We tend to think of serial killers as random, disaffected individuals, whose traumatic backgrounds pushed them to do unspeakable things to total strangers. But the truth is often much more disturbing.

In many cases, serial killers appear to be normal people with functioning lives and families who simply possess a hidden capacity for evil. And when they snap, they strike at the people closest to them. But Nannie Doss may be the worst of them all.

Nannie was born Nancy Hazel in Blue Mountain, Alabama in 1905 to James and Louisa Hazel. She was one of five children with three sisters and one brother.


As a young girl, Nannie grew to love reading romance novels and at the age of 16, after dating for just four months, she married Charley Bragg, who she met at a linen factory where both of them worked. They had four daughters.


But motherhood proved to be too much for Nannie. She began to drink heavily, and when two of her daughters mysteriously died from food poisoning, Charley fled with one of their remaining girls, Melvina, leaving the other, newborn Florine, in Nannie’s care.


Two years after her divorce from Charley, while living in Anniston, Alabama, Nannie married another man, Frank Harrelson. Despite the fact that Frank was an alcoholic with a criminal past, the marriage lasted sixteen years.


During a party in 1945, Frank assaulted Nannie. He mysteriously died of poisoning not long after.


Nannie then married her third husband, Arnie Lanning, whom she met through a singles ad in a North Carolina paper. Another alcoholic and a womanizer, Arnie didn’t last long before he was felled by a mysterious heart attack. The house the couple had shared burned down not long after. Nannie pocketed the insurance money.


Husband number four, Richard Morton, died of unexplained poisoning not long after Nannie’s mother Lou came to live with the couple in 1953.


That same year, Nannie got married for the fifth and final time to Samuel Doss of Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Unlike her previous husbands, Samuel was a churchgoing man on the straight and narrow. However, he and Nannie didn’t get along and not long after they moved in together, he fell ill with mysterious flu-like symptoms. He eventually diagnosed with a digestive tract infection, treated, and released.


Not long after he returned home, he was dead. Samuel’s doctor, shocked by the sudden death, ordered an autopsy. What they found turned out to be Nannie’s undoing.


When the doctor found extremely high levels of arsenic in Samuel’s body, he alerted the police, who arrested Nannie and finally charged her with murder.


Nannie didn’t try to hide what she had done. Instead, she confessed to killing not only Samuel but her three other husbands, giggling as she described what she had done. Despite confessing to the killing of many more victims, including her sister Dovie, her grandson, and her own mother, Nannie was only tried for Samuel’s murder and received a life sentence. She also gained a great deal of notoriety for her strangely upbeat demeanor in court. She was eventually named “The Giggling Granny” for the way she would laugh and smile as she recounted her unspeakable actions.

Some blamed her murderous tendencies on a head injury she sustained as a child, but Nannie had a different, and very strange explanation of her own. She said she had been inspired by her love of romance literature to find the perfect husband. “That’s about it,” she told the police. “I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life.”