Murder of the Lawson family

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A studio portrait of the Lawsons taken days before Charlie Lawson murdered all but one of his family members.

The murder of the Lawson family refers to the Germanton, North Carolina event on December 25, 1929, in which sharecropper Charlie Lawson murdered his wife and six of his seven children.


In 1911, Charles Davis Lawson[1][2] married Fannie Manring,[3] 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 tenant tobacco farmers, saving enough money by 1927 to buy their own farm on Brook Cove Road.

1929 murders[edit]

In 1929, shortly before Christmas, Charlie Lawson (age 43) took his wife (age 37) and their seven children, Marie (age 17), Arthur (age 16), Carrie (age 12), Maybell (age 7) James (age 4) Raymond, (age 2) and Mary Lou (age 4 months) into town to buy new clothes and to have a family portrait taken. This would have been an uncommon occurrence for a working-class rural family of the era, which has led to speculations that Charlie's act was premeditated.[4]

On the afternoon of December 25, Lawson first shot his daughters, Carrie and Maybell, as they 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 12-gauge 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.[5]

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.

Theories on motive[edit]

Charlie's head injury[edit]

Months before the event, Charlie Lawson had sustained a head injury; some family and friends theorized that it had altered his mental state and was related to the massacre. However, an autopsy and analysis of his brain at Johns Hopkins Hospital found no abnormalities.[4]

Many rumors circulated as to why Charlie Lawson would kill himself and his family, including a theory that Charlie had witnessed an organized crime incident, had been found out, and that he and his family had been murdered to silence them.[citation needed]

Marie's rumored pregnancy by Charlie[edit]

It was not until the book White Christmas, Bloody Christmas[6] 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. Stella said that 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 an incestuous relationship between Charlie and Marie.[7] Jettie died in early 1928, meaning Fannie had been suspicious of the incest at least that long before the murders in late 1929.

More support for this theory revealed in The Meaning of our Tears.[8] 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.


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 cakeserver for many years.

The event inspired a number of songs and other tributes including the murder ballad "The Murder of the Lawson Family". This song was recorded by the Stanley Brothers in March 1956.

The case was also featured in an episode of the PRX podcast Criminal.[9]

The Lawsons were laid to rest in a family graveyard established in 1908, originally for the use of the W. D. Browder family and selected friends and neighbors. Today, it is open for burials only for direct descendants of W. D. Browder, owing to limited plot availability.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Charles Davis "Charlie" Lawson's Find-A-Grave Memorial #7944187". Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  2. ^ United States Government. "1920 United States Federal Census". Retrieved May 11, 2016. (Subscription required (help)). (Census Place: Meadows, Stokes, North Carolina; Roll: T625_1318; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 235; Image: 321)
  3. ^ "Fannie Manring Lawson's Find-A-Grave Memorial #6184928". Retrieved May 11, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Casstevens, Frances H. (2006-01-01). Death in North Carolina's Piedmont: Tales of Murder, Suicide and Causes Unknown. The History Press. ISBN 9781596291966. 
  5. ^ "Episode 25: The Portrait (8.28.2015) | Criminal". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  6. ^ Smith, Trudy J (1990). White Christmas, Bloody Christmas. ISBN 978-0962810800. 
  7. ^ "The Dispatch - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2015-09-02. 
  8. ^ Smith, Trudy J. The Meaning of our Tears. ISBN 978-0978802608. 
  9. ^ "Episode 25: The Portrait (8.28.2015)". Criminal. Retrieved August 28, 2015.