|“||I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life.||”|
Nannie was born on November 4, 1905 in Blue Mountain (now known as Anniston), Alabama. She was one of five children brought into the world by James and Louisa Hazel. She and her mother despised James, who was a controlling father and husband. He forced his children to work on the family farm instead of attending school, consequently resulting in Nannie's poor academic performance. When she was seven years old, she suffered a head injury while riding a train; for years, she had severe headaches, blackouts, and depression.
During her childhood, Nannie found joy in reading her mother's romance magazines, and she dreamed about having her own romantic future. The lonely hearts column would eventually become her favorite part. James interfered with this fantasy, forbidding her and her sisters from wearing makeup and attractive clothing, as he did not want them to be molested by random men. He also forbade them from going to dances and other social events. Unfortunately, Nannie and her sisters were still molested on several occasions.
When Nannie was a teenager, she married her first husband, Charley Braggs, a co-worker at a linen factory that she worked at. The two had only been dating for four months, but James approved of the marriage. Braggs was the only son of a single mother who wanted to continue living with him. She took up a lot of his attention and limited Nannie's activities.
The couple had four daughters: Gertrude in 1922, Zelmer in 1923, Florine in 1924, and Melvina in 1926. Nannie became stressed and started drinking. Also, her casual smoking habit had become more frequent. She and Braggs cheated on each other, with the latter often disappearing for days.
Killings, Capture, and Incarceration
On August 30, 1927, Zelmer died of food poisoning. On September 25, the same thing happened to Gertrude. Not long after this, Braggs took Melvina and fled, leaving Florine behind. His mother died, and Nannie got a job at a cotton mill. He brought Melvina back in 1928, accompanied by a divorcée with her own child. Nannie and Braggs soon divorced, and she brought Florine and Melvina back to her mother's home. Her ex-husband maintained that he left her out of fear.
In 1929, Nannie met and married her second husband, Frank Harrelson. The two lived in Jacksonville with Florine and Melvina. A few months later, she discovered that her new husband was an alcoholic who had a criminal record for assault. Despite this, their marriage lasted sixteen years. In 1943, Melvina gave birth to Robert Lee Haynes, followed by a daughter in 1945, who died soon afterwards. Melvina remained adamant that she saw Nannie stick a hatpin into the baby's head.
Melvina drifted apart from her husband and started dating a soldier. Nannie did not approve of her daughter's new relationship, and the two ended up fighting with each other. On July 7, 1945, while Melvina was visiting her father, she left Robert alone with her mother. He died under her care; his death was diagnosed as asphyxia due to unknown causes. Two months later, Nannie collected a $500 life insurance that she took out on her grandson.
On September 15, Harrelson came home drunk from celebrating the end of World War II and raped Nannie. The next day, she decided that she was finally fed up with him, so she laced his whiskey with rat poison. He died painfully that evening.
Nannie used the lonely hearts column to find her third husband, Arlie Lanning; they were married three days later. He was an alcoholic womanizer, but it was actually his wife who disappeared, often for months. At some point, she visited one of her sisters, Dovie Weaver, who was bedridden. On June 30, 1950, Nannie's sister mysteriously died. On September 7, Nannie poisoned her husband's mother and made it look as if the latter had merely died in her sleep. Lanning himself died on February 16, 1952; his cause of death was ruled as heart failure. Sometime after his death, Nannie burned down their house and took the insurance money.
After joining a dating service called the Diamond Circle Club, Nannie met her fourth husband, Richard L. Morton. They married that same year. He was not an alcoholic, but he was a womanizer. On January 3, 1953, she murdered her own mother before poisoning Morton, who died on May 19.
About a month after Morton's death, Nannie married her fifth and final husband, Samuel Doss. A devout Christian, he disapproved of the romantic novels and stories that his wife enjoyed so much; however, he actually did care about her. In September 1954, he was admitted to a hospital, displaying flu-like symptoms. This was diagnosed as a severe digestive track infection, and Doss was released from the hospital on October 5, only to suddenly die a few days later. Obviously, his unexpected death was extremely suspicious, and his doctor ordered an autopsy. Inside his system was enough arsenic to have killed a horse. Nannie was promptly arrested.
Nannie confessed that she had indeed murdered her husband, as she was in a rush to collect two life insurance policies she had taken out on him. She also claimed responsibility for killing other people in her family. In total, she had murdered four of her husbands, two of her children, two of her grandchildren, her sister, her mother, and a mother-in-law. On May 17, 1955, Nannie pled guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment; due to her gender, she was spared the death penalty. Strangely enough, she maintained that she was motivated by love rather than money.
Nannie died of leukemia on June 2, 1965.
All of Nannie's victims were her family members. She usually killed them via poisoning, but she also stabbed her granddaughter with a hatpin and asphyxiated her grandson. Starting with Arlie Lanning, she would find single men from lonely hearts advertisements so that she could murder them. The reason why she targeted them and some of her other victims in particular was because she wanted their life insurance.
These dates and locations vary in different sources; as such, it is difficult to figure out the exact chronological order of when Nannie's victims were murdered. These dates and locations are taken from death certificates.
- August 30, Alabama: Zelmer Braggs, 4 (her daughter; poisoned with food poisoning)
- September 25, unspecified location: Gertrude Braggs, 5 (her daughter; poisoned with food poisoning)
- Unspecified date, unspecified location: Melvina's unnamed baby (her granddaughter; stabbed in the head with a hatpin)
- July 7, unspecified location: Robert Lee Haynes, 2 (her grandson; asphyxiated)
- September 16, Jacksonville, Alabama: Robert Franklin "Frank" Harrelson, 39 (her second husband; poisoned with rat poison)
- June 30, Gadsden, Alabama: Dovie Weaver, 42 (her sister)
- September 7, Lexington, North Carolina: Sarah Lanning, 85 (her mother-in-law; poisoned)
- February 16, 1952, Lexington, North Carolina: Arlie Lanning, 52 (her third husband; poisoned)
- January 3, Lexington, North Carolina: Louisa Hazel, 74 (her mother; poisoned)
- May 19, Emporia, Kansas: Richard L. Morton, 64 (her fourth husband; poisoned)
- October 12, 1954, Sand Springs, Oklahoma: Samuel Doss, 58 (her fifth husband; poisoned with arsenic)
On Criminal Minds
- Season Four
- "Pleasure is my Business" - While Nannie was never mentioned or referenced on the show, she appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Megan Kane - Both were serial killers and poisoners who hated their fathers, targeted men (though Doss mainly killed females), found most of their male victims through some sort of listing (Keane's were mainly found on a client list, while Doss found victims in lonely heart magazines), had sex with them prior to killing them, and did so with rat poison and other methods.