On Christmas Day, 1929, shots rang out from the Lawson family homestead near Germanton, North Carolina. Charlie Lawson had murdered his wife and six of his children. Hours later, he took his own life. What could motivate a man to commit such a terrible act?
United States
explicit content


00:00:08hi I'm Eric Olsen and welcome to a festive holiday edition of the lineup podcast with me as always is Doctor Who show time to gather with family and friends take some time out of our frenetic schedules and reflect on our blessings as a song says it's the most wonderful time of the year but for many people the holidays are a time not of Joy but cute sorrow is that a lot of people are not with people that they want to be with you know they the the the strength of those bonds may be tested over time or perhaps somebody has passed away and so you hear all these Christmas songs about togetherness and family and you start to think of those loved ones that are around you anymore and it's over lot of people the holidays are really trying time and we're reminded of it in our culture
00:01:07now I think more than we ever have been before you think part of it is the expectation or the demand that we be happy actually adds to the stress
00:01:18especially if you cannot get away from it anymore you know the holiday ads and in every show you watch every movie you go to see movies at the theater now they're having as before if you wanted to escape some of that missing of a loved one impossible to do
00:01:35right and then of course not every every family is exactly perfect some have built-in issues within the families and there could be confrontations and the like so yeah even under the best of circumstances there can be emotional issues and not everyone lives under the best of circumstances Dale Davis Lawson married Fanny man ring and they went on to have seven healthy children together they worked long and hard is 10 and tobacco Farmers for many many years hoping to eventually dig out from under the burden of sharecropping to strike out on their own even through the tumultuous early twenties and the death of one of their children to illness the Lawson Clan persevered finally in 1927 the Lawsons were able to purchase their very own Farm on Brook Cove Road near Germanton North Carolina
00:02:33and by 1929 the Lawson family had grown to include Charlie and Fannie and their children Murray 17 Arthur 16 carry 12 Maybelle seven jeans for Raymond to and Mary Lou 4 months in fact things were going so well for the losses that year that Charlie took all of them into town to buy new clothing and have a family portrait taken together this was actually really uncommon occurrence for working class family of that era and it must have been very exciting for all of them but the picture had barely been developed when tragedy struck can anything about family Dynamics or anyone's mental state be glean from that fateful photograph
00:03:18you know I'm looking at it right now if you go to the line up there there you know what is a photograph there the family photographs that they had and it's kind of still like there's not a lot of smiling going on which is somewhat to be expected just because of photographic process back then of standing still for a long time but when you look really closely at the photo it looks as though Fanny that's the the family matriarch she looks kind of haunted she's holding their uniform months old maybe a little bit younger at the time and and then there's the family patriarch Charlie any standing next to Murray their sixteen-year-old daughter this is cheese sandwich in between her father and her brother her elder brother and looks look sorry no picture is worth a thousand words she looks miserable she looks hot she looks may be scared or tired and the children down front they look like everything is relatively okay there's a little bit of
00:04:18the little one but the back row of the Elder folks in that family miserable is the only word I can come up with to describe how they look
00:04:29so you know they have this photograph taken and on the afternoon of Christmas Day Carrie and Maybelle were shot on their way to their aunt and uncle's house and their bodies were then placed in The Waltons Tobacco Barn shortly afterward Fanny who was on the family porch was also shocked the Lawsons eldest daughter Marie heard the shot and screamed while James and Draymond attempted to hide he was murdered next followed by the two small boys lastly the baby Mary Lewis Lane and it is said that she was bludgeoned to death
00:05:02but who could have committed these horrible crimes and why the eldest son Arthur 16 was summoned home from town where he had been sent by his father on an errand he was told by townspeople it's something terrible had happened at home you rushed back to the family farm to find his entire family slaughtered they were all laid out with their arms crossed and rocks beneath their heads the only missing family member was father Charlie imagine the shock and horror of such a scene what would Arthur have been going through especially when you realize that only his father was missing from the Carnage and why might have Charlie said Arthur away on that fateful day
00:05:44no it's completely unknown of ammunition and Charlie said to Arthur hey why don't you go into town and get some get some more and then come on back so Arthur is just in town getting some more ammunition for his rifle and then it comes up and says something terrible so I'm not sure what was going through Arthur set you know it's kind of a toss-up for me cuz are there was 17 he must have been old enough to kind of surmise maybe would have been going on in the house but then at the same time 17 year old I was 17 I was very caught up in my own stuff at 17 and that could have been possible for Arthur to that maybe he really didn't know there was something else going on so Arthur may have thought oh my gosh my father
