The Squire’s Inn Bed & Breakfast
Written By: Michael Renegar
The Squire’s Inn Bed & Breakfast
(The Old Watts House)
There are few in the Piedmont of North Carolina who haven’t heard at least something of the story of Charlie Lawson, a Stokes County farmer who murdered all his family but one son, then killed himself on Christmas Day, 1929. The tale has become legend in the Germanton Community, and has various ghostly legends associated with it. A new book entitled The Meaning Of Our Tears , as well as a wonderful documentary called A Christmas Family Tragedy were released in December, 2006, around the 77th Anniversary of the event.
Much has been said and written about Charlie Davis Lawson’s motives for his crimes, but the truth is, we can never really know why he really did it. One truly scandalous rumor said that Marie was pregnant with Charlie’s child!!! Many people close to the case, however, insist that this was not true at all. One absurd theory even had Charlie not being the killer! This left-field rumor has John Dillinger, the notorious criminal and his gang killing the Lawsons for some unknown reason! History shows that this simply isn’t possible, as Dillinger was incarcerated at the time of the Lawson killings, though he DID tour the home a few years later when it was open for show, and shortly before he was gunned down himself in Chicago. The rumors of his involvement undoubtedly stems from this visit, and the note he left, taunting local law enforcement!
There is NO doubt that Charlie Lawson was, in fact, the killer. Those who found the dead farmer made it clear that there was only one set of human footprints in the snow going out to the remote location where he was found. Also, in the recent book, the author names an eyewitness who was supposedly inside the house when Charlie Lawson shot his oldest daughter, Marie, with his shotgun. Some may still not accept this, for whatever reason, but Lawson’s guilt appears quite clear.
The Lawson farmhouse, really a two-story cabin over 200 years old when Charlie bought it, was torn down in the 1980’s. Materials from the old building were used to build a covered bridge on the property. One brick from the Lawson chimney was incorporated into a new fireplace at the old Watts House, across a broad field from the Lawson homesite.
The Watts Family were neighbors of the Lawsons, owning a large farm where R.J. Reynolds came for a country retreat to hunt gamebirds. The Watts’ daughter, Dorothy, was best of friends with Marie Lawson.
The Wattses, Hamptons, and the whole community were haunted by the gruesome murders for the rest of their lives. Some would say the area is still haunted by it.
Mrs. Bonnie Snyder and her husband Tim now own the Watts House. They have opened their historic home as Squire’s Inn Bed & Breakfast. Mr.Snyder is a quiet man, but quite nice. Bonnie is a very sweet lady; petite and very hospitable. She spoke with me at length on the phone, then welcomed me and a paranormal discussion group led by Mick Scott of The Winston-Salem Journal, into her home to share her stories with us.
Mrs. Snyder has seen many ghosts. It was not always so. Her latent sensitivity to paranormal activity was activated by a tragic event in Bonnie’s life. You see, in 1989, Bonnie Snyder died!
Yes, you read that correctly. Bonnie was involved in a head-on collision on I-40. She was clinically dead for a short while. During that time, she saw the doctors and nurses working with her. She said it was quite a strange feeling. Then she encountered a family friend who had passed away. They spoke for a bit, then Bonnie returned to her body as she was resuscitated.
When restored to life, Bonnie had an extra gift. She could now see things others couldn’t. Her first encounter after coming home from the hospital was with a favorite pet!
Bonnie saw a cat that she owned running in the kitchen. Not unusual, right? Except this cat had been struck by a car on Watts Road, and was quite dead!
Later on, she was out in her yard. She looked towards a pen where goats were held. To her shock, there stood the shimmering figure of a man in 19th Century attire, circa the 1890’s! He was smiling at her!
Bonnie did a double take, and instantly, the man had moved several feet beyond where he had been. He was now inside the pen, with the animals! As Bonnie watched, the man moved sideways into the shed. The animals saw him too! Their heads clearly turned as they watched him slide sideways into the building! When Bonnie was able to move, at last, she looked inside. There was no one there!
Later, a friend was visiting. Bonnie picked up the newspaper, and was surprised to see the man she had seen in the pen on the page before her! The picture was of Mr. & Mrs. R.J. Reynolds! As it turns out, Reynolds used to use the home of his friends, The Watts Family, as a hunting retreat! He would ride the train (A track once paralleled Brook Cove Rd. which itself paralleled the Lawson and Watts farms!) out from Winston-Salem, and remain on the farm til he’d had his fill of hunting pheasant or whatever! Then he would return to his business empire, his nerves and confidence restored. Bonnie did not know about this until after seeing the figure outside!
