Episode 142:

Live at the Durham Performing Arts Center

The Lawson Family Murders

Karen

The Bitter Blood Murders

Georgia

Episode 142: Live at the Durham Performing Arts Center

Karen and Georgia cover the Lawson Family murders and the Bitter Blood murders.

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The Lawson Family Murders

The Lawson Family Murders Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

Other Image Sources:

A Studio Portrait of the Lawsons days before murder from Wikipedia

Aftermath of Lawson family murders on Christmas Day 1929 from Greensboro.com

"The murder of the Lawson family refers to the Germanton, North Carolina event on December 25, 1929, in which sharecropper Charlie Lawson murdered his wife and six of his seven children.

In 1911, Charles Davis Lawson married Fannie Manring, with whom he had eight children. The third, William, born in 1914, died of an illness in 1920. In 1918, following the move of his younger brothers, Marion and Elijah, to the Germanton area, Lawson followed suit with his family. The Lawsons worked as tenant tobacco farmers, saving enough money by 1927 to buy their own farm on Brook Cove Road.

In 1929, shortly before Christmas, Charlie Lawson (age 43) took Fannie (his wife age 37) and their seven children, Marie (age 17), Arthur (age 16), Carrie (age 12), Maybell (age 7) James (age 4) Raymond, (age 2) and Mary Lou (age 4 months) into town to buy new clothes and to have a family portrait taken. This would have been an uncommon occurrence for a working-class rural family of the era, which has led to speculations that Charlie's act was premeditated. Lawson's having purchased his own farm two years previous, however, together with the fact that an Associated Press wire that went out on the day after the murders characterized Lawson as a "well-to-do farmer", would make a pre-Christmas shopping spree appear reasonable.

On the afternoon of December 25, Lawson first shot his daughters, Carrie and Maybell, as they were setting out to their uncle and aunt's house. Lawson waited for them by the tobacco barn; when they were in range, shot them with a 12-gauge shotgun; then ensured that they were dead by bludgeoning them. He then placed the bodies in the tobacco barn.

Afterwards, he 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. Lawson shot Marie and then found and shot the two boys. Lastly, he killed the baby, Mary Lou. It is thought that she was bludgeoned to death. After the murders, he went into the nearby woods and, several hours later, shot himself. The only survivor was his eldest son, 16-year-old Arthur, whom he had sent on an errand just before committing the crime.

The bodies of the family members were found with their arms crossed and rocks under their heads. The gunshot signaling Charlie Lawson's own suicide was heard by the many people who already had learned of the murders on the property and gathered there. A police officer who was with Arthur Lawson ran down to discover Charlie's body along with letters to his parents. As footprints encircled the tree, it was supposed that he had been pacing around the tree prior to taking his life.

Months before the event, Charlie Lawson had sustained a head injury; some family and friends theorized that it had altered his mental state and was related to the massacre. However, an autopsy and analysis of his brain at Johns Hopkins Hospital found no abnormalities.

It was not until the book White Christmas, Bloody Christmas was published in 1990 that a claim of Charlie sexually abusing Marie surfaced, beginning with an anonymous source who heard the rumor during a tour of the Lawson family home shortly after the murders. The day before the book was to be published, the author received a phone call from Stella Lawson, a relative who had already been interviewed for the book. Stella said that she had overheard Fannie's sisters-in-law and aunts, including Stella's mother Jettie Lawson, discussing how Fannie Lawson had confided in them that she had been concerned about an "incestuous relationship" between Charlie and Marie. Jettie died in early 1928, meaning Fannie had been suspicious of the incest at least that long before the murders in late 1929.

More support for this theory was revealed in The Meaning of our Tears, published by the same author in 2006. A close friend of Marie Lawson's, Ella May, disclosed that a few weeks before Christmas, Marie told her that she was pregnant with her father's baby. Ella May also said that Charlie and Fannie knew about this. Another close friend and neighbor to the Lawson family, Hill Hampton, stated that he knew of serious problems going on within the family, but declined to elaborate.

Shortly after the murders, Charlie's brother, Marion Lawson, opened the home on Brook Cove Road as a tourist attraction. A cake that Marie Lawson had baked on Christmas Day was displayed on the tour. Because visitors began to pick at the raisins on the cake to take as souvenirs, it was placed in a covered glass cakeserver for many years.The event inspired a number of songs and other tributes including the murder ballad "The Murder of the Lawson Family", which was recorded by the Stanley Brothers in March 1956.The case was also featured in an episode of the PRX podcast Criminal. The Lawsons were laid to rest in a family graveyard established in 1908, originally for the use of the W. D. Browder family and selected friends and neighbors. Today, it is open for burials only for direct descendants of W. D. Browder, owing to limited plot availability.[citation needed]Arthur Lawson was killed in a 1945 motor accident (age 32), leaving a wife and four children..."