00:06:44gone and my whole family was slaughtered while my father wasn't there but then there's a piece of me that thinks that Charlie may have sent Arthur away into town because Charlie knew what was going to happen he knew what was coming and wanted to spare Arthur so back at the scene of the crime what it was this sound that signaled the Elder Lawson taking his own life the police officer who been with Arthur ran down to discover Charlie's lifeless body along with Footprints encircling a tree it was supposed that Charlie had been pacing around the tree prior to pulling the trigger he also had a number of letters to his parents on his person when he died
00:07:31but why I had Charlie Lawson killed nearly his entire family except for Arthur and then himself
00:07:40well I always think that Arthur was spared because he was the eldest son and he would carry on the loss of name I'm not sure of that but there were a couple theories so it's several months before the tragedy Charlie Lawson sustained a head injury and some people theorize that it had altered his mental state and was somehow related to the massacre but an autopsy and Analysis of his brain at Johns Hopkins Hospital found no abnormalities but I have a question about that Eric shot himself know when you commit suicide with a firearm the most common place to shoot oneself is in the head so we don't know where Charlie Lawson place this fatal shot but unless he you know put the barrel to his chest I'm thinking that there might not have been a lot of head for Johns Hopkins to look at
00:08:40that seems a reasonable point and yes if he did shoot himself in the head then my goodness that brain would have been damaged
00:08:52before this is always been a mystery to me but Johns Hopkins yeah they said no abnormalities so I guess that's another rumor circulated that Charlie had witnessed an organized crime incidents have been found out and that he and his family have been murdered to silence no no particular evidence has ever come forth supporting this Theory it wasn't until Trudy Smith's White Christmas Bloody Christmas was published in 1990 that a more feasible Catalyst of the tragedy became public knowledge the claim was that there was an incestuous relationship between Charlie and Marie the Lawsons eldest daughter and a top it all off the rumor was that Marie was pregnant at the time of the murder
00:09:45and the day before White Christmas Bloody Christmas was scheduled to be published the author received a phone call from Stella Lawson as a relative who had previously been interviewed for the book but who had left out some very key information Stella said that at the Lawson's funeral she had overheard fan friend's sister-in-law and Aunt discussing how she had confided in them that she been concerned about the relationship between Charlie and the eldest daughter Marie more support for this theory was revealed in Smith's additional book the meaning of our tears most random Marie Lawson Elementary disclose that just weeks before Christmas Marie had told her that she was pregnant with her father's baby it is unclear at the eldest brother and only Survivor Arthur ever knew the turmoil within the household he lived until 1945 when he was tragically killed in a car accident
00:10:45and four children all right so even if the incest rumor is true and there seems to be enough smoke that perhaps there was fire why would that lead Charlie to kill the entire family other than Arthur
00:11:01I guess in some ways a classic family Annihilator that's a term that I use in my profession and it's somebody that seems so cold and unfeeling to the outside world and I understand that but it's really the insecurity of a family Annihilator that stands out to me the most so despite what he did Charlie Lawson was afraid in Charlie Lawson's my being a public Pariah who's incest with his daughter was revealed was a fate worse than death and not just for him but for them to which qualifies him not just as a child molester but as a narcissist as well and narcissist typically don't have the ability to truly put themselves in someone else's shoes they extrapolate their own feelings and put them on so that's just how it goes in their fragile little world but the final piece of the family Annihilator puzzle what kind of lose me
00:12:01this case is the unyielding rigid belief system family and Islanders have this they have an unyielding belief system that they stick to so well it may never be known what it was it's likely that Charlie Lawson had a very particular set of beliefs about how life should be led how the family should look unfortunately we may never know what exactly was going on in his do you think that photograph that fateful photograph first of all is there any possibility that that was in essence a premeditated act and that he wanted to document of the family before they were destroyed I absolutely and then lined up this photograph which you know we were saying before is pretty rare for people at that time. I really think that
00:12:57Charlie Lawson wanted a photograph of his family looking perfect seeming perfect so that after they were all gone this Photograph would exist and potentially for Arthur the One Survivor of what the family was supposed to be what he envisioned that the family actually was even though it wasn't you think it was his intent to kill himself it seemed like he deleted and there was the foot marks in the ground look like he was pacing and it was there was a fair amount of time between when he committed the murders and then killed himself do you think it was his intention all along or was that was that something more like the gravity of what he had just done struck him and he just couldn't take it
00:13:42since he wrote the letters to his parents would we don't know what those letters included but since he wrote letters to parents it is my thought anyway that he absolutely intended to take his life but family members are not the most courageous people in the world obviously so what you know he took then and I've known other family Annihilator John list is a good example of a family Annihilator who had every intention at first of taking his own life but instead he ate a sandwich with a different family yeah your analysis of of list is is it stinks nihilators was a guy
