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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.
If you recall from last week, we talked about Nannie Doss, a not-so-sweet lady from near Anniston. By the time we left off, there are at least three people close to her who seem to have expired at times that were awfully convenient for Nannie. She had formally divorced her first husband after four children, eight years, and the three aforementioned deaths. She had moved back in with her parents with her two remaining kids.
Something else to bear in mind about Nannie is her affection for romance novels and magazines. This was for a variety of reasons.
First off, she had formed some hyper-specific, fantastic idea of what true romance is supposed to be like. She had this idea in her head of what love is supposed to look and feel like, and she wasn’t going to stop searching until she found that one true love.
Secondly, the romance magazines that she read had lonely hearts columns. These are postings, columns, missives from lonely lovers-to-be looking for their mister or miss right. She would obsessively scan these entries and communicate with multiple prospective lovers at a time.
She had begun this habit during the unhappy years married to Charley – while he was out on the town, she was looking for the man who would take her away from all of this grief and pain.
In 1929, a year after her divorce from Charley, Nannie met her next true love. Frank Harrelson, from Jacksonville, had posted in the local paper’s lonely hearts column. They exchanged love letters wherein Frank wooed her with romantic poetry. They married before the year was out.
She was married to Frank for 16 mostly unhappy years. During this time two other young family members just so happened to become deceased while in her care. The second death led to a fairly formative moment for Nannie: She collected a $500 life insurance policy on the child that she had likely murdered.
In 1945, Frank came home from the bar in dark spirits. He forced himself on Nannie, and she finally lost her patience with him. She found one of his moonshine jars hidden out in the yard and laced it with rat poison. It apparently didn’t take long for him to find the hidden jar, either. He died in September of 1945 of what was assumed to be heart failure.
“Encyclopedia of Alabama” lays out the next few years of her life well enough to replicate:
“Arlie Lanning of Lexington, North Carolina, would be Nannie’s next unfortunate victim, having also placed an ad in the local lonely-hearts columns. Rat poison again proved to be the method of choice, this time added to one of Arlie’s meals. His cause of death was listed as heart failure as he was a heavy drinker and there had been a flu virus in the area at the time. Thus, the death occurred under less than suspicious circumstances – Nannie appeared to residents of Lexington to be the perfect spouse – and no autopsy was performed. After his death in 1950, Nannie went to live with her sister Dovie, who also met her demise soon after Nannie’s arrival
“Richard L. Morton and Samuel Doss would become husbands and her next victims. Both met Nannie through lonely-hearts correspondence. She married Morton in 1952 in Emporia, Kansas, and not long after, Morton began often venturing into town for long periods of time to be with other women. Meanwhile, Nannie’s time was consumed with her mother, who had come to live with the couple in January 1953 after the death of Nannie’s father. Within days of her arrival, Lou [Nannie’s mother] complained of severe stomach pains and died. Morton died three months later after drinking a thermos full of coffee that Nannie had spiked with arsenic.”
In each of these instances, Nannie had formed some semi-righteous or perceived solid reasoning for these murders. Next week, however, we’ll see Nannie start to slip from the justifications behind her adult murders –
What happens when the greatest offense by her next husband is that he’s just too boring?