Charlie Lawson

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This article is about the criminal. For the actor, see Charles Lawson.
Charles Davis Lawson
Born (1886-05-10)May 10, 1886
Lawsonville, North Carolina, United States
Died December 25, 1929(1929-12-25) (aged 43)
Germanton, North Carolina, United States
Cause of death Suicide
Spouse(s) Fannie Lawson
Killings
Date December 25, 1929
Location(s) Germanton, North Carolina, United States
Target(s) Family
Killed 7
Weapons Shotgun

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.

Background[edit]

Charlie Lawson was born in the unincorporated community known as Lawsonville, North Carolina. 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.

Murders of family members[edit]

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, an unusual event for a working-class family of that era. 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 committing the crime.

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[edit]

Many rumors circulated 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[1] was published in 1990 that a claim of an incestuous relationship between Charlie and Marie surfaced, beginning with an anonymous source who heard the rumor during a tour of the Lawson family home shortly after the murders. The day before the book was to be published, the authors received a phone call from Stella Lawson, a relative who had already been interviewed for the book. On this occasion she told them she knew the truth as to why Charlie did it.[2] 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.[3] A close friend of Marie Lawson's, Ella May, disclosed that just weeks before Christmas, Marie told her that she was pregnant with her father's baby. Ella May also said that Charlie, and Fannie knew about this. Another close friend and neighbor to the Lawson family, Hill Hampton, stated that he knew of serious problems going on within the family, but declined to elaborate.

Aftermath[edit]

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.

The case was also featured in an episode of the PRX podcast Criminal.[4]

See also[edit]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Smith, Trudy J (1990). White Christmas, Bloody Christmas. ISBN 978-0962810800. 
  2. ^ "The Dispatch - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved 2015-09-02. 
  3. ^ Smith, Trudy J. The Meaning of our Tears. ISBN 978-0978802608. 
  4. ^ "Episode 25: The Portrait (8.28.2015)". Criminal. Retrieved August 28, 2015.