00:14:42progressing in that job to where in Dallas was an accountant and then he moved on to be ahead of counting of a bank in a really large banking firm and he bought this huge mansion Lawson is not so lost and started out as a lowly sharecropper got married to the woman he loved and then worked and worked and worked until they had enough money to buy their very own farm and by all accounts they were pretty listen Lawson are looking real similar at this point they both have big families the families are successful but he didn't get along with other people very well and when he was working at the bank he didn't get along with the people that he needed to get along with so he eventually lost his job and the waitlist saw it if he lost his job and his family had to vacate that beautiful mansion with the Tiffany stained glass window that they would all be out cats from this the Social Circles that they were in now my guess is that Lawson
00:15:41I felt similarly he was leading a double life anyway if the rumor about Murray is to be believed so he was living this double life where he had a great family they all look wonderful they had the successful Farm but he was having an incestuous relationship with his daughter and then when Marie suddenly disclose that she was pregnant all of that threatened to come crashing down and that's it. They were so much in debt collectors were coming so don't listen to that he had a limited amount of time before his family was going to find out the truth and it would be broadcast to everyone that lost his mansion with Lawson he would have lost his reputation is entire life and rather than suffer the shame of what their actions had wrought
00:16:27they felt in their hearts that it was better to spare their family that humiliation so in a sense it's a social crime it's not a crime of passion it's not a crime of anger it's not a crime of the moment it isn't really which is ironic for a narcissist even about him it's about how does the rest of the world view us so it's a social crutch in some ways it sounds to me like the Killer is acting for Society at least in his Twisted mind exactly they they are projecting their they're anticipating what societies going to say about them and I would love to say that's they're so narcissistic and messed up that they're wrong but I don't think that they are I think that John list would have been judged because of how he placed himself in that Community you know they were involved in all these clubs all of these social things are the kids were involved in sports in theater
00:17:27with the Lawson family was kind of similar they were engaged in church and in their finger in their family nearby they placed them self in this social strata and they knew how those forces would judge them and they knew it would be harsh so they they in some ways wish to spare their family from that but how you know that a family Annihilator is a coward is that you know deep down even though he did not he went on to change his name find a new wife and lead a different life and with Lawson he trips around a tree for hours deciding whether or not he should were there any indications that you're aware of during his life prior to this that he was the Charlie was a narcissist we have any other indications other than this horrendous crime
00:18:19you know I didn't find anything you know short of of possibly reading the book I I didn't see anything that indicated that he was a narcissus other than the thought that he was having an incestuous relationship with his daughter which Dusty to some very skewed form of narcissism and that Marie was all right I am just so freaked out by incest it I cannot comprehend it what kind of personality traits contribute to incest who wants to do that and why
00:19:00that is the question of the ages it really is because it's crimes against children unfortunately are not rare so we have a lot of information on pedophilia as a whole but when it comes to incest it is such a rare crime I mean that we find out about in psychological circles let me put it that way a lot of incest is not discovered until long after Dawn and The Family Den speaks up about it so in that case we can't study it but since it is that you know that the base rate of it is so low it's really hard to know exactly what is going on it and I don't know if Lawson was a pedophile in general or if he was a pedofile at all since his daughter was potentially in the Adolescent years when he started we don't know that then he did have a file which is so I'm not sure what was going on with him and could a head injury have brought that on its possible
00:19:56interesting I didn't make that connection you know as far as I know incest it is such a powerful Taboo in virtually all human societies why would someone go so far as to break that beyond what you've already said
00:20:15you know it's Dad is the the real question I asked think that a lot of pedophiles in general it almost seems to be somewhat of an orientation there is this big myth out there that if someone is a pedophile it is because they have been abused so people might jump to that conclusion in Lawson's case to if he was at you know it had an incestuous relationship that baby he was molested but the statistics don't then half of all pedophiles were actually abused themselves so what made Charles do this with his daughter is really anybody's guess without talking to him I wish I could say but I don't know
00:20:52just off the top of my head I am not a professional but comprehend this and sort it out and follow the logic of incest the thing and it is the most abhorrent about the whole thing to me is here is this person who is literally half me that that is me right there half that person is me and the other half is a person who at least at the time I loved and cared about and and was married to two people who I really care about including myself have gone into the creation of this other human being
00:21:38every Instinct I have and obviously most people have is to protect that person to give them every advantage to try to do whatever you can to have them be happy and adjusted and successful could it be that a portion of the narcissism or a demonstration of the narcissism is that this person the father in some way Twisted way is literally entering into a relationship with himself so glad you put it that way because it's that really lose a lot of people I I feel like they can't even get their thought process used to go there because it is so weird in the few incest cases that I've treated and I should point out to the audience that I started my work is a forensic psychologist with sex offenders so I'm pretty aware of what goes into both
