Chris and Lyn Dawson: Behind the scenes

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' 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, Lynette 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 Lynette Dawson went together to marriage counselling. They were seen hand-in-hand afterwards at the childcare centre in Warriewood where Lynette, a former registered nurse, was working.

Later that evening, Lynette told her mum, Helena Simms, over the phone that the counselling had gone well and she was sure that it was all going to work out between her and Chris.

Mother and daughter would never talk again.

Chris and Lynette went together to marriage counselling the day before she went missing.
Chris and Lynette went together to marriage counselling the day before she went missing.

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, Lynette 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, the eyes of the world, or at least those 19 million podcast fans, were on him.

Chris Dawson with Joanne Curtis, their child Kristin and Chris’ children with Lynette. Picture: Supplied
Chris Dawson with Joanne Curtis, their child Kristin and Chris’ children with Lynette. Picture: Supplied

In shorts, thongs and a dark short-sleeve T-shirt with a 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 Lynette 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 Lynette.

"His desire was to leave the relationship and there were outstanding property issues," Mr Kinsells said.

Chris (right) with twin brother Paul Dawson on an ABC program.
Chris (right) with twin brother Paul Dawson on an ABC program.

 

Dawson remains behind bars and will apply for bail next Friday, December 14.

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 hadn't 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 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.

Greg Walsh, lawyer for Chris Dawson. Picture: Joel Carrett
Greg Walsh, lawyer for Chris Dawson. Picture: Joel Carrett

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 can't be released now 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 Lynette's disappearance, detailing her relationship with Dawson, sometimes tearfully.

She was driven into the sport teacher's arms after coming from a broken home and a violent stepfather which 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 Lynette 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 league, 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 Lynette's mother.

Dawson and Curtis drove back to Sydney where she moved with him as his partner and the daughters were told to call her "mum".

Chris and Lynette before she disappeared.
Chris and Lynette before she disappeared.

 

In January 1984, Curtis became the second Mrs Dawson, wearing Lynette's rings which Chris had reset for her. 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 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 Lynette and said there was evidence she had used her bank card. 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".

Lynette's brother, Greg Simms, said the family 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 Lynette 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.

 

 

 

The pair began dating when they were both 16, the same age as Joanne Curtis when she began seeing Chris Dawson.
The pair began dating when they were both 16, the same age as Joanne Curtis when she began seeing Chris Dawson.
Chris Dawson claims his wife Lynette moved into a religious community.
Chris Dawson claims his wife Lynette moved into a religious community.


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