When she disappeared without a trace 40 years ago, her husband said she’d abandoned him and their two little girls out of the blue. She joined a religious cult, he told the police.
But the cops suspected foul play and believed Chris Dawson was involved in the disappearance of his wife, Lynette. It didn’t help matters that he started a relationship with the 16-year-old babysitter who looked after their kids just days after reporting Lynette missing.
Yet although Chris was the prime suspect, there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him – until now.
An Australian court recently convicted the 74-year-old pensioner of his wife’s murder, ending a four-decades-old cold case that had long been a source of fascination and speculation.
Chris might still be a free man had it not been for The Teacher’s Pet, a chart-topping podcast that went into deep detail about his relationship with his former student.
The podcast garnered global attention and prompted a renewed investigation, which led to his arrest.
According to police officials, the podcast, which has been downloaded more than 30 million times, helped uncover new evidence that secured his conviction.
Hedley Thomas, the journalist who produced The Teacher’s Pet, welcomed the ruling.
“Chris had 40 years of freedom despite evidence that really should have seen him face a trial decades ago,” he says.
“Lynette was smeared as a runaway mother who didn’t love her children enough. That was rubbish and should have rung alarm bells. Instead, because of the lying and scheming and conniving, he has evaded justice.”
Lynette, a 33-year-old nurse, was last seen near her home at Bayview, an exclusive beach suburb in Sydney, between 8 and 9 January 1982. Six weeks later, Chris reported her disappearance to police.
He was a promising young rugby player when he met Lynette at a high school function. Both were 16 and although they were young, their parents approved of the match. The young athlete was handsome and popular – and Lynette couldn’t resist his charm.
They wed in 1970, later welcoming two daughters, Shanelle and Sherryn.
Chris, along with his twin brother, Paul, went on to play professional rugby for the Newton Jets in Sydney for four years. After retiring as a professional player, he became a physical education teacher at Sydney’s Cromer High School in 1976, where both staff and students treated him like a star.
He took a keen interest in student Joanne Curtis, a teen with a troubled background. Chris convinced Lynette to let her move in with them as a nanny, ostensibly to get her out of her abusive environment.
A year later, Lynette disappeared without a trace. Chris told her distraught family they’d been having marital problems and that she had left him, Shanelle and Sherryn, who were four and two respectively at the time, to join a cult. Her family had no reason to doubt him. Her mother, Helena, worshipped the ground he walked on.
“At the beginning we were in such a state of shock we couldn’t anticipate that she wasn’t coming back,” Lynette’s aunt, Lee Fletcher says. “For years our minds were in a turmoil, but her mother believed Chris. He was part of our family.”
They started having doubts when he married Joanne and moved to Queensland just two years after Lynette had gone missing.
Things took a turn when Joanne and Chris split after six years of marriage and having a daughter. Joanne went straight to the police with pretty explosive allegations.
Chris, she claimed, was miserable in his first marriage and had told her he’d hired a hitman to murder Lynette. He’d also verbally abused his first wife in the hope she’d leave him.
“He was very cold and used to sing songs to her that had double meanings, that he didn’t care about her and that she was physically unattractive,” Joanne says. “Just digging away at her to wear her down.”
Although she had no proof Chris had hired a hitman, Joanne believed him capable of murder.
Her marriage was far from happy, she told police. She described him as controlling and possessive, alleging he’d groomed her and treated her as a sex slave.
The abuse only intensified after the birth of their daughter, Kristin.
“He was even more possessive of me and regretted Kristin,” she says. “He wanted me to himself. He just wanted her out of the way.”
But her allegations weren’t enough to convince authorities to reopen the investigation into the former sports hero. It was only when the podcast was released that police officials were spurred into action.
The last episode of the podcast was released on 29 November 2018. Six days later, Chris, who was married for the third time by then, was charged with Lynette’s murder.
Chris maintained his innocence throughout the trial and now plans to appeal his conviction.
Although Lynette’s family welcomed the ruling, it was met with mixed reactions from the couple’s daughters.
Shanelle (44) wants justice for her mother. “I kept looking out the door to see if she would come back,” she told 60 Minutes in 2018. Even now, Mother’s Day is hard for her to deal with, but a part of her still feels protective of her dad, she adds.
Sherryn (42) refuses to believe their father had anything to do with her mother’s murder, and labelled Thomas’ podcast “a witch hunt”.
The podcast caused the trial to be delayed several times because Chris’ legal team argued it compromised his right to a fair trial.
But in the end, the court couldn’t overlook the evidence. Although Lynette’s body had never been found, police uncovered a slashed jersey belonging to her buried in a garden in the couple’s old home. Prosecutors believe Chris had drugged and smothered her before disposing of her body.
“I’m satisfied that the prospect that he would lose Joanne so distressed, frustrated and ultimately overwhelmed him that he resolved to kill his wife,” judge Ian Harrison says.
Lynette’s brother, Gregg Simms, appealed to Chris to provide the last piece of the puzzle: revealing what he’d done with her body.
“She’s still missing,” he says.
“We have yet to bring her home. We hope that Chris will finally do the decent thing: to allow us to bring Lynette home to a peaceful rest, finally showing her the dignity she deserves.”
Listen to the podcast here.