An Australian podcast led to the arrest of man whose wife disappeared 37 years ago

Chris Dawson is expected to be formally charged with murder.
December 5, 2018, 2:09pm
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An Australian man who was the subject of a “Serial”-style true-crime podcast was arrested Wednesday over his wife’s disappearance 37 years ago.

Chris Dawson, a 70-year-old former high school teacher, is in custody in a Gold Coast jail, awaiting extradition to the southern state of New South Wales, where he is expected to be formally charged with the murder of his former wife, authorities said.

Lyn Dawson, a nurse, went missing from Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982 and hasn’t been seen since. Dawson has always denied killing her, and has told police that she ran off to join a religious cult.

Two coronial inquests into the case subsequently found that Dawson had probably killed his wife — yet police said they didn’t have enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

But after the case became the subject of the hit podcast “The Teacher’s Pet,” examining the couple’s deteriorating marriage and the failings of the subsequent investigation, police said they had gained enough new evidence to arrest Dawson.

Renewed media coverage stemming from the podcast had prompted new witness statements in recent months that had “helped pull pieces of the puzzle together,” New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told reporters Wednesday.

The podcast, produced by The Australian newspaper, has gained 27 million listeners worldwide and earned reporter Hedley Thomas and producer Slade Gibson the Gold Walkley, Australian journalism’s top honor.

It tracks the breakdown in the marriage of the childhood sweethearts that began when Chris, a teacher and former rugby league player, began a sexual relationship with one of his students, 16-year-old Joanna Curtis. He hired Curtis as a babysitter for their two daughters, and tried to persuade his wife to let her move into their home for the rest of her education, arguing she needed to escape a violent stepfather.

In January 1982, Lyn failed to show up to a meeting with her mother. Her husband claimed he had dropped her at a bus stop, before getting a call from her saying she needed time to herself.

A 2003 inquest found that Curtis moved into the Dawsons’ home two days after the disappearance, but Dawson did not report his wife missing to police for five weeks. Police later dug up an item of Liz’s clothing with holes consistent with stab marks, but her body was never found.

Police searched Dawson’s home in September but failed to turn up anything pertinent to the investigation. But despite the lack of a body, Detective Superintendent Scott Cook told reporters authorities were confident about their case. “There are other examples in policing history and history of the courts where people have been convicted of murder without a body,” he said Wednesday.

Australian media reported that Curtis, Dawson’s teen lover, was the key witness whose evidence had led to the breakthrough in the case.

Lyn Dawson's brother, Greg Simms, told Nine News he cried on hearing the news of her former husband’s arrest. “We've always been determined to find the truth, and that's the reason why we've fought to keep Lyn's name alive and out there with all the different media,” he said.

Australian media reported that Dawson covered his hands with his ears as a magistrate read out evidence against him in court Wednesday, including allegations of violence against his former wife.

Cover image: New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller speaks at a press conference in Sydney on May 24, 2017. {Getty Images)