Dish of Death: Story of Nanny Doss

How far would you go if someone inconvenienced or annoyed you? What if that person was your husband?  Would you leave them, divorce them? Or would you murder them? Most people would never even consider murder to get rid of a person that they were upset with.  But for Nanny Doss, (a.k.a “Giggling Grandma”; “Arsenic N/Annie”or “the Jolly Widow”) murder was the only solution she cared to entertain… and she loved it! Stating many times “My conscious is clear”, and giggled with delight.

Nancy was responsible for the deaths of at least 11 family members from 1928 to 1954. It has

been speculated that the number was actually closer to double that amount or more across the nation, and possibly started as early as 1921 at just 16 years old.  She got away with the murders for so long, only because at that time autopsies were not a mandatory thing and usually only performed at the family’s request.  Countless deaths occurred all around her,  but they were never in the same town and she always acted like she was in deep mourning over her losses, so she was able to put out any fire of suspicious that may have rose up.  She loved the attention she received while planning the funerals, and may have been a contributing factor in the continued murders.  People would come from all parts of the towns to pay tribute and shower Nanny with affection during the funeral and receptions.  Another possible factor to the murders was the insurance money she collected from them.  During the interrogation, Nanny, stated that the measly amount of money she received was certainly not a reason to poison them.  She stated at the end of the interrogation, “I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life.”  This was all she offered for her reasoning to kill so many. 


Born Nancy Hazle (Hazel) to strict parents, Louisa and Jim Hazle on November 4, 1905 in Blue Mountain, Alabama, she was one of five children.  She was not allowed to wear make up or the latest fashions, she was not allowed to date, go dancing,  or out with friends. Nancy (Nanny)’s father was an abusive, alcoholic that forced her to do hard labor at home more often than go to school, which kept her from learning how to read, write, or even do basic math. She realized at a young age that she liked boys and would sneak away to be with them.  This may have been due to her distorted view of love and sex from multiple rapes and molestation’s that occurred by the men in the area, and possibly her own father.  When unable to sneak away to see boys, her favorite means of escape, as she grew up, was to read her mother’s romantic magazines and fantasize what the perfect lover would be like. Her views of true love was forever tainted.  She had an unreasonable, unquenchable desire to find perfection and would not tolerate less, though her choices for suitors were usually womanizing, abusive, alcoholics. With the exception of Samuel Doss, her final husband, who was a Nazarene pastor and with very high morale.  

It is believed that a possible cause of her murderous nature was do to a train accident she suffered

as a child of seven, when a train stopped suddenly and she jerked forward smashing her head into a steel bar.  Due to the inability to get proper medical attention, she suffered from severe headaches, blackouts, and depression.   Later on, she wore glasses, though she claimed her eye sight was fine, it just helped with the headaches. When the suggestion of possible insanity due to brain damage causing her behavior, she used the train accident as the excuse. The doctors, however, conducted several tests, and found her to be completely sane.

At the age of 16, and upon her father’s insistence, Nanny married a young man named Charles Braggs.  It was thought that she actually was pregnant at the time of the wedding and killed the baby once it was born.  This was a very unhappy marriage and she spent that marriage having many lovers on the side.  Charles was also unfaithful and like her father, a mean, controlling alcoholic.   It was during this time that Nanny began to drink heavily and smoke. She gave birth to four more children with the last baby born in 1928.  One day in 1928, Charles came home to find his two middle children dead on the floor in the kitchen, and the oldest child sick.  He knew that when he left they were all healthy, and except for wanting to go with him, they were fine. Nanny told him that they must have gotten into something, then casually offered to prepare his meal.  Not believing that their death was accidental, and scared for his own life, Charles left, taking his oldest daughter with him, unable to get the youngest at the time because she was still nursing. During an interrogation, Nanny jokingly told the that this husband was the one that got away and wickedly laughed about it.

Charles and Nanny divorced in 1929.  Nanny promptly moved to Georgia and began writing to men who had ads placed in the Lonely Hearts magazine.  The men that wrote in these columns were divorcees and widowers.

 It wasn’t long before a romance bloomed with Robert F. Harrelson. Nanny left her now one year old daughter home by herself while she went off on dates and adventures with Robert, having not told him anything about the baby.

Eventually the neighbors tracked down Charles to take the half starved and severally neglected baby.  Nanny would not see her children again for a little over a decade. 

Harrelson and Nanny married in 1929, but the honeymoon was soon over.  Harrelson, according to Nanny, was an alcoholic with a violent temper. In spite of this, the marriage lasted 16 years, before Nanny decided he needed to die. This marriage may have lasted longer partly due to the fact that Nanny would disappear for months at a time, and partly because Harrelson was drafted for World War II in 1940, coming back from war September, 1945.  After surviving the war, Harrelson was claimed by a different enemy. 

Nanny had taken his life on September 15, 1945.  Claiming her conscience was clear because he deserved it.  According to Nanny, after partying with his military friends because the war was over and they all made it home safe, he had too much to drink.  While he was drunk, he persisted on her having sexual intercourse with him and she finally gave in.  The next day she laced his moonshine with poison.

It took several days before he actually died, a horrific and painful

death that was ruled as a flu because again, no autopsy was performed.   Nanny used the insurance money to purchase land. 

