The Toe Tag: Oklahoma’s Serial Killer Granny 

Have you ever wondered why violent, suspicious, unusual, and unnatural deaths are investigated in Oklahoma?

It all started in 1955 when Nannie Doss, a 50-year-old woman, confessed to killing eleven family members. Four of her husbands, two of her children, two grandchildren, her mother-in-law, and her own mother and sister met their ends at her hands.

She was called “The Giggling Granny” because, after confessing to her heinous murders, Doss would laugh in the courtroom. She has also coined “The Lonely-Hearts Killer” due to the way she trapped her unsuspecting husbands.

Hang onto your seats because this story is gonna be a ride.

Two of her children with her first husband died after eating breakfast. Their cause of deaths were attributed to “food poisoning.” Doss would disappear frequently to visit her sister who had become ill and bedridden, but not long after Nannie came to visit for the final time, her sister died. After returning home, another mother-in-law suspiciously “died in her sleep.” And her own mother died of “stomach complications” just days after moving in with her daughter shortly after the death of Nannie’s father. Doss was actually suspected, but not thoroughly questioned, in the suspicious death of her granddaughter, whom Nannie’s daughter may have seen Doss stick a hairpin into her brain. Nannie’s grandson also died suspiciously of asphyxia.

And we haven’t even talked about the husbands themselves.

In 1921, Doss married at the young age of 16 to Charles Braggs. They would have four children together before divorcing in 1928. After her first divorce, the only husband to survive, she placed an ad in “The Lonely-Hearts” section of the newspaper, the equivalent today of Tinder or Match.com.

Doss would soon meet her second husband, Frank Harrelson. Frank was an alcoholic, but Nannie would stay by his side for 16 years. On Sept. 15, 1945, Nannie had enough of Frank’s alcoholism and abuse and poisoned his whiskey, his death was not investigated and was determined to be due to “stomach problems.” Not much later, Doss was back in The Lonely-Hearts column of the paper, where she then met her third husband, Arlie Lanning, another alcoholic as well as a womanizer. Lanning would go on to die in 1952 of what appeared to be heart failure. When Doss was not given the home in his will, she burned it down and collected the insurance money.

In 1952, Nannie returned to the newspaper to find her fourth husband, Richard Morton. An infidel, Morton wasn’t really in the picture, but nevertheless would die months later after drinking coffee.

By 1953, Doss had moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to marry her fifth and final husband, Samuel Doss. He did not approve of her habits of watching television and reading risqué materials and she left, refusing to return until given access to his bank accounts and life insurance policies were taken out. Samuel Doss would end up in the hospital where he was treated and released, but died after returning home. The attending physician who had treated him on admission was suspicious and demanded an autopsy. The autopsy revealed that Samuel Doss had enough arsenic in his system to kill a horse.

And thus ended Nannie Doss’s reign of terror.

Arrested and found guilty of eleven murders after confessing to them, she faced the death penalty, but the state at the time did not wish to execute a woman. Doss remained incarcerated and died of leukemia in 1965. She blamed her actions on a suspected head injury she sustained on a train as a child, which might be revealed in an autopsy if it were done today, more than 65 years later. Nonetheless, her actions prompted the foundation to put an agency in place that would investigate violent, suspicious, unusual, and unnatural deaths and thus the creation of what is now known as Oklahoma’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Nannie Doss, pioneer female U.S. serial killer, so wicked that a state agency was invented to sooner detect her trail of ruin.

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