COLD CASE: Family Raising Money for Reward in Man's Murder

By: Olivia Fecteau; Brooks Jarosz; WSAZ News Staff Email
By: Olivia Fecteau; Brooks Jarosz; WSAZ News Staff Email
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UPDATE 6/1/13 @ 5:15 p.m.
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A family is fighting for justice to solve a cold case murder more than a year after a father's death.

James Alan Lawson, 41, of Proctorville was last seen in Ironton, Ohio in late April 2012. Three weeks later, his body was discovered in the Ohio River in Mason County, W.Va.

Investigators said he had been murdered, but they still have no leads or suspects in who might have done it or why.

Now, Lawson's family is raising money for a reward -- hoping to get information that leads to an arrest in this case.

"He was the best daddy in the world," Julie Kestner, Lawson's ex-wife, said. "He was her hero, so it just broke my heart."

Kestner and Lawson's daughter, Whitney Lawson, is still struggling to come to terms with her father's murder, just like the rest of her family.

On the first day of the family's weekend rummage sale, Lawson wore a pair of sunglasses and said she hadn't cried yet that day, even when talking to people who didn't know about his case.

"A lot of people haven't really heard about it, so then they ask me and I have to talk about it," Lawson said. "But I want everyone to know. I want to keep the awareness out there, even if it does bother me to talk about it."

The rummage sale included items that were donated by people who live in the Tri-State area.

The family also sold raffle tickets for free oil changes donated by a body shop in Ironton. The goal, Kestner said, was to raise as much money as they possibly could.

"We'd like to raise about $5,000, but I don't know that that's going to happen. I mean, we'll be happy with $500," Kestner said. "Prayers, that'll work too. We'll take anything we can get."

When asked how much money they had made so far, Lawson laughed and said she didn't know.

"Not going to count it yet," she said. "It's bad luck."

Lawson said she is amazed by the amount of support her family has gotten from the community.

"They don't even know him, and that's what I just find just amazing, honestly. You just don't realize how good some people are," Lawson said. "You think that everyone's just like the people that murdered my dad. But there are good people out there."

One of the worst parts of this situation is not knowing what happened to her ex-husband or who is responsible, Kestner said.

"There's somebody out there that is walking around, enjoying their life, visiting their family, that murdered him," Kestner said. "They get to go out and breathe and go to dinner and hold their kids and see their mom, see their dad and he doesn't get to do that anymore, ever. So it's just not fair, not fair at all."

Lawson showed a tattoo on her back: a cartoon drawing of a girl holding the hand of a man with a cape on his back. Beneath the photo are the words "Love You Always. Love Dad." The writing, Lawson said, is from a birthday card her dad gave her for her 21st birthday, which took place just days before he went missing.

"I hope that he would be proud of me for keeping it out there and not giving up," Lawson said. "And I won't ever give up on that, ever."

The fundraiser will continue on Sunday, June 2 beginning at 8 a.m. and lasting until mid-afternoon. The sale will take place in downtown Ironton at Dickess Auto Repair.

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UPDATE 4/29/13 @ 12:40 a.m.
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) -- It's been more one year since a man who went missing was found murdered.

James Lawson disappeared on April 28, 2012, and was discovered dead in the Ohio River in Mason County weeks later.

Lawson was from Proctorville, Ohio and was reported missing by his wife. His car was found abandoned in Huntington a few days later.

On Sunday, the family visited Lawson's gravesite as they keep pushing forward in their desperate search for answers on the anniversary of his disappearance.

"There's several days that are going to be harder than others," daughter Whitney Lawson said.

Police say James Lawson was murdered but they're not saying how. The nightmare, however, is on replay for his family. The love Lawson had was clear by the tatoos of his children on his arms.

"I couldn't believe that it was true, that it could possibly happen to my dad," Whitney Lawson said. "When I'm here at the gravesite, I don't feel like he's here."

There's still raw emotion among the family as they gather, remember, embrace and hope for clarity.

"Somebody murdered him," Lawson's ex-wife Julie Kestner said. "A 42-year-old daddy and they go out and they get to breathe and see their families and they get to do that everyday and that makes me so mad."

The family wants the case cracked but so far major leads. No suspects have ever been named in the case.