— Source: Murder of the Lawson Family Wikipedia

 

The Bitter Blood Murders

The Bitter Blood Murders Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash

Other Image Sources:

Law enforcement officials at scene of explosion (June 3rd 1985) from TheKnightShift.com

Susie with kids John and Jim circa 1980 from TheKnightShift.com

"In 1981, Susie Newsom (the niece and namesake of North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Susie Sharp) and her husband Tom Lynch got divorced and many intense battles ensued over the custody of their two sons, John and Jim. Shortly after the finalization of their divorce and the beginning of their power struggles, Susie Newsom became intimate with her first cousin, Fritz Klenner. Fritz Klenner was a gun worshipping “doctor” who had a long history of dishonesty. Fritz followed in the footsteps of his father, Frederick Klenner, MD, and started his own medical practice in Reidsville, North Carolina. However, Fritz was a fraud and deceived many people (including his father) because he did not actually attend college nor did he receive a license to practice medicine.

In the summer of 1984, relatives of the former couple began to be murdered across the country. At first, Tom Lynch’s mother (Delores) and sister (Janie) were murdered in cold blood in Oldham County, Kentucky. The two were killed at their home as Delores returned from a Sunday morning church service on July 22, 1984. The police originally had no leads and no suspects were under investigation after these two mysterious murders.

Then on May 18, 1985, Susie Newsom’s father (Bob Newsom), mother (Florence), and grandmother (Hattie) were shot to death in their home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Before his murder, Bob Newsom had agreed to testify in favor of Tom Lynch at an upcoming custody hearing. Investigators now had a suspect. Because of this lead, police began to speculate that Susie played a role in the murder of her family.

Soon after the death of her family, police began gathering information, heavily scrutinizing many aspects of Susie Newsom’s life. Police soon discovered that Susie was in a relationship with Fritz and both became prime suspects in the murders of Susie’s family and Tom’s family. By June 1985, investigators had gathered substantial evidence and were closing in on the arrests of Susie and Fritz. However, an unpredictable and shocking event happened instead.

On June 3, police forces entered the apartment complex of Fritz Klenner in Greensboro, North Carolina. Authorities were ready to subdue him in the case of physical resistance, but they never got the chance. Fritz became outraged and fired multiple gunshots in the direction of the police, then fled the scene in an SUV with Susie and her two children, John and Jim. Fritz and the police became engaged in a low speed 15-minute police chase. When the SUV was stopped, Klenner opened fire with a machine gun, wounding three officers in the initial burst of fire. Before they could respond in kind, he detonated an explosive charge inside the Blazer, killing himself and his three passengers. Autopsies performed on the children showed that both boys had ingested cyanide and had been shot in the head at close range. Later the authorities determined that Susie Newsom ignited the explosives in the SUV.

In the wake of the deaths on June 3, 1985, forensics analysis began on the bodies of Fritz, Susie, John, and Jim. Both boys were found to have high levels of cyanide in their blood in addition to gunshot wounds to the head. It is assumed that due to the poison both children were unconscious during the police chase, and that either Susie or Fritz fatally shot them just prior to the explosion of the bomb. Susie's body was mangled from the waist down and many pieces of the seat were deeply embedded in her corpse. This led investigators to believe that the bomb was positioned underneath her seat, on the passenger side of Fritz's Bronco. Police officers found Fritz alive among the wreckage; however, he soon died from internal hemorrhaging.

The following day, June 4, the police searched the Klenner household and found numerous firearms, explosives, and prescription drugs. Over 15 guns, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, grenades, illegal military equipment, and a couple of claymores were found at Fritz's house. The police also found a case and a half of dynamite that was stored behind the Klenner residence. It is assumed that the missing half-case of dynamite was the cause of the explosion in the car. Inside Fritz's office, the police found evidence which showed that he was an admirer of Adolf Hitler and an avid supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.

While it is a common belief that Fritz Klenner had the means and the motive to commit the murders, it cannot be proven beyond a ballistics report that linked a bullet found at the scene of the Lynch killings with a gun that Klenner and Susie sold to a North Carolina gun dealer. Susie's role in the murders still remains unknown. The prevailing theories are either that she convinced Klenner to commit the murders on her behalf, and thus had foreknowledge of the crimes; or that she had none, and blindly refused to consider that Klenner was involved, seeing any attempt by the state to investigate his possible role as an unreasonable persecution.

Another figure in the case was Ian Perkins, a 21-year-old neighbor of Klenner's. Ian Perkins knew about Fritz's involvement in the murders of Susie's family, since he had driven Klenner to their homes. Perkins had been told by Klenner that the murders were a CIA operation. In 1985, Perkins went on trial and was sentenced to four months in jail and over five years of probation; he is currently seeking a state pardon. Perkins was spared a life sentence thanks to a note from Fritz Klenner that read, "“I’ll write a paper saying you were not knowingly involved, that you believed you were on a covert mission for the government." The judge noted Ian's naiveté, gullibility, and immaturity as mitigating factors in his sentencing.

Prior to the murders, in 1981, the SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) was given anonymous information that Fritz Klenner was "a dangerous psychopath who was practicing medicine without a license." However, no investigation ensued after the discovery of this information. In retrospect, the attorney general of the SBI, Rufus Edmisten, said that this vital piece of information was never brought to his attention. Edmisten later admitted that he wished he had done something about the situation prior to its escalation..."

— Source: Bitter Blood Wikipedia