Christmas is a time for most of us to spend time with those who are near and dear to us. For many of us, that means spending time with family. Whether family members are spread across the globe or right next door, everyone comes together on Christmas.
That’s what the Lawson family planned to do on December 25, 1929. But things didn’t quite pan out that way.
Shortly before Christmas, patriarch Charlie Lawson, 43, took his wife, Fannie Manring, 37, and their seven children, Marie, 17, Arthur, 16, Carrie, 12, Maybell, 7, James, 4, Raymond, 2, and Mary Lou, four months, into town at Germanton, North Carolina to buy new clothes and to take a family portrait.
On Christmas afternoon, Lawson sat by the tobacco barn with a 12-gauge shotgun waiting for his two daughters, Carrie and Maybell, to arrive. When they were in range, Lawson shot and bludgeoned them before hiding them inside the barn.
Lawson then made his way to the house where he shot his wife. Marie screamed at the sound and James and Raymond attempted to hide. Lawson entered the house, shot Marie and the two boys before bludgeoning four-month-old Mary Lou. Afterwards, Lawson went into the woods, paced for a time, then shot himself.
The only survivor was Arthur, who had been sent on an errand by his father prior to the murders. The bodies of his family were found with their arms crossed and rocks under their heads. There is no known motive.
There are, however, a couple theories on Lawson’s potential motive. One was a head injury that Lawson had sustained months prior, but an autopsy found no abnormalities. Another theory involved the potential witness of an organized crime incident. But the most enduring theory is one involving eldest daughter Marie’s rumored pregnancy by her own father. The theory has been explored in the book White Christmas, Bloody Christmas.
Shortly after the massacre, the Lawson home was opened up as a tourist attraction. The tour featured a cake baked by Marie that day. After many visitors began taking raisins from the cake as souvenirs, the cake was placed in a glass cake server until it was no longer in a condition to be presented.
The incident also inspired a number of songs, including “Story of the Lawson Family” by the Stanley Brothers in 1956.