UPDATE 5/22/12 @ 11 p.m.
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio (WSAZ) -- A body found in a river has been positively identified as a missing man and his death is being investigated as a murder.

Lawrence County, Ohio Sheriff's Detectives tell a body found along the Ohio River in Glenwood, West Virginia on May 20 is that of James Alan Lawson, of Proctorville, Ohio.

Detectives say they are working with West Virginia State Police on the investigation and are collecting evidence.

At this point, detectives will only say Lawson was murdered, but not how he was killed.

They also say they are still working to figure out where the murder happened.

Lawson’s funeral is set for 2 p.m. Friday at the Hall Funeral Home in Proctorville. Visitation will be there Thursday night from 6 to 8.

Lawson disappeared April 28. His wife Paula Lawson said she last saw him about 10 a.m. when he left their Proctorville home, headed to Ironton to check on some rental property he owned.

About a week later, police found Lawson's car abandoned on the parking lot of a baseball field in West Huntington.

No suspects or persons of interest have been named in this case.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Lawrence County, Ohio Sheriff's Office or West Virginia State Police in Mason County.

Keep clicking on for the latest information.

UPDATE 5/22/12 @ 6 p.m.
PROCTORVILLE, Ohio (WSAZ) -- The wife of a man who's been missing for more than three weeks is now caught in a difficult waiting game.

James Alan Lawson disappeared April 28. His wife Paula Lawson said she last saw him around 10 a.m. that day when he left their Proctorville home, headed to Ironton to check on some rental property he owned. That was more than three weeks ago.

"It's hard, but I have to do it for my son and provide him some sense of normal, but I'm not normal," Paula said.

Last week, police found Alan's car in West Huntington. Crews started searching the area hoping to find something. Nothing turned up until this weekend when a woman discovered a body in the Ohio River dozens of miles upstream in Glenwood, which is in Mason County, W.Va.

Police said they believe it's Lawson, but are waiting on a positive identification.

"If that call comes today and it's Alan, then it goes from sadness to anger on who would take my husband away, the father of my son," Paula said.

Their son, JW, is only 11. Paula said he's the light of Alan's life. While she's holding onto hope he's still alive somewhere, the break in contact with JW certainly rings alarm bells.

"Oh yes, he'd call him, they'd talk," Paula said. "If he couldn't be home before he had to go to bed, he'd call him."

In the meantime, she's sent police photos of her husband's tattoos, markings unique to his body, in hopes of ruling out the body found is Alan.

"If anyone knows anything, call police," Paula said. "This is hard."

Police had hoped for an answer Tuesday, but the medical examiner's office said it may be as long as a week before they can identify the body, citing difficulty obtaining medical records.

UPDATE 5/21/21 @ 10 p.m.
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The family of a missing man has been desperate for weeks to find him, but now that they may have the answer, their search for answers is far from over.

A body found was found along the Ohio River Sunday evening. Although authorities haven't officially confirmed it yet, they feel strongly it’s a man from Proctorville, Ohio, who went missing three weeks ago.

The big question for weeks has been "Where is James Alan Lawson?"

Now that it appears he's been found, the mystery is only getting bigger and more questions are being raised, like how did he end up where he did and why?

His wife Paula Lawson told police she last saw her husband on the morning of April 28 when he left their home in Proctorville to check on a rental property they own in Ironton.

He was also supposed to meet the potential buyer of a car he was selling. That never happened either, the potential buyer told police.

Five days after he went missing, Lawson's car was found in the parking lot of a baseball field along James River Road in Huntington.

Since then, there were no breaks in the case until about 6 p.m. Sunday when a woman walking along the Ohio River in Glenwood found a body.

The Lawrence County Sheriff's Department says at this point they feel strongly it's Lawson. They say the body appears to have been there for some time. The body was sent to the West Virginia Medical Examiner’s office for confirmation of identity.

The Huntington Police Department, West Virginia State Police and the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office are investigating.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless says they're still working to determine the cause of death. After that they'll determine which law enforcement agency will lead the investigation.

MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A deceased man's body has been discovered along the Ohio River in Glenwood.

A woman walking along the river made the discovery about 6 p.m. Sunday.

West Virginia State Police are on the scene. Troopers aren't releasing many details, but say it appears the body has been there for a while. has a crew on scene, and will bring you more as the story develops.

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