On Christmas Day, 1929, 43-year-old Charles Davis Lawson, murdered his wife and six of his seven children, before taking his own life.
To this day, nearly 80 years on from the tragic events, people still wonder why – captivated by the story which continues to hold their imaginations – just like Bonnie and Clyde or Al Capone.
Lawson was a man everyone respected within the community, so the sheer brutality of the murders hold a possible explanation for why so much interest has surrounded the historic case – along with the fact the crime scene become a tourist attraction, left as it was since the day it happened.
There’ve been numerous theories over time, scattered among various news outlets, with incest being a common belief – it’s thought Charles Lawson had impregnated his daughter Marie.
Just before Christmas, Charles took his family (37-year-old wife Fannie and their children: Arthur, 16; Marie, 17; 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 – the family were considered to be far from wealthy so this seemed very unusual.
The family photograph which surfaced following these events looks sinister – Fannie and Marie look unhappy to say the least – yet why when this would have been a joyous occasion for them?
However, Trudy Smith, author of numerous books surrounding the murders, (White Christmas, Bloody Christmas, The Meaning of Our Tears and A Child In the Midst) explained where this belief stems from and told UNILAD:
When I started writing the book, I had no idea there was an underlying story of possible incest in the family.
While I was writing Tears, a woman contacted me via my website and began to tell me about a man she’d worked for in his old age.
She told me he’d admitted to her he was the boy who’d been home that day and had witnessed part of the murders.
Her story was powerful, almost unbelievable because she said he’d told her he’d not said anything to anyone before – not his wife or children – for all those years.
His story uncannily matched the details of the murders, but unfortunately, the man in question died a year prior to Trudy’s book being published, and she was unable to interview him.
Trudy says she has no doubts he witnessed what happened:
I couldn’t go back and interview him, but some of his story described some of the things which happened on Christmas Day and perfectly connected to the info we already knew – we couldn’t fully explain it!
There was no doubt in our minds this man witnessed these murders, all those years ago, at the age of nine.
On December 25, the same year, 17-year-old Marie rose early to make a cake – some time after, the two middle girls, Carrie and Maybell, left to go and visit their aunt and uncle, but behind the property, their father Charlie was waiting with a shotgun.
The 43-year-old shot his daughters, bludgeoning them to finish off and placed their bodies inside the barn – he then returned to the family home where he shot his wife Fannie, while she was sitting on the porch.
Charlie then went inside to find Marie – her two younger brothers, James and Raymond, had run off to hide – but he shot Marie, found the boys and then killed them too.
Baby Mary Lou, at 4-months-old, was bludgeoned to death and the the cause of death was reported as a fractured skull, according to news.com.au.
Some time later, the seven bodies were found, their arms crossed over their chests and rocks placed underneath their heads.
Arthur – the eldest son – was sent by his father on an errand the night before the killing and was the only one to have survived.
It’s thought Arthur raised the alarm when he returned home, which caused people to gather outside the Lawson home.
Charlie was missing, but within hours, the crowd heard a single gunshot from nearby woods – Arthur, along with a police officer, found his body, beside some handwritten letters.
Unfortunately, the letters failed to give any reason as to why he carried out the massacre and in 1945, 16 years later, Arthur Lawson was killed in a motor accident.
Check out the trailer below for A Christmas Family Tragedy:
Mystery and intrigue has always surrounded the gruesome incident, but Trudy explained how a niece of the murderer, Stella Lawson Bowles, gave some revealing accounts:
Stella Lawson Bowles was the daughter of Charlie Lawson's brother, Marion Lawson.
She passed away in 1994 but I had her handwritten memoir of her life, which she gave me before she died.
In 2006, while writing Tears, I picked up her notes and found so much of her story so compelling, I decided to use it to paint a better picture of the times, of her and some of the circumstances which led to the murders.
When my father and I were finishing the first book, White Christmas Bloody Christmas, Stella decided to officially tell us about Marie Dawson and her pregnancy - some in her family were very unhappy with her, they'd all been sworn to secrecy.
After the book was published, my father was able to interview Marie's best friend, who she'd stayed overnight with two weeks prior to the murders.
Marie cried and told this lady everything that night. I had my father's notes about the interview and what was said is included in Tears.
Trudy's father played an important part in helping the story of the Lawson family murders come to fruition - he was only 8-years-old when they took place, but remembered vividily, the feelings of disbelief and horror, standing in the snow while a neighbour came running over to tell his family the horrid details.
My father spoke about this murder case all my life. He recounted the story of the famous cake being baked and the cabin which was left just as it was on the day of the murders.
The cabin became a tourist attraction in the 1930's - the bloody pillows lying on the floor where Charlie had placed his battered victims were still left - when I was six he took us up to the location in hopes of seeing inside.
When he retired in the mid-eighties, he and his friends recalled the murders. Some of his friends had connections to people who knew the murderer and his victims.
Trudy's father informed her of one friend in particular, Hilary 'Hill' Hampton - he and his wife lived near to the Lawson's and considered Charlie as one of his best friends.
Hampton is said to have told Trudy's father a number of pieces of information, all used when conducting their research for the books:
Hill told my father many things that were interesting, but refused to speak about one thing in particular, which he left as a mystery.
'I know what was going on in that family' he said, but exclaimed how he 'felt he couldn't talk about it'.
Nearly 80 years on and the deaths of the Lawson family still carry a huge amount of intrigue and mystery - Trudy even revealed how a screenplay is in the making, telling UNILAD:
People have contacted me but none I feel would do the story justice. I refuse to have the story treated as a B-movie horror story.
There's much more depth to the history of the times and the family.
I hope to have a screen play completed next year, which will do this story justice and then, once I'm satisfied with the treatment, I will present it to the industry.
Crowds gathered at the funeral of the slain Lawson family in Germanton, North Carolina, in 1929.
At the large grave, on the tombstone, the epitah inscribed on it, fittingly reads: "Not now, but in the coming years, it will be in a better land, we'll read the meaning of our tears and sometime we'll understand."