The truth surrounding Lynette Dawson’s disappearance 36 years ago will likely be decided in a Sydney courtroom next year,
It’s been almost 37 years since Lynette Dawson disappeared. This week, police Strike Force Sriven struck and Chris Dawson, former husband of the beautiful, smiling mother of two was charged with her murder. Thanks to the award-winning Teacher’s Pet podcast, his trial will be followed by millions. Janet Fife-Yeomans reports
NO ONE outside the secrecy of a marriage ever really knows what goes on inside the relationship. Often not even the two people involved know the truth.
Chris and Lynette Dawson were one of those enviable couples who appeared to have everything. They were attractive, had close families, good circles of friends and two beautiful and healthy daughters, Shanelle and Sherryn. The family lived in a house Chris had built among the bushes and views of Bayview on Sydney’s relaxed northern beaches.
There had been problems in their marriage, not the least of which was one of Chris’s students at Cromer High School, 16-year-old Joanne Curtis, moving in with them. As well as babysitting for the girls, Joanne was having an affair with Chris, including sex in his car.
Like Joanne, Lyn had been just 16 when she started seeing Dawson. The difference was that he was about the same age.
It was against that background that on Friday January 8, 1982, Chris and Lyn Dawson went together to marriage counselling. They were seen hand-in-hand afterwards at the childcare centre in Warriewood where Lyn, a former registered nurse, was working.
Later that evening, Lyn told her mum, Helena Simms, over the phone that the counselling had gone well and she was sure it was all going to work out between her and Chris. Mother and daughter would never talk again.
Chris has maintained that he dropped his wife off at a bus stop in Mona Vale at 7am the next day, Saturday – she never learned to drive despite their Bayview home being relatively isolated.
He said he expected to see her that afternoon at Northbridge Baths where he was a lifeguard but she never turned up.
At the age of 33, Lyn Dawson had vanished – but she has never been forgotten.
Almost four decades later, her disappearance captured international notoriety through The Australian newspaper’s award-winning podcast The Teacher’s Pet which has been downloaded an amazing 19 million times since it began in May this year.
Then on Thursday almost four decades after his wife disappeared, Chris Dawson, 70, by now thrice-married, was charged with her murder. Police have focused in on that last night in January 1982 as the time of her alleged death.
Dawson is charged with murdering her between 9pm on January 8 and 7am on January 9.
When he appeared before Sydney’s Central Local Court on Thursday afternoon, having been extradited from Queensland, where he has been living on the Gold Coast, the eyes of the world, or at least those 19 million podcast fans, were on him.
In shorts, thongs and a dark short-sleeve T-shirt with a
Truth is always stranger than fiction. Hollywood will have to wait
collar and a deep tan, he could not have looked more Australian, wearing the same clothes he had on when he was driven from Southport Police Station at 5.15 that morning to Coolangatta Airport for a Qantas flight to Sydney.
With him all the way was NSW Homicide Squad detective Daniel Poole, the senior constable who had put together the voluminous brief of evidence that was handed to the Office of The Director of Public Prosecutions in April, before The Teacher’s Pet podcast began.
Poole worked with Strike Force Sriven, which was set up in 2015 to reinvestigate Lyn Dawson’s disappearance.
Ordering his extradition to NSW, Southport Local Court magistrate Dennis Kinsella said the police case would hinge on allegations of domestic violence, Dawson’s affair and the deterioration of his relationship with Lyn.
“His desire was to leave the relationship and there were outstanding property issues,” Mr Kinsella said.
Dawson remains behind bars and will apply for bail on Friday.
Outside court, his lawyer Greg Walsh said his client would be pleading not guilty and “strenuously asserts his innocence”.
Both the police and defence are quietly cursing The Teacher’s Pet podcast.
Outside court, Walsh said he had not listened to it. He was recruited to the case late on Wednesday when one of Chris Dawson’s two brothers, lawyer Peter, 72, asked him to represent Chris.
