Midstate Mysteries: The murder of Beulah Lawson

Investigators recently fanned out on Lincoln Street in Steelton, hoping to catch a break in a horrifying cold case.

They were hoping someone could finally tell them something to help them catch a killer.

“Someone out there knows who killed Mrs. Lawson,” said Chief John Goshert of the Dauphin County Criminal Investigation Division.

The Case:

It was October of 2006 when 79-year-old Beulah Lawson was found strangled inside her detached garage in the middle of the night. Her body, car and home had all been set on fire.

Firefighters made the initial discovery sometime after 4 a.m.

“I believe the fire was started with the intent to conceal and destroy evidence at the crime scene,” Goshert said.

That crime scene was littered with matches and unlit kerosene. A couch had been pushed up against the front door. But nothing appeared to be missing. Even Lawson's purse was found seemingly untouched in the living room.

“It's just senseless,” said Detective Sgt. John King of the Steelton Police Department. “There's not a lot of words to describe it. It makes you feel bad as a person.”

What was the Motive?

Who would want to kill this outspoken elderly woman of modest means? And why? Investigators developed several strong theories, but no proof.

One of those theories was that Lawson was in the process of trying to sell her car. Was she showing it to someone when she was killed?

“It seemed an unusual time that someone would come over to go vehicle shopping,” Goshert said.

And consider this: at 9:00 the night before, Lawson's niece, Makeda Brunson, told abc27 she called her sister, who seemed “agitated.” Brunson said Lawson claimed she was in her pajamas and was about to go to bed.

So why did she get dressed again in the middle of the night? And if not the car, then what would have brought her out to the garage at such an unusual hour?

Investigators wonder if it was a burglary gone bad. Or perhaps, they asked, was it personal?

“The pajama thing always bothered me,” Brunson said. “It was like she was targeted.”

Police tend to agree.

“I don't think it was a random act,” King said. “I think it was somebody that knew her and I think somebody else out there knows what happened other than the person that did it.”

Haunting Questions:

The questions of who and why haunt Beulah Lawson's children to this day.

“The most difficult thing, for me, is how she died,” son Mitchell Lawson said. “I had always envisioned my mother dying, I suppose, with us, in fair health and passing quietly. Never in my wildest dreams or nightmares did I expect this to happen.”

“We remember and think about my mother all the time,” daughter Valerie Lawson said. “You go through a grieving process but it's not something that ever goes away. We were left with so many unanswered questions about this senseless crime.”

Lawson's children urged anyone withholding information to finally share it with investigators.

“We have to know what happened to her,” Valerie Lawson said.

“Put yourself in our place,” Mitchell Lawson continued. “No one wants this to happen to their mother. It was a very violent act and an unnecessary act that happened to her.”

That unnecessary crime haunts Lawson's neighborhood to this day as well. One woman admits she installed a security system shortly after the killing and still arms it to this day. She'll likely continue to arm it until the day Beulah Lawson's murderer is finally found.

“I believe 100 percent after all these years that case is very solvable, and I believe it will be solved,” Goshert said.

How to Help:

Goshert said perhaps someone is withholding information because they were too afraid to come forward earlier because of their own criminal activity. He said he wants to assure those people that he is only looking to catch the killer and reminds everyone that tips can remain anonymous.

If you have any information about the murder of Beulah Lawson, you're asked to contact Dauphin County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-262-3080. There is a reward of up to $2,000 for information in the case.

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