NC murder mystery: The Lawson family massacre

Lawson Family Murders

There's a small family cemetery in rural Stokes County you can't find on a map, completely surrounded by trees. Most of the people buried here died in the early 1900's.

It's easy to spot the monumental Lawson headstone in the back and a burial plot so big it'll take your breath away.

"It makes you sad to see something like that and especially know that's an entire family unit laying there," said Shirley Brim-Jones, a Genealogist at the Madison-Mayodan Public Library.

Side by side, the bodies of a mother, a father and six children lay peacefully. How they got there was anything but peaceful.

"As he killed each one of them, laid them out in death, closed their eyes, crossed their arms across their bodies," said Trudy J. Smith, author of two books based on the murders.

It was Christmas morning, 1929. The killings happened at the Lawson's home on a small tobacco farm in Germanton. Charlie, the patriarch of the family, had just sent his nephew and his son to the store to get ammunition.

"Probably before they even made it up those railroad tracks to that store, he had begun killing the family," said Smith.

Within minutes, Charlie shot or bludgeoned to death his wife and their six children.

"When he killed the ones inside the house, he also went and got each one's respective pillow and placed it under their head and laid them out respectively in death,” said Smith.

Gerald White remembers it clearly. "I keep hearing those shotgun shells going off over there," he recalled.

At the time of the massacre, White lived across the creek from the Lawsons. He remembers, as a 6 year old, hearing the shots that Christmas day and running inside to tell his mom.

"She said, 'well that must be big firecrackers,' my mother said that. I said 'no momma that was shotgun shells going off,'" said White.

White knew Maybell, one of the Lawson girls. "She'd stand up in front of the class with her book and said 'my name is Maybell Lawson,'" he recalled.

He even remembers going to the family's funeral. "What made me feel so sad was that girl I knew her, I knew that girl there."

Eighty-six years later, one of the only pieces of the family that still remains is a portrait of the family, taken just two weeks before the murders.

"He took them by a Winston-Salem photographer's studio and had a portrait made,” said Smith. “And that's the portrait, the famous portrait that everyone sees."

At Madison Dry Goods in Rockingham County, owners are renovating the upstairs into a museum of sorts dedicated to the murders. That's the spot of the old funeral parlor where the Lawson bodies were taken.

What would cause a man to kill off nearly his entire family?

Some say he never was the same mentally after a head injury earlier that year. Others say he got his 17-year-old daughter pregnant.

Then there's the question of why he let his 16-year-old son Arthur live. There are plenty of theories on that, too.

"He couldn't have done what he done with Arthur there,” said White. “Arthur would've stopped him."

"He may have wanted his name to continue on, but with what he did, the name went on," added Brim-Jones.

"You never know what Charlie Lawson was thinking but he certainly left behind a legacy of mystery," said Smith.

A crime so heinous and so mysterious, it still lives on 86 years later for Gerald as well as many others.

"Every now and then I think about it,” said White. “It don't ring a bell with me like it used to."

And because Charlie Lawson killed himself following the murders, the mystery lives on.

Trudy J. Smith has written two popular books about the murders. See where you can buy them here.

Shirley Brim-Jones is a genealogist at the Madison-Mayodan Public Library where interest hasn't faded.

The oldest son and sole survivor, Arthur, eventually married and had two children, but died in a car crash 15 years after the murders.

There's been a lot of controversy over the theory that Charlie Lawson got his daughter, Marie, pregnant.

The only thing that backs up that claim is an interview with one of Marie's best friends. The author of the book said her father interviewed the friend when she was in a nursing home in the early 90's.

She said two weeks before the murders, Marie told her about the pregnancy. As for hard evidence, there is none.

 

Copyright 2016 WFMY


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