Chris Dawson has been arrested and charged with murdering his wife, Lynette Joy Dawson. She disappeared from their Australia home in 1982 and her body has never been recovered. She was 33 at the time.
But investigators took a fresh look at the cold case over the past three years. They reportedly found new evidence that pointed to 70-year-old Chris Dawson as a murder suspect.
He was arrested in Queensland on December 5, 2018, and extradited to Sydney. A judge denied bail during a court appearance on December 6.
The disappearance of Lyn Dawson has recently attracted fascination worldwide. The Australian newspaper debuted a podcast on the unsolved murder back in May, called “Teacher’s Pet.” Tens of millions of listeners have tuned in to hear details of what caused the Dawsons’ marriage to fall apart in the early 1980s, and speculate about what could have happened to the young mother of two. The story begins with an affair.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Chris Dawson Had an Affair With a High School Student, Whom He Had Hired as a Babysitter
Chris Dawson was a professional rugby player in his younger days. After his athletic career came to a close, he went to work as a physical education teacher at Cromer High School in New South Wales, Australia, located about 13 miles north of Sydney.
A former student at the school more recently has come forward to allege that at least six teachers had affairs with students in the early 1980s. Robyn Wheeler appeared on the second episode of the “Teacher’s Pet” podcast, in which she accused her former school of doing nothing to prevent teachers from pursuing their students. She described Dawson as “a bit of a rock star because of his physical presence and also his reputation as a first-grade footballer.” Wheeler said the relationship between Dawson and 16-year-old Joanne Curtis was “common knowledge” at the school.
Dawson, who was 32 at the time, hired Curtis as a babysitter for his two young daughters. The two eventually began a sexual relationship. In October 1981, Dawson invited her to move in with the family in Bayview.
Curtis, now 54, has told previously told investigators Australian website that she recalled Dawson being “cold” toward his wife, Lyn. “He used to sing songs to her that had double meanings, that he didn’t care about her and that she was physically unattractive. Just digging away at her. Just singing songs that were to wear her down, just upset her.”
Curtis revealed that the last conversation she ever had with Lyn Dawson centered around Chris. Curtis said Lyn suspected that the two were having an affair. Lyn asked her to move out, and Curtis briefly moved in with Chris Dawson’s brother, who lived down the street.
2. Lyn Dawson Disappeared in January 1982 & Chris Dawson Claimed She Had Abandoned the Family
Lynette Joy Dawson vanished on January 9, 1982. According to New South Wales police, she had made plans with her mother to get lunch that day but never showed up. Her husband, Chris Dawson, waited several weeks before reporting her as missing to police. An official missing person’s report was filed February 18, 1982.
Chris Dawson denied having any role in his wife’s disappearance. He alleged that she left the family willingly. But police seemed to find that story improbable.
In 2013, police raised the reward for information on Lyn Dawson’s disappearance to $200,000. In a news release, Detective Sergeant Loone stated that investigators did not believe she had simply walked out on her family. “At the time of her disappearance, Lynette was the loving mother of two daughters – a two-year-old and a four-year-old. She was also extremely close to her parents and three siblings. We think it’s highly unlikely that Lynette staged her own disappearance. She had so much to live for.”
3. Joanne Curtis Moved Back in With Chris Dawson Two Days After Lyn Vanished & The Couple Eventually Married
Two days after Lyn Dawson vanished, Chris Dawson invited his teenage girlfriend back into the house. Joanne Curtis, who agreed to be interviewed for the “Teacher’s Pet” podcast, told police that she had no idea what had happened to Lyn. She said all Chris had told her was that Lyn “wasn’t coming back.” Curtis later admitted that she sometimes wondered if Chris had killed Lyn, but never knew for sure.
Regardless of her suspicions, Curtis accepted Dawson’s marriage proposal. They tied the knot on January 15, 1984, in a ceremony at their home. Dawson gave Curtis one of Lyn’s rings and she became stepmother to two daughters. The family moved to Queensland and had a third child. But the marriage did not last.
Curtis and Dawson divorced in 1990. As laid out in “Teacher’s Pet,” Curtis moved back to Sydney. She reportedly confided in friends that she believed Dawson had killed his first wife and that she had begun to fear for her own safety. She went to police and told them they should search Dawson’s old home for a body. Curtis explained that Dawson had never appeared upset that Lyn was gone. She described him as being very controlling during their relationship.
Police questioned Dawson in 1991. But no charges were filed.
4. Homicide Detectives Launched a Fresh Investigation into Lyn Dawson’s Disappearance & Presumed Murder
Investigators continued to investigate Lyn Dawson’s disappearance had initiated digs on more than one occassion in search of her remains. But her body has never been recovered and investigators have not indicated whether they are any closer to finding a potential burial site.
New South Wales police launched a new initiative in 2015 to try to solve the cold case, called “Strike Force Scriven.” They interviewed witnesses and examined physical evidence. The probe eventually led them back to Chris Dawson. They got a warrant and arrested Dawson on December 5, 2018, in Queensland. It has been nearly 37 years since Lyn disappeared.
According to the “Teacher’s Pet” podcast, Dawson was calm as he was taken into custody. He was extradited to Sydney to face a murder charge. The judge denied bond, citing that 70-year-old Dawson posed a flight risk.
5. Chris Dawson’s Family Insists He is Innocent, But His Older Daughter Has Admitted to Having Doubts
Lyn Dawson’s family members have expressed relief at Chris’ arrest. Her parents have since died. But her brother, Greg Simms, told the Australian that the family was “over the moon” that they may finally gain closure.
The Dawson family disagreed. They put out a statement that read, “We are disappointed at the decision of the DPP as there is clear and uncontested evidence that Lyn Dawson was alive long after she left Chris and their daughters. We have no doubt whatsoever that Chris will be found not guilty as he is innocent. There will be no further comment. Please respect the privacy of Chris and his family.”
Chris Dawson’s daughters have expressed their views in separate interviews. In June 2018, Sherryn Dawson, who was two when her mother vanished, told the Gold Coast Bulletin that she felt the investigation against her father was a witch hunt. “My dad’s getting hounded because there’s all these people that have got it in for him.”
Older sister Shanelle is less certain. She told 60 Minutes Australia in September 2018, “It’s not looking good for my father I will be honest to say.”
Kristen Dawson is the daughter of Joanne Curtis. She told the Daily Mail Australia, “It’s a really hard time for us at the moment,” but did not say more. Her mother has said in the past that Chris seemed to rejected Kristen. “He was even more possessive of me and regretted Kristen. He wanted me to himself. He just wanted her out of the way.”