During her marriage with Harrelson, she was reunited with her oldest daughter Melvina, and her youngest daughter Florine.  She must have convinced the girls that the rumors about her killing their siblings and attempting to harm them was a lie, because they fully trusted their mother.  When Nanny’s daughter Melvina, gave birth to a baby boy, no one thought not to let his grandmother hold him.  Nanny was asked to hold him while her daughter got cleaned up and rested. Nanny’s daughter, though exhausted and still affected by the drugs from child birth, was sure she saw her mother stick a hat pin in the soft spot on the baby’s head.

 Melvina, was convinced she may have been seeing things.  Later on, Melvina needing to get away after a particular horrible fight she had had with her new boyfriend,  left her oldest son in the care of Nanny.  This must have happened quite a bit because by now Nanny had already taken out a $500 insurance policy on her 2 year old grandson.  When Melvina came back she found that her son was dead. Without an autopsy, it was ruled as an accidental death of asphyxia. It was at the funeral of Melvina’s 2 year old, that other members of her family told her that when Nanny came to them with news of the newborn’s death a few months back,  she had been playing with a hat pin.

  From 1945 to 1947, there is no actual record for Nanny’s whereabouts, however, it was suggested that during this time she became involved with a man with the last name Hendrix from New York, who died suddenly with symptoms similar to the flu.In 1947, Nanny answered yet another lonely hearts ad and married Arlie Lanning,

after only knowing him for three days.  She lived with him in Lexington, North Carolina.   He, like the others was supposedly a womanizing, abusive, alcoholic. She took out an insurance policy on him and his house then killed him in 1952.  But an oversight was made on Nanny’s part concerning the house.   The house was to go to his sister upon his death, and she would receive nothing unless something happened to it that was covered by insurance. The house burned to the ground before the paperwork could be signed by Arlie’s sister and the money rewarded to Nanny, who in turn, was acting like the grieving widow, and now “devastated” because her home burned down.

She moved in with her mother in law a few months later, claiming she would help to take care of her. Within a very short time, her mother in law suddenly died.  When suspicions began to rise and rumors were starting to circulate, Nanny moved from North Carolina.  

Nanny quickly moved in with her sister’s.  Dovie, having a broken hip needed a lot of help and agreed to let Nanny stay with her so long as she helped her while she recovered. Dovie was killed only a few short months later in 1953.  Addie, another of Nanny’s sisters met her doom after a short visit with Nanny. Possibly immediately after leaving from Dovie’s home.  Nanny was already gone by the time the poison finally killed her.

Nanny married Richard L Morton, whom she met through the Diamond Circle Club, another dating site in 1953.  Though he was born in  Okmulgee, Oklahoma, they lived together in Emporia, Kansas. Richard was not an alcoholic, however, it didn’t take long before he started spending more and more time away from Nanny, in town, possibly with other women.  However, Nanny had other things to worry about at the time.  Her mother had come to live with her and in a very short time after moving in, Nanny poisoned her because her mother was “taking over her life”. Three months later she poisoned Richard by mixing it in his morning coffee right before he could go back to town. 

In 1954, Nanny again answered an ad in lonely hearts.  Though Samuel Doss was nothing like the rest of the men, he still fell for her.  

Perhaps because he was vulnerable from the loss of his entire family to a tornado not long before meeting Nanny. Perhaps if he was not in a state of grief, he would have seen clearly that she was not the woman she claimed to be.  However, soon after their meeting, Nanny and Sam married and the lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Samuel Doss was a devout Christian that lived by certain standards and morals.

His high morals is what annoyed Nanny the most about him.  He thought her romance magazines and stories were filth and forbade her to read them in his house.  He, also, restricted the use of television and thought it was important to be to bed at a decent hour each night.  It was then she decided he had to go.

While most of her victims died after a few days of antagonizing pain, Sam Doss had it far worse.  The first time she poisoned him, she miscalculated the amount resulting in several weeks in the hospital.

While there, Nanny played the devoted housewife and stayed by his side (though, it was more likely she was afraid he would put together what happened and she would be found out).  Once he was home, she decided to try again. This time she made sure he got a good dose of poison in his favorite dish: prunes.  She giggled, as she recalled how he ate them all up and spent the next few days suffering horribly until his heart finally gave out.  The doctors were mystified of why this man, whom seemed to be in recovery suddenly died, and decided they should do an autopsy so they can better help others that may fall to the same illness. They never suspected foul play as they ruled it to be a horrible flu and asked Nanny to do the autopsy.  The autopsy report showed there was enough rat poison in his system to kill a horse.

Nanny Doss was arrested in October, 1954.  Nanny Doss was interrogated by two officers for hours without giving up anything. Hours turned into days, while the police kept digging up evidence. They were exhausted with Nanny. Nanny

continued to play with them, laughingly telling them what meal she would cook and serve them.  Finally, Nanny’s manipulation came to an abrupt end and she

confessed to the murder of Sam Doss.

 She described in great detail the funny way he looked as he was dying, the way his body jerked about and how she watched him and laughed as he died.  After hearing her story, the police began suspecting others were killed in the same fashion and resumed their bodies.  Nanny had no remorse continually stating “My conscience is clear.”  The more she talked, the more victims the police uncovered.  Though in the end, she was only charged with the murder if Sam Doss. It is possible that many more people fell victim to Nanny Doss, no one knows for sure since the poison affected people differently. Most appeared to look like the flu, food poisoning, or heart trouble.  How many more deaths was at the hand of this wicked woman? 


Nanny Doss died on June 2, 1965 in state penitentiary hospital after suffering for months from leukemia, never finding her perfect love.

~Victoria G.E.E.K.S. Paranormal Historian
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