A Christmas Family Tragedy: Legends of the 1929 Lawson Family Murders
directed by Matt Hodges & Eric Calhoun
(Break of Dawn, 2007)

If you live in the mountainous area around Stokes County, N.C., or if you are a fan of paranormal ghost stories, you might have heard about the Charlie Lawson murders of Christmas Day, 1929. Just a few months after the infamous stock market crash that year, Charlie Lawson murdered his wife, along with seven of his eight children before turning his gun on himself. A documentary on the murders called A Christmas Family Tragedy was released in 2006.

This DVD is rather short -- only about an hour and 15 minutes -- with no extras. What you get is a series of interviews with various relatives several generations removed, as well as family friends, those who have experienced paranormal activities in the Lawson house (before it was destroyed) and at the family gravesite, and finally those who like a good murder-mystery. Interspersed, you will hear some of the historical facts and see some of the official documents of the murder.

Speculation as to the cause of the murders runs the gamut from financial issues due to the stock market crash, to an accident in which Charlie experienced a head injury that may have caused some mental issues, to speculation that Charlie had impregnated his 17-year-old daughter, to the idea that the Lawson family's religious beliefs may have had some influence. Most of the issues are dismissed one way or another. The only hole left open in my mind was that the oldest son was supposedly off buying bullets for a hunting trip when the murders occurred. It is pointed out that this was probably unlikely considering it was Christmas Day and that there had been a terrible snowstorm making travel difficult. But then this thread is simply dropped. I was left wondering if perhaps the son committed the murders and made it look like his dad had killed the family.

Periodically throughout the documentary, folks come forward to describe how the house was haunted. They talk about visiting the house and seeing/hearing/feeling the presence of the youngest children. There is a description of a visit to the family grave where fall leaves are strewn across all the graves except for that of Charlie. One of the visitors scraped leaves onto the grave to make them more uniform. While walking away, the group turned back and all the leaves were once again off that one grave. There was no wind that day.

I was thrown at the end of the film when the narrator basically said it doesn't matter what the cause of the murders was. It all boils down to a simple case of domestic violence. A quick description of a more recent Stokes County scene of domestic violence that ended in death is described. This came totally out of left field until I noted a small message on the back of the DVD box that "A Percentage of All Proceeds Benefit Domestic Violence Agencies." This is all well and good, but for balance, there might have been some mention of this at the beginning of the documentary.

If you are a fan of murder-mysteries or ghost stories, or live somewhere close to Stokes County, I could see you finding some value in A Christmas Family Tragedy. It you want to contribute to Domestic Violence agencies, you could do that directly if you aren't interested in the documentary. I will warn you that sometimes the accents are strong and hard to understand, especially since subtitles are not an option on this DVD. This isn't a bad documentary. It is not of the highest quality, but then I have seen much worse in this genre.

review by
Wil Owen

12 April 2008

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