|Charles Davis Lawson|
May 10, 1886|
Lawsonville, North Carolina, United States
|Died||December 25, 1929
Germanton, North Carolina, United States
Cause of death
|Date||December 25, 1929|
|Location(s)||Germanton, North Carolina, United States|
Charles Davis Lawson (May 10, 1886–December 25, 1929) was an American tobacco farmer from Stokes County, North Carolina who is remembered for having committed one of the most notorious mass murders in the state's history on Christmas Day 1929.
Charlie Lawson's parents, Augustus and Nancy, lived in the unincorporated community known as Lawsonville, North Carolina, located ten miles from Danbury, the Stokes county seat. Their son was born there and, in 1911, he married Fannie Manring, with whom he had eight children. The third, William, born in 1914, died of an illness in 1920. In 1918, following the move of his younger brothers, Marion and Elijah, to the Germanton area, Lawson followed suit with his family. The Lawsons worked as sharecroppers, saving enough money by 1927 to buy their own farm on Brook Cove Road.
In 1929, shortly before Christmas, Charlie Lawson took his family (37-year-old wife Fannie and their children: Marie, 17; Arthur, 16; Carrie, 12; Maybell; 7, James, 4; Raymond, 2; and Mary Lou, 4 months) into town to buy new clothes and to have a family portrait taken. As they were impoverished, this seemed unusual. The new clothes ultimately became burial outfits. On the 25th, he began the slaughter with his daughters, Carrie and Maybell, who were setting out to their uncle and aunt's house. Lawson waited for them by the tobacco barn; when they were in range, shot them with a shotgun, then ensured that they were dead by bludgeoning them. He then placed the bodies in the tobacco barn.
Afterwards, he returned to the house and shot Fannie, who was on the porch. As soon as the gun was fired, Marie, who was inside, screamed, while the two small boys, James and Raymond, attempted to find a hiding place. Lawson shot Marie and then found and shot the two boys. Lastly, he killed the baby, Mary Lou. It is thought that she was bludgeoned to death. After the murders, he went into the nearby woods and, several hours later, shot himself. The only survivor was his eldest son, 16-year-old Arthur, whom he had sent on an errand just before starting his deadly work. The bodies of the family members were found with their arms crossed and rocks under their heads. The gunshot signaling Charlie Lawson's own suicide was heard by the many people who already had learned of the murders on the property and gathered there. A police officer who was with Arthur Lawson ran down to discover Charlie's body along with letters to his parents. As footprints encircled the tree it was supposed that he had been pacing around the tree prior to taking his life.
Speculation and rumors
There were rumors as to why Charlie Lawson would kill himself and his family and it was speculated that Charlie did not murder his family at all and that it was staged to look as though Charlie had committed suicide. One of these explanations was that Charlie had witnessed an organized crime incident, had been found out, and that he and his family had been murdered to silence them. Another involves a black man with whom Charlie had started a fight. Neither of these rumors seemed plausible, or fit with the facts. All obvious signs pointed to a murder-suicide.
It was not until the book White Christmas, Bloody Christmas, was published in 1990 that a strong claim surfaced. On interviewing many people regarding the Lawson family murder, the book's authors, M. Bruce Jones and Trudy J. Smith found that several people recounted rumors, and stories regarding Charlie, Marie, and incest. In 1989 the authors had received a call from an anonymous woman. She said she had gone on a tour of the Lawson home shortly after the murders, and the tour guide had told about the incest rumor, which he stated as fact. The day before the book was to be published the authors received a phone call from Stella Lawson, daughter of Marion Lawson, and cousin to the Lawson children, who had already been interviewed for the book. On this occasion she told them she knew the truth as to why Charlie did it. Stella said that at the funeral for the Lawsons she had overheard Fannie's sisters-in-law and aunts, including Stella's mother Jettie Lawson, discussing how Fannie Lawson had confided in them that she had been concerned about Charlie and Marie. Jettie died in early 1928, meaning Fannie had been suspicious of the incest at least that long before the murders in late 1929.
More evidence was revealed in "The Meaning of our Tears". Maybe the most convincing evidence yet came from a close friend of Marie Lawson's, Ella May. She claims that just weeks before Christmas, Marie told her that she was pregnant, and that it was Charlie's. Ella May also said that Charlie, and Fannie knew about this.
Hill Hampton, another close friend and neighbor to the Lawson family was interviewed. He said that he knew of serious problems going on within the family, and he knew the nature of the problem, but that it was personal, and he chose not to reveal what it was.
Shortly after the murders, Charlie's brother, Marion Lawson, opened the home on Brook Cove Road as a tourist attraction. A cake that Marie Lawson had baked on Christmas Day was displayed on the tour. Because visitors began to pick at the raisins on the cake to take as souvenirs, it was placed in a covered glass cake dish and thus preserved for many years.
Among the remembrances of the event is a folk song entitled, "The Murder of the Lawson Family". This song was recorded by the Stanley Brothers in March 1956, released by Columbia Records on the CD, "An Evening Long Ago," in 2004.