Outside of Germanton, on a Christmas evening in 1929, Charlie Lawson paced in furious circles around a tree located deep within a thicket of forest. He held a shotgun and his feet left imprints in the fresh snow. A crowd gathered at the house, distant screams and cries heard when they arrived at the Lawson’s, and one of the most atrocious murder-suicides in North Carolina history.
A few days before Christmas, Charlie Lawson took his family to nearby Winston-Salem to buy new clothes and have their portrait taken. For a working-class tobacco farmer, something like this was unusual.
A few days later, on Christmas, Charlie's oldest daughter Marie rose early in the morning to bake her signature Christmas cake. Little did she know the cake would eventually sit in a glass case for five years as visitors paid to walk through where the infamous 'Christmas murders' took place. Charlie's first victims were his two daughters, Carrie,12 and Maybell,7, as they made their way to their uncle's house. Lawson waited for them by the barn, using a shotgun to shoot them within range then bludgeoning the two young girls to death. Next, Lawson returned to the house and shot his wife Fannie who was on the porch. Marie, inside the house, heard the gunshot, screaming while the two young boys ran through the house searching for a place to hide. Charlie shot Marie then found the boys James, 4 and Raymond, who was only two, killing both, and lastly, the 4-month old baby. The only one of Lawson's children not murdered was his eldest son, Arthur,16, who Charlie sent to run errands prior to the murder. The bodies were found with their arms crossed and rocks placed beneath their heads. Several had already heard of the murders and made their way to the house, when a gunshot was heard from the woods, Charlie committed suicide a few hours after.
From 1929, until now, many have tried to make sense of such an atrocious crime and Charlie's motives. Many rumors surfaced and swirled - one that Charlie had witnessed an organized crime act and that he and his family were murdered so they would remain silent.
Another rumor that after Charlie suffered from a head injury, he wasn't the same, his furious temper uncontrollable...yet an analysis of his brain at John Hopkins found no abnormalities. The other rumor of why, and the more believed rumor, is much darker.
In 1990, a day before the book White Christmas, Bloody Christmas was published, the authors received a phone call from Stella Lawson, a relative who had been interviewed prior. She told them that at the funeral, she overheard family members stating how Fannie confided in them Charlie and Marie were engaging in an incestuous relationship.
Even more backing for this theory was revealed in the book, The Meaning of our Tears, in which a close friend of Marie Lawson's, Ella May, said that just weeks before Christmas, Marie told her she was pregnant with her father's baby. Hill Hampton, a close friend and neighbor of the Lawsons, revealed he knew there were serious problems at home but declined to elaborate. "A Christmas Family Tragedy," a documentary filmed in 2006 believed this was the final end to a long history of domestic abuse.
After the murders, hundreds of people traveled to the small farm house seeking their own 'why?' There were so many visitors, one of Charlie's brothers began charging a 25-cent admission fee. People walked around the house, and looked at Marie's Christmas cake on display. A ballad was written about the murder - and became a hit. Rumors of ghosts and curses became prevalent and especially after the only Lawson child left, Arthur, died in a freak accident in his early 30s. The house was eventually torn down and it wasn't until the 80's and 90's people truly began to seek out answers. Yet still to this day, nothing is definitive, besides the fact this could perhaps be the most gruesome murder to ever take place in North Carolina.
Have you heard about the Lawson family murder? Do you have your own theory you want to share?