STOKES COUNTY, N.C. – Tucked away in a quiet corner of the county, known as Brook Cove, you’ll find a small family cemetery.
Buried here are more than just the remains of those who lived and farmed the community. There are secrets here too. Secrets of why a man named Charlie Lawson killed his wife, six of his children and himself on Christmas Day, 1929.
“Nobody will ever know,” said local resident Keith Hiatt. “They might assume and have ideas, but nobody knows.”
What is known is that a couple of weeks before Christmas, Charlie took his family into Winston-Salem, bought them all new clothes and had a family portrait made. The cost of new clothes and a portrait was an extravagant expense for a poor tobacco farming family in 1929.
“I think he knew he wanted to preserve his family for history,” said Trudy J. Smith, who has written two books about the murders. “He knew what he was doing, I think.”
Smith’s research led her to people who were there that day like Charlie Lawson’s nephew Claude Lawson.
“Whenever I went in there, some of them was laying in the house dead, blood was running ever which a way,” said Claude, who discovered the bodies.
His 1991 interview with FOX8 photojournalist Chuck Hemrick was recently discovered.
“He killed them all in the house there but two girls. He shot them right there at the barn and drug them into the barn and put rocks under their head,” said Claude, who passed away in 1993.
Charlie’s oldest son Arthur survived.
Arthur had been rabbit hunting when he ran out of ammunition and decided to walk into Germanton to buy more. Around 1 p.m., while Arthur was in town, Charlie began killing his family and shortly after the bodies were discovered, he took his own life behind the home.
“He had two little beagle dogs and they was laying beside uncle Charlie,” Claude said. “He shot himself over there in the woods. He carried a stick and turned the gun right toward him, toward his heart and shot himself right in the heart.”
The murders gained national attention, making the front page of the New York Times. Thousands attended the funeral at a private cemetery.
“I had a friend…she was almost 100 when she passed away 2 years ago, and she was at the funeral,” Keith Hiatt said. “She was 12 years old at the time and said it was a huge crowd. Just thousands of people it looked like.”
All of the family were buried in a mass grave. The youngest member of the family, 3-month-old Mary Lou, was buried in her mother’s arms.
My dad told me about going to the funeral,” said local historian Kinney Rorrer. “My dad told me…Mrs. Lawson had the little baby in her arms in the casket and said he would never forget that.”
Tuesday at 6 p.m., in the book “White Christmas, Bloody Christmas” Trudy Smith and her father M. Bruce Jones dig into why Charlie Lawson committed the murders and discover some family secrets that may hold the answer.
Jump to other episodes in our video series:
- Episode 2: “The meaning of our tears”
- Episode 3: “Ballad of the Lawson Family Murder”
- Episode 4: “The tourist attraction”
- Episode 5: “The collectors”
After the murders, the Lawson family opened the home for tours and sold these photographs to visitors for souvenirs. This collection is courtesy of Kelly Craven who found these images in his mother’s family album.
Listen to the trailer for FOX8’s podcast, “Deadly Secrets: The Lawson Family Murder.”
Subscribe to “Deadly Secrets: The Lawson Family Murder”: