Stokes County, North Carolina, is located in the heart of tobacco country. Back in the heyday of the Golden Leaf, as tobacco was once called, almost every man in Stokes county farmed tobacco or had some kind of connection to it. And the most infamous tobacco farmer of them all was such a Charlie Lawson.
It is said that his crimes are so horrible that his soul is not even welcome in Hell and, as a result, some local residents say his ghost still wanders the road in Stokes County near the place where his farm was once located.
In 1929, shortly before Christmas, Lawson took his wife Fannie Manring and their seven children Marie, Arthur, Carrie, Maybell, James, Raymond and Mary Lou into town to buy new clothes and to have a family portrait taken. An uncommon occurrence for a working-class rural family of the era, but nothing strange, as for a “well-to-do farmer” a pre-Christmas shopping appear reasonable.
In any case, on Christmas Day, Charlie first shot his daughters, Carrie and Maybell, as they were setting out to their uncle and aunt’s house. He waited for them by the tobacco barn until they were in range, shot them with his 12-gauge shotgun, then ensured that they were dead by bludgeoning them, and placed the bodies in the tobacco barn.
Afterwards, Lawson returned to the house and shot Fannie, who was on the porch. As soon as the gun was fired, Marie, who was inside, screamed, while the two small boys, James and Raymond, attempted to find a hiding place. Thus Charlie shot Marie, and then found and killed the two boys. Lastly, he killed the baby aged 4 months, Mary Lou, and it is thought that she was bludgeoned to death. Then he went out into the woods and shot himself. The only survivor was 16-year-old Arthur, whom he had sent on an errand just before committing the crime. However, when he came home later that day, he found his entire family dead.
Over the years rumors have circulated about what drove Charlie to commit one of the most horrific mass murder in North Carolina’s history, and the most popular is that he was having an incestuous relationship with his 17 year old daughter, who some say was pregnant with his child at the time of her death. Others say that he was just a patsy who was framed for the murders. It all depends on who you ask, and on the version of the story you hear, including that Charlie went crazy because he worked in a slaughterhouse killing hogs all day long, and one day just lost the ability to know the difference between killing a hog and killing his family members, even though this runs counter to the historic version. It seems also that Charlie’s oldest daughter was icing a cake when he shot her, then he killed his baby and shoved the body underneath the wood stove.
The gravesite of Charlie and his murdered family is in a small cemetery just outside of the tiny hamlet of Walnut Cove. It is a mass grave that was dug as one big rectangular hole and, apparently, the baby had been buried in its mother’s arms. According to local sources, It seems also that the son that survived died years later in a truck accident.
The grave is all you can see. Charlie’s house has long since been torn down and nothing remains of his farm. In any case, the only person that knows why Charlie Lawson murdered his family is Charlie himself and, if you really want to know why he did it, you can take a drive up Brook Cove road and you just might be able to ask him for yourself….