Lawson was born on May 10, 1886. His parents raised him in Lawsonville, North Carolina. In 1911, he married Fannie Manring, and the two would go on to have eight children: Marie in 1912, Arthur in 1913, William in 1914, Carrie in 1917, Maybell in 1922, James in 1925, Raymond in 1927, and Mary Lou in 1929. When two of Lawson's younger brothers moved to the Germanton area in 1918, he followed suit with his family. William died of an illness in 1920. The Lawsons worked as tobacco farmers, and by 1927, they had saved enough money to buy their own farm on Brook Cove Road.
Familicide and Suicide
In 1929, shortly before Christmas, Lawson took his wife and their seven children into town. They bought new clothes and had a family portrait taken. Back in the 1920s, this was extremely unusual for a middle-class family to do. This possibly means Lawson's rampage was premeditated.
On Christmas Day, Lawson and Arthur went out hunting. The two eventually ran out of bullets, so he sent his son into town to buy more. Once Arthur was gone, the murders began.
Lawson, who had secretly saved some ammunition for himself, waited by the tobacco barn for Carrie and Maybell. The girls were leaving to visit their aunt and uncle when their father shot them with a 12-gauge shotgun before bludgeoning them. He then placed the bodies in the barn before he went to his house.
Fannie was on the porch when Lawson shot her. Marie, who was inside the house, screamed; James and Raymond attempted to hide. Lawson entered the house and shot Marie before finding the boys, shooting them as well. Finally, he beat Mary Lou to death. He then gathered the bodies and arranged each family member with their arms crossed and placed rocks under their heads before disappearing back into the woods.
One of Lawson's brothers and his wife were the first to discover the bodies; they had been hunting and decided to stop by to wish the family a merry Christmas. News of the massacre quickly spread in the small town. Meanwhile, Arthur was picked up from the store by police.
A few hours later, Arthur, the police, and everyone else at the house suddenly heard a gunshot from the woods. They traced the source and discovered Lawson, who had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Letters addressed to his parents were found near his body. Footprints encircled a tree, indicating that he had been walking around in circles for an unspecified period of time.
It remains unknown why Lawson suddenly killed his loved ones, as well as why he spared Arthur. Several theories pointing to the motive have popped up, but two stand out in particular.
The first theory centers around an event that occurred months before the murders, in which Lawson suffered a head injury. It is believed this could have led to a change in his mental state. However, the autopsy did not reveal anything unusual about his brain.
The second theory is that Lawson was having an incestuous relationship with Marie. Stella, a relative, said she overheard Fannie's sisters-in-law and aunts (including Jettie, Stella's own mother) discussing how Fannie had told them that she was concerned about incest between Lawson and Marie. Jettie died in 1928, meaning that Fannie had been suspicious of the sexual abuse long before the murders took place. Ella May, one of Marie's closest friends, stated that the latter had told her she was pregnant with Lawson's child. Marie also confided in her that he and Fannie were aware of the pregnancy. Another close friend and neighbor, Hill Hampton, claimed that he knew about serious problems occurring within the family, but he never elaborated on what the issues were. The amount of evidence pointing towards the incest theory indicates Lawson did not want anyone to find out about this, so he murdered his family to cover it up.
Lawson and his victims were buried together. A cake that Marie had baked on the day of the murders was carefully put on display as a tourist attraction; eventually, a relative took it home and buried it. Arthur died in a motor accident in 1945, aged 31, leaving behind a wife and four children.
Lawson killed most of his family with a 12-gauge shotgun, usually just shooting them. However, he also used the weapon to beat Carrie and Maybell after they had been shot, as he wanted to make sure they were dead. Lawson also waited in hiding for them, something that he did not do with the rest of his victims. Mary Lou was bludgeoned with the gun instead of being shot.
All of the following were killed in Germanton, North Carolina.
- December 25, 1929: The Lawson family:
- Carrie Lawson, 12 (his daughter; shot and bludgeoned)
- Maybell Lawson, 7 (his daughter; shot and bludgeoned)
- Fannie Lawson, 37 (his wife; shot)
- Marie Lawson, 17 (his daughter; shot)
- James Lawson, 4 (his son; shot)
- Raymond Lawson, 2 (his son; shot)
- Mary Lou Lawson, 3 months (his daughter; bludgeoned)
On Criminal Minds
- Season Fourteen
- "Starter Home" - While Lawson has yet to be directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for Karl Elgin - Both were family annihilators who (possibly) had stressors involving the pregnancy of their daughter (Lawson may have had an incestuous relationship with his daughter, while Elgin's daughter was impregnated by her boyfriend), killed a family involved in the conception by shooting them, both massacres had one of the supposed grandchild's parents as victims (Lawson killed his daughter, while Elgin killed his daughter's boyfriend), and both died after their massacres (Lawson committed suicide the same day, while Elgin died after committing several more murders). Also, Lawson's massacre being a murder-suicide is somewhat similar to how Elgin staged his massacre to look like one.
- Often incorrectly mentioned as four months. Her death certificate states that she was three months old when she died.