Chris also has a twin, Paul, another older brother Gary, 74, and a sister with the same name as his wife, Lynette, 75.
Walsh said he was concerned about the publicity that came from the “ideological” view that his client was guilty.
Walsh said he had great faith in the jury system but there is the possibility that they may elect for a trial by judge j alone because of the media storm surrounding the case.
From the prosecution side, there is concern that many statements they had already taken may be compromised by what those witnesses have said on the podcast and the defence can seize upon differences.
The one key witness who never spoke to the podcast is Joanne Curtis.
Now 54 and long divorced from her teacher lover, Curtis is back in Dee Why with the daughter she had with Dawson, Kristin.
Curtis has every reason to protect her privacy. As well as the podcast, a book has been written about the case which now can’t be released until after any trial.
On top of that, Hollywood has been sniffing around the cold case drama that appears to have everything.
As well as making five statements to police, Curtis has twice told her story to the two inquests into Lyn’s disappearance, detailing her relationship with Dawson, sometimes tearfully. She was driven into the sport teacher’s arms after a broken home and a violent stepfather left her nowhere to live.
At the time in the early 1980s, Cromer High School was said to be a hotbed of sex between teachers and students and a separate police investigation is ongoing into those claims.
That January weekend in early 1982 when Lyn went missing, Curtis was up at South West Rocks on the NSW mid-north coast camping with her sisters and friends.
Paul, with whom Chris shared movie-star good looks and a talent for playing rugby, was on holiday with his wife Marilyn on the NSW Central Coast.
On Sunday January 10, 1982, with his wife missing, Dawson drove up to South West Rocks to see his teenage lover. Daughters Shanelle, four, and Sherryn, two, were staying with Lyn’s mother.
Dawson and Curtis drove back to Sydney where she moved in with him as his partner and the daughters were told to call her “mum”.
In January 1984, Curtis became the second Mrs Dawson, wearing Lyn’s rings which Chris had reset.
Dawson sold the Bayview home and in December that year the couple moved to Queensland and a house in the street next to the one that his twin Paul lived in with his wife. The twins not only lived close to each other, they taught at the same school, Coombabah High.
Chris has made a number of claims of calls from Lyn and said there was evidence she had used her bankcard. He has claimed she moved into a religious community.
In 1990, Curtis left Dawson in what was said to be a bitter split. He married again and has been living at Mount Coolum.
When he was arrested early on Wednesday morning it was at the granny flat connected to his daughter Sherryn’s Gold Coast home.
Sherryn and Shanelle are both also casualties of their mother’s disappearance.
Shanelle slowly came to the belief that her mother would never walk out on her family. Sherryn believes in their dad’s innocence, labelling the investigation a “witch hunt”.
Lyn’s brother, Greg Simms, said the family had had no communication with Sherryn since her grandmother’s funeral in 2001, but they hoped for some reconciliation.
To add to the mix of sex, tragedy and intrigue, Peter Dawson revealed this week that Lyn Dawson was not the only member of the extended Dawson family who had gone missing.
He said his first wife’s mother, Marcia, had left her husband and then walked out on her three young children in about 1960. His former wife, devastated at never hearing from her mother since, discovered earlier this year when doing her family tree that her mother had moved to New Zealand and died in 2002.
Greg Walsh said outside court on Thursday that the story showed mothers and wives did leave their families and disappear: “It does happen.”
The final truth will probably be decided in the spotlight of a Sydney courtroom possibly next year.
Truth is always stranger than fiction. Hollywood will have to wait.
TROUBLED LIFE: (clockwise from far left) Chris and Lyn Dawson in their youth; a police image showing a dig at the Bayview home; Dawson at the police station on Thursday; Shanelle Dawson with a picture of Lyn; the Dawsons in an ABC TV show about twins; and Shanelle, Joanne Curtiswith baby Kristin, and Sherryn in 1985.