The “Giggling Granny” Serial-Poisoner: A Real-Life Inspiration for Janice Beattie?

One of my favorite parts being a Serious Striker, along with sleuthing out ring structure and parallels to Harry Potter, is to see the way real-life events are referenced or inspire story elements of the series.  So far we have seen genuine royal engagements and weddings,  the severe winter of  2010, the Cornish floods of 2014 and of course, my favorite, the London Olympics turn up as major plot events in the Strike series. As for “inspired by true events” stoylines and characters, it turns out, at least one British gallows exporter actually did have his business ruined by that pesky EU human rights legislation, the Chiswell terrier was a clue that the minister’s murder was a re-telling of the Francis Rattenbury story, and Dennis Creed appears to be modeled on at least three serial killers: Jerry Brudos*, Russell Williams, and Angus Sinclair; though, as I hope to argue in a later post, there are also similarities to  Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnik.

But what of the actual killer of Margot Bamborough, nurse Janice Beattie?  There are certainly plenty killer nurses out there, (here’s a list of 18) but a surprisingly high number are male and, of the women, most seem to “specialize” in either infant or geriatric patients, rather than kill non-patients and family members, as Janice did.

However, I came across one female serial killer who seems to be a good match for Troubled Blood’s Janice. Meet Nannie Doss, AKA the “Giggling Granny.”  Born in Alabama in 1906, she would eventually confess to killing four of her five husbands via arsenic poisoning, reportedly laughing merrily to the police as she described her crimes. In addition, she is thought to have been responsible for the sudden deaths of multiple family members, including two of herdaughters, two grandchildren, a sister, a mother and a mother-in-law. Convicted in Oklahoma, she was originally sentenced to death, but later spared the death penalty after being judged insane.  She died of natural causes, in jail, in 1965.

Unlike Janice, Nannie did not have medical training, nor did she use the many varied toxins that Janice employed to make the deaths look natural, instead sticking to arsenic. However, she certainly physically resembles the description of Janice:

The naturally upturned corners of the nurse’s mouth and the dimples in her full cheeks gave her a cheerful look even when she wasn’t smiling.

In addition, there are multiple other similarities:

  • Both were raised by abusive fathers, but reportedly had kind mothers.
  • Both suffered head injuries as children, which left them with recurrent headaches. Both attributed their later actions to the early brain damage.
  • Janice collected and saved newspaper clippings and obituaries; Nannie was obsessed with romance magazines and lonely hearts columns.
  • Both preyed on family members, killing or attempting to kill spouse (or equivalents), children and grandchildren.
  • Nannie’s first husband left her after two daughters died of “food poisoning,” and he was warned, anonymously,  not to eat anything she cooked. He was the only husband to survive. This is not unlike Margot warning Steve Douthwaite away from food Janice offered him. Like Mr. Beattie, Nannie’s claimed to fear for his life, but inexplicably left one of his children behind with her.
  • Both used primarily poison, but occasionally killed through different means. Janice drowned Julie Wilkes; Nannie is believed to have stabbed one newborn grandchild with a hatpin, and smothered another.
  • Both, when finally caught,  were reportedly happy at the thought of going to jail.
  • Both wound up with “Granny” in their criminal nicknames:  “Giggling Granny” and “Poisoner Granny.”

Fact is often stranger than fiction. A final picture of Nannie Doss smiling her way through the police interview.


*AKA “that guy in America who made his wife call him on an intercom before he’d let her into the garage”

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