More than 40 years ago, Lynette Dawson went missing from Sydney’s northern beaches, her body never found. After decades of police investigations, two coronial inquests, and a two-month-long trial, her former husband, Chris Dawson, has been found guilty of her murder.
The verdict was handed down by New South Wales supreme court Justice Ian Harrison on Tuesday, and closes the book on one of the most closely-watched murder mysteries in modern Australian history.
The case was thrust to the centre of the Australian consciousness once it became the subject of a popular true-crime podcast, “Teacher’s Pet”, after the first of its 17 episodes went to air in 2018 and attracted a global audience of millions.
The Walkley Award-winning podcast, led by Hedley Thomas, presented listeners with claims of new evidence that police failed to get their hands on, and lent much of its focus to the ways both police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions were thought to have mishandled the case.
Lynette Dawson went missing without a trace at the age of 33, after she was heard from for the last time by her mother, Helena Simms, on a phone call in early January, 1982. According to the evidence heard, Simms was a prolific diary-keeper, and on the day of Mrs Dawson’s disappearance, she wrote: “Rang Lyn, sounded half sozzled, said all was well.”
The prosecution would later allege that Mr Dawson, now 74, either murdered her on the evening of that night, or early the next day. He was charged with Mrs Dawson’s murder in 2018, before being extradited from his home on the Gold Coast to Sydney for the case to be heard.
In the eyes of the prosecution, Mr Dawson had motive.
Throughout the case, the prosecution alleged that Mr Dawson murdered his wife as part of an effort to continue an unbridled affair with his former student, known throughout the case only as “JC”, who he met when he was her physical education teacher, and she his 16-year-old high school student.
Giving evidence to the court, JC said Mr Dawson would leave love notes in her bag, and sign them off as “God”, so as not to get caught. Eventually, she would move into Mr Dawson’s home in October of 1981, only to get kicked out the next month after Mrs Dawson was reported to have confronted her about “taking liberties” with her husband.
As 1981 drew to a close, Mr Dawson and his former student decided to flee Sydney to chase a life together on the Gold Coast. But, one year on, JC wanted to return.
In the four decades since his wife disappeared, Mr Dawson has pleaded his innocence and argued that his wife chose to flee their shared home on her own after she grew jealous of his affair.
According to Mr Dawson, things between he and his wife were good on the evening of her disappearance. They had gone to marriage counselling earlier in the day, he told police in an interview in 1991, and were getting ready to have a “honeymoon party”, which was supposed to be a “sexy celebration” of things on the up.
That day was their first session. When telling her friend, Annette Leary, about the session, Mrs Dawson said her husband grabbed her by the neck and said “if this doesn’t work, I’m getting rid of you”.
“I strongly dispute that because ... that particular day was starting with the hope of saving something which after 13 years was very much floundering,” Mr Dawson told police in 1991.
That interview, along with a throng of others, would later emerge as the tentpoles of Mr Dawson’s defence. During his trial, which lasted more than two months and ended on July 11, he didn’t give any evidence. Instead, he relied solely on his interactions with police, and whatever they could intercept after tapping his phone.
As part of those interviews, Mr Dawson claimed that he had heard from his wife after the date she is thought to have disappeared. When those claims were revisited in Harrison’s verdict on Tuesday, he dismissed them.
“I’m satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Dawson’s various representations that he spoke to Lynette Dawson by telephone on a call made to the Northbridge Baths on that day is a lie,” he said.
The lies, Harrison said while handing down his verdict over five hours, demonstrated a consciousness of guilt. From where Harrison was sitting, Mr Dawson “resolved to kill his wife”, and she didn’t leave their home voluntarily.
Harrison said it was hard to accept that Mrs Dawson would just “walk out of her life”. She relied heavily upon Mr Dawson to drive her around, didn’t have the money to set up a new life elsewhere, and showed a “strong maternal bond with her daughters”.
She didn’t even pack a bag, he said. “It defies common sense.”
Follow John on Twitter.
Read more from VICE Australia.