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Warning: This series contains information about murder of people young and old. If this sort of grisly information is particularly bothersome for you, I recommend you skip along for a bit.
I am a bit of a true crime junkie. I have been for a long time – I remember a particularly uncomfortable meeting with Mr. Bullard when my carrying of a Serial Killer Encyclopedia combined with some creative writing practice raised a few eyebrows.
Nearly 20 years later I still enjoy learning about these folks. I don’t necessarily condone the hero worship of these sorts of people that sometimes happens, but I do like learning about extremes of the human condition. Seeing how far awry the human brain can go and finding an understanding of why that happens.
So for the next coupla weeks, I’m going to tell you about one of Alabama’s own extremes of the human condition – Nannie Doss, also known as The Giggling Granny or The Jolly Black Widow.
Our subject was born Nancy Hazel in Blue Mountain, Alabama, just outside of Anniston and Jacksonville. Her mother was pretty run of the mill by all accounts. Meanwhile her dad, Jim, was downright foul.
He was abusive and controlling of Nancy and her four siblings. He often kept them out of school to get them to help out with work around the house or on the family farm. She dropped out of school in the sixth grade.
When she wasn’t working the family farm or tending to the house, one of her favorite pastimes was reading romance novels and magazines. Reading may be fantastic for the budding mind, but these publications became a foundation for Nancy’s later crimes.
There are a few well established root causes of extreme violent behavior in people: abusive homes, high exposure to lead, childhood trauma, to name a few. Another common cause is traumatic brain injury.
As it turns out, when Nancy was seven she experienced a significant bit of head trauma. While riding on a train, it stopped suddenly, causing her head to hit the metal seat in front of her. For years following this incident, Nancy reported that she experienced blackouts, migraine headaches and bouts of depression.
In 1921, when she was 16, Nancy had gotten a job at the local linen factory. There she fell in love with Charley Braggs, marrying him within months of meeting. She moved in with him and his mother, and by 1923 they were expecting their first child.
This wasn’t an easy time in her life. While she had escaped her abusive father, her mother-in-law, who still lived with them, was just as cruel and domineering. Further, the shine had come off the apple a bit when it came to Charley, as well.
Prohibition had ended and his drinking habits went from bad to worse. He, too, had become cruel and abusive, as well as adulterous. She fell into drinking and adultery, as well, but she found that it didn’t ease the pain of her situation quite enough.
In 1927, soon after the birth of her fourth child, their two middle children passed away suddenly of food poisoning. Charley left with their oldest child, suspecting foul play. This left Nancy; their youngest child, Florine; and Charley’s mother in the home.
Nancy’s mother-in-law passed away within the year.
Charley and Nancy divorced in 1928, and Nancy took the two surviving children with her to move back in with her parents. Charley was the only man to marry Nancy Doss and live to tell the tale.
I’ll be returning next week to tell more of the story.