam was not enough for her. Nannie took out two life insurance policies on her fifth husband before she fed him arsenic. Doss’s doctor presumed foul play, which led to an autopsy. After determining the cause of death, the police immediately suspected Nannie. 

Nannie confessed to killing four of her husbands, her sister, grandson, and mother-in-law. She was given a life sentence in 1955, but died of leukemia after only serving eight years. Many believe Nannie Doss killed up to eleven people. 

As you can see, Nannie would understand our complaints about dating. She wasn’t too great at it either. If your relationship just is not working out, maybe send a break-up text to your boo instead of using Nannie’s method. 

Sarah Briere

Furman '22

Sarah Briere is a junior at Furman studying Psychology. In addition to being a writer for HerCampus, she is the Merchandise Chair for Alpha Delta Pi sorority. In her free time, she enjoys painting, doing makeup, and dancing. After college, she hopes to help women be the best version of themselves as a Clinical Psychologist.
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