Nannie Doss, the arsenic granny

Nannie Doss, the arsenic granny

Don't take a cup of coffee from this woman!
Nannie Doss had a tragic early life and a head injury, but neither is quite enough to explain what happened next.
 
Doss was born in Alabama in 1905. She received very little education, because her parents frequently pulled her out of school to help on the family farm. She was sexually abused by men several times as a pre-teen, and her father apparently blamed young Nannie for these incidents. 
 
Nannie also suffered a head injury at the age of 7 which was followed by several years of black-outs and headaches. Although there is some evidence that a head injury might be able to create a psychopath, although the head injury might also simply be a red herring. Maybe Nannie Doss would have turned out the same either way.
 
Nannie was an ardent fan of romance novels and magazines, and claimed that she was a hopeless romantic always searching for the perfect man. Perhaps that is why she was first married at 16 to a man named Charlie Braggs, with whom she had four children in the next four years. And then the murders began:
 
1927: Nannie's two middle daughters died after eating breakfast, of what Nannie claimed was food poisoning. Braggs received an anonymous warning not to eat any food that his wife cooked. He grabbed their remaining two daughters and fled, evidently in fear for all of their lives. (Eventually he returned, they filed for divorce, and Nannie ended up with custody of their oldest and youngest daughter.)
 
1943: Nannie's oldest daughter Melvina gave birth to a baby boy after a long, painful labor. Melvina was still groggy from the ether when she thought she saw Nannie stick a long hatpin into her newborn son's skull. The baby died shortly thereafter, and doctors were puzzled as to the cause. 
 
1945: Melvina's two year-old son died while in Nannie's care. The coroner ruled the death as being "asphyxia from unknown causes." A few months later, Nannie collected a $500 life insurance policy she had taken out on the toddler.
 
1945: A few months later, Nannie's second husband Frank Harrelson got drunk and rowdy on V-J day and raped her. The next morning she topped off his corn whiskey jar with arsenic. He was dead by the next night.
 
Early 1950: Nannie's third husband Arlie Lanning died after Nannie dosed his dinner with rat poison. Their house - which would have been left to Nannie's sister-in-law - burned to the ground. Nannie collected the insurance money from both the house and her husband's death.
 
Late 1950: After Lanning's death, Nannie moved in with her own sister Dovie, who was bedridden. Dovie died mysteriously next, and Nannie moved on.
 
January 1953: Nannie's mother Louisa came to stay with Nannie and her fourth husband, Richard Morton. Days after arriving, Louisa complained of severe stomach pains and then died.
 
April 1953: Nannie poisoned her fourth husband, Richard Morton, by dosing his thermos of coffee with arsenic.
 
June 1953: Nannie married her fifth husband, Samuel Doss. He was rushed to the hospital one day for flu-like symptoms after eating prune cake which Nannie had salted with arsenic. After spending a month in the hospital, he returned home, drank a cup of arsenic-laced coffee Nannie handed him, and died that night. 
 
While Nannie collected the two insurance policies she had taken out on him, Doss's doctor - suspicious of the sudden death - convinced Nannie to let him perform an autopsy. The doctor found a massive amount of arsenic in Doss's system, and Nannie soon found herself in prison.
 
Nannie claimed she committed all those murders because she was searching for the perfect man. Although that doesn't explain why she killed her daughters, newborn grandson, mother, mother-in-law, and sister.
 
Most people accused her of murdering for the insurance money. But she didn't collect insurance on several of those deaths. It's hard to imagine why she would murder her newborn grandson, aside from the sheer psychopathic thrill of killing.
 
My mind keeps going to all the other people Nannie must have killed, and all the people who knew or suspected what she was. Who sent the anonymous warning note to her first husband? Surely it was someone who knew that Nannie was a serial poisoner. (Could Nannie herself have sent the note?)
 
And how did Nannie's oldest daughter, Melvina, feel about all of this? Her father took her away, but then he returned her to Nannie's "care." In one of the few surviving photos of the family, Melvina looks tense and haunted. Little wonder, considering her mother killed two of her children.