Midstate Mysteries: 40-year-old murder remains Perry County’s only cold case

There’s only one cold case unsolved in Perry County. A teacher running for superintendent in 1984 was shot and killed in his home.
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 11:40 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2022 at 6:36 PM CDT
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LINDEN, Tenn. (WSMV) - Almost 40 years ago, a teacher, Charles Lawrence, ran for superintendent. Days before the election, authorities found him shot dead in his home. To this day, investigators still don’t know who murdered Lawrence.

In the small town of Linden, friends are never far away. In Perry County, there’s one cold case that remains unsolved.

“I thought about that picture a while ago. What a good time we all had,” David Richardson, a friend of Lawrence’s, said.

Richardson and Tommy Graham were both members of Linden’s Bass Fishing Club in 1984, and Lawrence, also known to many as Robbie.

“He was a great guy. The kids just loved him at school,” Graham said.

Lawrence was a teacher at Linden Elementary School. In 1984, he decided to run for school superintendent.

“We were going to the tournament that weekend,” Graham said.

He said they all went to a bait shop in Nashville the Thursday before, but Lawrence stayed behind.

“He said, ‘I have to stay and campaign for superintendent,” Richardson said.

They said Lawrence was campaigning at the Lions Club on April 26, five days before the election. They said Lawrence was the favorite. The only person in his way was his opponent, Anthony Haston.

“It looked like he was going to win,” former Perry County Sheriff Thomas Ward said.

Ward was a policeman in Linden at the time. He was on duty the night of April 26, 1984.

“All of a sudden, I heard that call come in that someone had shot Robby Lawrence at his house,” Ward said.

Ward said that when they got to Lawrence’s home on the outskirts of town, they found him shot in the head.

“He was in his bedroom, and whoever got him had his own rifle and stood at a dresser or at the corner of his bed,” Ward said. “When he opened his bedroom door, shot him through the chest, and he just slumped backward in the hallway.”

Ward said they still have the gun the shooter used. The fingerprints were on there, but that wouldn’t help.

“In 1984, we didn’t know about DNA,” Ward said.

Current Perry County Sheriff Nick Weems said after Lawrence was murdered, investigators lifted fingerprints off the gun with superglue.

“They run matches to the fingerprint to numerous people over the years and never could get a match to it,” Weems said.

In 2009, they tried again.

“The TBI tracked down the firearm and extracted the DNA from that fingerprint, which shows two strands of DNA,” Weems said. “One being the victim, Robby Lawrence, and the other being an unidentified male.”

Weems believes they have it narrowed down to three people. They said that they are sending DNA samples to universities with modern technology. The answer could be under their fingertips.

“And I still keep a file on him. Everything I find out, I write it down,” Ward said.

He also said there had been countless suspects over the years, one being Haston, Lawrence’s opponent.

“For a long time, we sort of looked at him, but we ruled him out,” Ward said.

He said the only hold up now is if one of the three suspects passed away: a frustrating thought for Ward.

“I would have been more aggressive with it,” Ward said. “I believe if I had been sheriff that night, I would have solved it that night.”

“I’m still in shock over it,” Richardson said. “I just have no idea who done it.”

These days friends still have suspicions, and they hope the answer isn’t far away.

“I had thoughts,” Graham said. “Like I said, I don’t mention a name, but in my mind, I know who done it.”

Investigators said Haston never won the election. Instead, they said an independent write-in candidate put his name on the ballot after Lawrence was murdered and won the election.

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