Soldiers in Civil War uniforms have also been seen on the farm. One visitor even saw a ghostly Confederate officer walking along outside the house beside Mrs. Snyder! An older woman’s ghost haunts the room upstairs on your left as you face the front of the house. A ghostly party for laughing children has been heard in the parlor on the first floor beneath the lady ghost’s room. When you go in there, there are never any kids there!
The most poignant ghosts seen by Mrs. Snyder, have been those of two of the Lawson children! One day, as she descended the stairs, Bonnie saw a little boy and a little girl peering in the windows at the front door. When they realized she had seen them, the children disappeared. Later on, she saw these children playing in the yard. For a while, she thought they might be neighborhood kids. But then she saw the photograph!
Just before Christmas, 1929, Charlie Lawson took his whole family into Winston-Salem, where he bought them all new clothes and had a family portrait taken. It was in this old picture that Bonnie recognized the two children she had seen… Mae Bell and Raymond Lawson!
Mae Bell was only 7 years old, and Raymond was merely 2 when they were killed. Bonnie has seen them on many occasions since, and they may even play with children who visit the bed & breakfast; the living children completely unaware of who they are!
Bonnie does not fear these sad specters. In fact, she welcomes them. Bonnie has shared her stories many times. The film crew who shot the documentary were guests of the Snyders, and one of them says he saw the two Lawson kids, along with their sister Carrie, inside the old Lawson House years before!
Bonnie says that little Mae Bell and Raymond are welcome for as long as they want to come. She feels they find the Watts House, which they often visited when alive as well, to be a safe haven. They seem fearful at times that their father may be searching for them! Well… who’s to say they’re wrong?
All who know me can attest to how I feel about mediums and psychics, especially those who use the grief or curiosity of others to “make a buck.” I largely agree with the late great magician Harry Houdini about such people, except that I do believe some people do possess spiritual gifts. Bonnie Snyder is the real thing, of this I am convinced.
A well known psychic was taped at Squire’s Inn. Some of what she said when “channeling” the spirit of Mae Bell Lawson were strikingly accurate for someone unfamiliar with the facts. One thing, however, was glaringly inaccurate.
From what I heard of the tape, it seems implied that the two children are ”always together;” the implication being that they were together when they died, and are looking for the rest of the family. History makes it clear that this was not true.
Mae Bell and her sister Carrie had left the house to go visit their uncle Elijah Lawson to spend the night with their cousins. It is clear from all evidence that these girls were Charlie’s first victims. He shot them at a tobacco barn, then ran back to the house to complete the massacre.
Raymond Lawson was not with his sisters. He was inside the house. When Charlie killed Marie, Raymond ran and hid behind/under the kitchen stove. Charlie couldn’t reach him, and ruined a gun trying to angle it behind the stove to shoot the boy.
Somehow, Charlie managed to draw the child out and kill him with several blows to the head. Or maybe Raymond tried to make a run for it; we’ll never know. The point is, Mae Bell died with Carrie. Raymond died alone in the kitchen.
The fact remains, however, that the sad little Lawson children come to Squire’s Inn together. Why? Who knows? Perhaps they do feel safe here, away from their father’s rage. The Lawson house was reputed to be haunted. So where are the others? Were Mae Bell and Raymond somehow separated from the others when the house was torn down? Are these two somehow specially connected to the brick in the Snyders’ fireplace? Are they stiil trying to get away from Charlie? Are they afraid to cross into eternity because they are afraid Charlie will be waiting there? Whatever the reason, these sad, lonesome children, who long for their mother and siblings, are still here. Perhaps we can pray that one day they will be freed to join their loved ones beyond the River Jordan.
Author's Note... We now know that the John Dillinger who visited the Lawson cabin was NOT the infamous gangster, but an officer of ther NC Highway Patrol... Also, the Snyders have sold the property, and it is no longer open as Squire's Inn...
Read more from Michael Reneger! Check out Tar Heel Terrors: More North Carolina Ghosts and Legends
(c) 2012 Michael Renegar