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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.
The year is 1953. Nannie Doss has recently killed her third husband, Arlie Lanning, who again seems to have some sort of severe allergy to her special recipe of sweetened prunes and rat poison. She’s getting by pretty decently on an income heavily supplemented by life insurance policies.
From “All That’s Interesting,” “Richard Morton of Emporia, Kansas, was Doss’ next true love, although he spent a lot of time with other women while married to Doss. However, Doss wouldn’t discover this just yet, because she was distracted with other matters.
“Doss’ mother needed a caretaker after she fell and broke a hip in 1953 after her father passed away. The woman died suddenly and without warning a few months after Doss agreed to take care of her. Shortly after her mother’s death, one of Doss’s sisters died suddenly after having contact with the Nannie Doss.” (Nannie had a funny way of ending up on these individuals’ life insurance policies, too.)
As we looked at last week, Morton died after drinking a thermos full of coffee that Nannie had spiked with arsenic.
However, her grieving heart somehow seems to have plenty of room for budding romance. She’s continued her perusal of lonely hearts columns before and after these grisly deaths, and in June she’s managed to get another ring on her finger. This time her groom is Samuel Doss of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Now, if you’ll recall, Nannie’s first four husbands were not exactly Nobel Prize nominees. They’re a regular rogues’ gallery of philanderers and abusers, with whom Nannie seems to fit right in.
Things are different this time. Samuel Doss is by all means an absolutely decent human being. He was, however, a bit boring for her tastes. By this time Nannie’s fantasy Fabio type has continued to be a fixation in her mind.
Samuel, on the other hand, reserved procreation for scheduled times within the month. He forbade magazines and television programs that weren’t educational or enlightening. This alone might have been enough to register as a killable offense to Nannie, but he also took a step beyond boring.
He burned her romance magazines.
She originally poisoned Mr. Doss with the typical prune pie. However, this backfired on her. You see, Mrs. Doss, whose previous husbands had been exclusively alcoholics, had grown accustomed to poisoning men who were already in ill health. This time, she’d poisoned a rather healthy, virile individual.
Samuel Doss went to the hospital for intense stomach pain. He spent a month under medical care while doctors struggled to figure out what in the world could have caused such a malady. However, about 30 days later, he had recovered sufficiently enough to go home.
Before the weekend was out, Samuel Doss, Nannie’s fifth husband, had been poisoned with a tremendous dose of arsenic in his coffee. He died slowly, painfully and noisily.
The doctor who had seen to Samuel’s care was shocked by his sudden passing. He asked Nannie for permission to perform an autopsy, as there seemed to be no good reason for him to have passed so soon after he had appeared to be in good health. Nannie consented, for reasons we don’t fully understand.
Not long after this, law enforcement was informed by the physician that Samuel Doss had consumed a tremendous amount of poison.
Nannie was charged with the murder of Samuel Doss. What’s more, in exchange for being given a romance magazine, she confessed to murdering three of her other husbands, as well. She never confessed to killing her other family members, but her goose was cooked anyway. Not that she acted like it.
You see, when Nannie was answering questions about killing those four men, she was rather unfazed. By unfazed, I don’t just mean relaxed. I mean that she was in such light spirits she actually broke out into a fit of laughter while talking about it. Her giggly demeanor was absolutely horrifying to law enforcement and the press.
Nannie was charged with murder in Oklahoma, Alabama and North Carolina, though she was only tried in Oklahoma. The judge, aware of her mental disability due to childhood head trauma and bizarre giggling fits (on top of being a woman), sentenced her to life in prison in lieu of the electric chair.
Nannie was jubilant over this at first, though she admitted a couple of years later that she regretted not being put to death. She was also disappointed in her assignment to laundry duty, as she would have much rather worked in the kitchen…
Nannie Doss died of leukemia on June 2, 1965. It was the tenth anniversary of her incarceration.
She is alleged to have taken the lives of twelve people in her lifetime. While it is fascinating to learn about these extremes of human behavior, let us not see Nannie Doss as anything more than a sick, disgusting individual who was allowed by herself and others to take life from those around her.
Her memory to us may be a fascinating trail, but she left grief, heartbreak and despair in the hearts of those in her wake.