00:22:38sleep and pedophilia but I did not have a lot of guys that might my population supposed to mail that were in such respect for those where it was I mean Eric you just hit the nail on the head there is this component of the narcissism where they they are in namrood with they have a very very Twisted Kind of Love Tour this individual that doesn't just reflect the other person in the relationship but it reflects them a piece of them it is it is a very very Twisted form of love and of course of you
00:23:15yeah it's like the mirror image of what most people feel they want to protect they want to nourish they want to do all they can for that person to set them on their way to set them up for life but I see what you're saying that certain kind of narcissist
00:23:36they're more concerned about that portion of that person that's them and they see themselves in that person it's literally literally like narcissus staring into the water
00:23:52see if this doesn't make the the hair on your arm stand up this I just remembered this just now that the one person that I had that I was treating in a group and he was you know an incestuous pedophile and I could not figure out the group members either other sex offenders could not figure out what made him offend against his daughter and he said nobody understands me like she does
00:24:21yeah well you know what
00:24:23at various times in my life switch when I'm feeling sorry for myself I have said that about my mother I have said that about my oldest daughter with her it's mostly that she's been around for 32 years I've known her her whole life and she's been close to me though her whole life and she has a certain view of me it's generally you no more positive of course than the World At Large but that leads me to Value them
00:24:58and their perspective and their happiness all the more not to destroy that relationship do these people to The incestuous Narcissist do they not recognize that they are in fact destroyed that relationship by engaging in this Behavior right now I literally wanted to go to that is exactly right they but when I really challenged those in these incestuous relationships that is exactly right they do not understand truly they're being I don't think that they are harming that person
00:25:50see it as a mutual love they do not get that it is not consensual that it's very rude and it could never be because they're usually children that it's not consensual and on top of that it is going to ask you that person view of sexuality and relationships for the rest of their life the way they see it it is a love that Society find taboo but that they themselves do not let such a violation all right let's move along the 8th Lawson to Parish that day including Charlie or interred together with baby William that was the child who died as an infant beneath a single headstone which Bears The Melancholy inscription not now but in the coming years it will be in a better land will read the meaning of our tears and then sometime
00:26:44will understand oh boy poetic but perhaps wishful thinking maybe just ran in the family because shortly after the murders Charlie's brother Marion Lawson opened the murder home on Brook Cove Road as a tourist attraction and the KKK after they were two of them the case that real Austin had based on Christmas day we're displayed on the tour and because visitors begin to pick up the reasons on the cake to take as souvenirs it was placed in a covered glass cake saver for many years oh my I'm so proud of my murder raisin please
00:27:32what I said please come to my display case where I have my sports memorabilia in baseball and I have the Lawson family murder raisin
00:27:53yeah you know what I think they should be in in therapeutic groups to because I don't know who takes
00:28:00as rude as it like a Keepsake but you know there's literally serial killer trading cards you bring that there are no there are trading cards baseball cards football cards basketball cards serial killer trading cards statistics on the back just like your favorite player
00:28:27there's nothing to be memorialized or idolize you any even though I mean see I feel okay I feel like the world's biggest hypocrite saying that I do because this is what I do for a living but I don't idolize them I'm I'm studying them in the hopes of understanding the behavior so that we can recognize it more quickly in the future to to head things off the past I believe me I have had many chances people to collect any memorabilia I used to work
00:28:59getting your house don't even understand I don't know I don't know that the the reason you hear most often is there pain witness that someone has to keep track of these things someone has to pay attention these things and people have to be realistic about the depths of human depravity but I'll tell you what it still sounds like celebrating it to me honestly okay if I could start like a social movement which I know will not happen but if I could what I would do is to say why not seek out the families of the victims and celebrate those people because those are the people that deserve recognition and and too often ways you off in the victims names identities for disappear into this background of a password of victim that nobody remembers and I would much prefer that people celebrate their families and and recognize their stories then subsisting on the horror that these
00:29:59I'm studying them to understand them but it's the victims who deserve remembering in my opinion that is an excellent point the lineup podcast is a joint production of the light up America's Most Wanted and the criminal code stop by the site that www. Dash line - up.com America's - most - honda.com and the criminal code. Com are theme music is composed performed by absofacto listen in at absofacto. Com have a wonderful holiday season and a great New Year

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from The Lineup Podcast, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.


Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.