Shortly after, the couple’s house burned down and Nannie collected the insurance money, and moved in with her sister Dovie. Dovie was bed ridden, and died shortly after Nannie’s arrival.
Looking for yet another husband, Nannie joined a dating service called the Diamond Circle Club and soon met and married Richard L. Morton in 1952. He didn’t have a drinking problem, but he was adulterous. Upon learning her new husband was seeing his old girlfriend on the side, she planned his death. Before she poisoned Morton, she poisoned her mother, Louisa, when she came to visit. Within days her mother was dead after complaining of severe stomach cramps. Morton succumbed to the same fate three months later.
Nannie married Samuel Doss in 1953. Doss was a strict minister who had lost his family to a tornado in Arkansas. Doss was a good, decent man, unlike the other men in Nannie’s life. He was not a drunk, a womanizer, or a wife abuser. He was a church-going man who fell head over heels for Nannie.
Unfortunately for him, Doss had two major flaws: He was painfully frugal and boring. He led a regimented life and expected the same of his new bride. None of the romance novels, love stories, or television programs that Nannie adored were permitted, and bedtime was at sundown every night. He had begun to annoy her shortly after their marriage. Nannie left him and returned only when he agreed to sign her into his checking account. She then became a loving wife and convinced him to take out two life insurance policies, with her as the only beneficiary.
In September, Samuel was admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. The hospital diagnosed a severe digestive tract infection. He was treated and released back home. Nannie killed him that evening with a home-cooked meal, then rushed to collect the two life insurance policies she had taken out on him. This sudden death alerted his doctor, who ordered an autopsy. The autopsy revealed a huge amount of arsenic in his system. Nannie was promptly arrested.
Doss confessed to killing four of her husbands, her mother, her sister, her grandson*, and her mother-in-law, and was sentenced to life in prison. Nanny insisted that money played no significant role in her crimes. Despite various insurance payments, her murders were actually motivated by marital boredom and a dream of discovering the ideal husband, as described in her favorite romance magazines. “That’s about it,” Nanny told her interrogators. “I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life.”
*Melvina gave birth to Robert Lee Haynes in 1943. Another baby followed two years later, but died soon afterward. Exhausted from labor and groggy from ether (an anesthetic used in childbirth), Melvina thought she saw her visiting mother stick a hatpin into the baby’s head. When she asked her husband and sister for clarification, they said Nannie had told them the baby was dead. However, they noticed that she was holding a pin. The doctors, however, couldn’t give a firm explanation.
The grieving parents drifted apart and Melvina started dating a soldier. Nannie disapproved of him, and while Melvina was visiting her father after a particularly nasty fight with her mother, her son Robert died mysteriously under Nannie’s care. The death was diagnosed as asphyxia from unknown causes, and two months later Nannie collected the $500 life insurance she had taken out on Robert.