The chilling secret behind this family photograph taken shortly before the father slaughtered his wife and six children on Christmas Day..
THE chilling tale of the Lawson family massacre
A FAMILY photograph taken before a Christmas Day massacre holds a telling clue to the family’s scandalous secret.
In 1929, tobacco farmer Charles Davis Lawson, North Carolina, took his wife and seven children for a portrait despite the incredibly high cost for a working class family.
The haunting family portrait of the Lawsons, clockwise from top left, Arthur, 16, Marie, 17, Charles, 43, Fannie, 37, holding baby Mary Lou, Carrie, 12, Raymond, two, Maybell, seven, James, four
But this act of generosity had a sinister ulterior motive as Charles would soon annihilate his own family to protect a scandalous secret.
Featured in the picture is Arthur Lawson, 16, his sister Marie, 17, and their parents standing at the back.
Mother Fannie Lawson, holds the couple’s youngest child, four-month-old Mary Lou while James, four, Maybell, seven, Raymond, two, and Carrie, 12 are seated in the front.
On December 25, 1929, 17-year-old Marie rose early to make a Christmas cake and the two middle Lawson girls, Carrie and Maybell, left the house to go and visit their aunt and uncle.
The Lawson family house where Charlie shot his wife, Fannie, daughter Marie, 17, and his three youngest children
But behind the tobacco barn on the property, their father Charlie was waiting with a shotgun.
The 43-year-old shot his daughters, bludgeoned them to finish them off and placed their bodies inside the barn.
He then returned to the family house where his wife Fannie, 37, was sitting on the porch.
Lawson shot her, and went into the house where Marie, James and Raymond, had run to hide but Charlie quickly tracked them down and killed the three of them.
Finally, he bludgeoned baby Mary Lou, whose cause of death was a fractured skull.
The seven bodies were found with their arms crossed over their chests and rocks underneath their heads by the oldest son in the family Arthur, who had been sent by his father on an errand the night before the killing.
Arthur, who survived, is believed to have arrived home and raised the alarm before people began gathering at the Lawson home.
Charlie was missing, but within hours the gathering heard a single gunshot from nearby woods.
Arthur and a police officer found Charlie’s body and letters he had written, which did not explain why he had committed the heinous crime.
After the funeral, the Lawson house began to attract hundreds of tourists who visited to see Marie’s Christmas cake on display, a souvenir of the massacre that was kept under glass after visitors stole some of its raisins.
Tragically Arthur Lawson was killed in a motor accident in 1945, leaving behind him a wife and four children.
The bloody scene inside the Lawson family farmhouse, where Charlie finished off his family on Christmas Day, 1929
The mystery of the massacre remained unsolved until years later in 1990 when a book was published about the killing.
In it, a cousin of the children Stella Lawson Boles, 60, confessed she had overheard her mother and other Lawson women talking at the funeral about how Fannie had confided in them that she had discovered incest in her family before Christmas.
Fannie Lawson had since agonised about a relationship between her husband, Charlie, and 17-year-old daughter Marie.
A crowd gathered at the funeral of the slain Lawson family in Germanton, North Carolina, in 1929
It also emerged that weeks before the fateful Christmas, Marie had shared a secret with her friend Ella May Johnson.
On a sleepover, Marie had told Ella May that she was pregnant with her father Charlie’s baby and that both her parents knew about the pregnancy.
Another story, from the Lawson family’s neighbour, Sam Hill, was that Charlie had forced himself upon his daughter and when she became pregnant, he had warned her that if she told her mother or anyone else “there would be some killing done”.
The Lawson family tobacco barn where Charlie lay in wait for his daughters Carrie, 12, and Maybell, 7
In the family photograph, Marie’s belly does not protrude, but she stares stonily from the photograph, while her father looks defiant.
The massacre has since entered folk history with ten songs, two books and a film all written about the horrific crime.