1929 was a rough year. The stock markets crashed and it was the genesis of the dreaded dirty thirties. Many people had their lives ripped apart, but on Christmas Day, the Lawson family had their lives ripped away…by their own father.
Charlie Lawson (age 43) his wife, Fanny (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) had a large family on a failing tobacco farm in North Carolina. A few days before Christmas, Charley took his family to town and and used what little funds they had to buy new clothes and get a, now famous, family portrait. This action has led many to believe that his actions were pre-meditated as opposed to a spur of the moment psychotic break.
First on the familial hit list were daughters Carrie and Maybell. They were murdered with a shot gun and placed in the barn. He then shot his wife on the dilapidated porch and worked his way through his family, slaughtering them one by one until finally ending with bludgeoning his four-month old baby. He then positioned each family member with arms across their chests and rocks as pillows under their heads. The one surviving member was Arthur who for an unknown reason was sent on an errand by his father to eerily go buy shotgun shells right before the killing spree.
Neighbors heard the gunshots echoing through the woods and police soon found Charlie’s body. Suicide. Footsteps around the tree he fell next to indicated a great deal of pacing back and forth prior to ending his own life.
There are many thoughts and theories concerning the motive of this horrendous mass murder. One is the fact that Charley had sustained a fairly serious head wound a few months before his rampage, but this was debunked when the autopsy revealed no abnormalities.
The more likely reason — or at least contributing factor – are claims of an incestuous relationship between Charley and his 17-year old daughter, Marie. It is uncertain how long this relationship had been going on or if it had filtered into relations with any of his other children, but there are a few reliable accounts of witnesses hearing Mary lament that she was pregnant with her father’s child.
The Lawson family were laid to rest in a single family grave and a few years later, their home was opened as a tourist attraction by Charley’s brother, but is now demolished.