How Many Victims Did The Jolly Black Widow Killer Actually Have?

Nannie Doss was born in Blue Mountain, Alabama, to a domineering and controlling father, who frequently pulled her out of school to make her work on the family farm. He controlled what she wore, where she went, and who she spoke to. He forbade any of his daughters from wearing nice clothing or make-up, attending social events like dances, or really having any interaction with boys at all. But despite her father's strict rules on dating, make-up, and socializing with the opposite sex, Doss would read her mother's romance novels and liked to imagine a loving romance of her own.

However, the romantic relationship she dreamed of would never come to pass. Because she was barred from going out and meeting men, the only potential romantic partners she encountered as a young women were the men she worked with at a linen factory. She began dating one of these men, Charley Braggs, at just 16 years old, and he proposed after just four months of dating. Her father approved, and the couple wed, but what followed was hardly marital bliss.

Doss's first two husbands were abusive, alcoholic philanderers

Braggs was not only abusive and adulterous; he also came with his own domineering mother, who continued to live with him after the wedding. She was a controlling and oppressive woman, and to cope, both Doss and Braggs drank and cheated on each other, per ThoughtCo. Despite their troubles, they managed to have four children together in the years from 1923 to 1927. However, shortly after the birth of their last child, Florine, their two middle children mysteriously died, presumably from food poisoning.

Suspecting foul play, Braggs took his eldest child, Melvina, and fled the home, leaving their newborn behind with Doss. While Braggs was gone, his mother passed away. He returned with Melvina the following summer, filing for divorce and leaving both his daughters behind with the woman he claimed he had left because he was afraid of her, per Murderpedia.

Doss continued to go from husband to husband, searching lonely hearts columns to find husbands two and three. She wed number two, Robert Franklin Harrelson, in 1929, and though the marriage lasted 16 years, it wasn't a happy one. He was a violent, heavy drinker, and when he raped her after a particularly raucous night of drinking on the day that World War II ended, Doss had finally had enough. The next day, she put rat poison in his corn whiskey jar, killing him the next time he took a drink.

Two of Doss's young grandchildren died from unexplained causes

While Doss was married to Harrelson, her daughter Melvina had given birth to two sons, in 1943 and 1945. Doss was present at the birth of the first child, who lived for only a few hours. After the birth, Melvina believed she saw her own mother stab the baby with a hatpin, but in her dazed and drugged state, she couldn't be sure, and doctors could never give an exact explanation for the infant's death, per Murderpedia. Two years later, Melvina gave birth to another son, Robert, who died of asphyxia while under Doss's care.

Shortly after, Doss met and married Arlie Lanning. Their marriage was short-lived, as Lanning became ill and died less than three years later. Lanning's cause of death was ruled as heart failure brought on by the flu, and because his symptoms leading up to his death were consistent with the flu, no further investigation was ever done, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

Doss's family members all seemed to mysteriously die when she was around

In the wake of her third husband's death, Doss bounced around, first living for a brief time with Lanning's elderly mother. The woman died in her sleep in relatively short order, after which Doss decided to move in with her sister, Dovie. Doss's sister was already in ill health and had been bedridden with cancer for some time, so nobody found it suspicious when Dovie passed away shortly after Doss came to stay.

In 1952, Doss married for a fourth time, to Richard L. Morton, a man she'd met through the Diamond Circle Club dating service. Less than a year into the marriage, Doss's mother came to live with the couple. Within three months, both Doss's mother and husband turned up dead from poisoning, after which Doss still managed to find yet another man to agree to marry her. Samuel Doss, her fifth and final husband, was a minister and upstanding citizen who neither drank nor abused Doss. However, he was a conservative, rigid, and frugal man, and after banning the romance novels that Doss loved so much, she apparently decided he had to go.

Doss died in prison in 1965

In September of 1954, Samuel Doss was admitted to the hospital for a month with what doctors had diagnosed as a digestive tract infection, but was really the result of ingesting an arsenic-laced prune cake. After he was released from the hospital, Doss tried again, this time by slipping a fatal dose of arsenic into his coffee, per the Encyclopedia of Alabama. It did the trick, but her husband's untimely death led to questions. The doctor who had treated Samuel Doss conducted an autopsy on his body, which clearly showed he had fatal levels of arsenic in his system. The doctor alerted police, who quickly arrested Doss. When interrogated, Doss confessed to the poisoning. Further exhumations showed her past husbands had been killed in the same way.

All together, Doss is believed to have murdered her sister, her mother, four of her husbands, two children, two grandsons, and one mother-in-law, killing 11 people in total from the 1920s until her arrest in 1954. The notorious female serial killer was thus given nicknames like "the Giggling Granny" and the "Jolly Black Widow Killer," per ThoughtCo. Doss confessed to eight of the murders, but the state of Oklahoma only charged her with the death of her last husband, Samuel Doss. She pled guilty, and was sentenced to life in prison, where she died of leukemia in 1965.