One of Australia’s oldest cold cases has finally come to an end, with a former high school teacher found guilty of killing his wife in 1982.
Chris Dawson, now 74, was convicted on Tuesday of murdering his wife Lynette forty years ago so he could run off with his 16-year-old student, CNN reported. Dawson’s trial lasted two months and included four decades’ worth of evidence. The conviction came despite Dawson’s claims of innocence.
Dawson has for decades insisted that his wife left him and their two young children over financial issues, yet he was always suspected of killing her. The suspicions began after it took Dawson six weeks to report his wife missing and the fact that his 16-year-old student, Joanne Curtis, moved into the Dawson family home just two days after Lynette disappeared. Dawson and Curtis married one year after Lynette vanished.
Curtis came from a broken home with an abusive stepfather, CNN reported, and “was understandably attracted to any relief she could obtain from a less than perfect domestic situation,” Judge Ian Harrison said in his ruling.
Curtis began babysitting for the Dawsons in 1980, and Chris gave her driving lessons. It was during those lessons that he professed his love for her and kissed her, CNN reported. A week later, the two had sex, which continued regularly even though Dawson was married. At one point, Curtis moved in with the Dawsons while Lynette was still in the home and told authorities that she and Dawson would have sex when Lynette was in the shower or asleep. She moved in permanently after Lynette disappeared.
Judge Harrison found Dawson guilty during a judge-only trial. It had been determined the publicity of the case would make finding an impartial jury impossible.
“The whole of the circumstantial evidence satisfies me that Lynette Dawson is dead, that she died on or about 8 January 1982, and that she did not voluntarily abandon her home,” Harrison said. “I’m satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the only rational inference that the circumstances enable me to draw is that Lynette Dawson died or on about 8 January 1982 as the result of a conscious and voluntary act committed by Mr. Dawson with the intention of causing her death.”
Harrison determined that Dawson had lied about speaking to Lynette in the weeks after her disappearance, saying the claim “defies common sense.” Harrison said it was unlikely that a woman “supposedly desperate to leave her marriage” would call her husband multiple times to give him updates on her whereabouts. Harrison also determined that allegations Lynette had used her credit cards after her disappearance were also untrue.
Curtis’ testimony also helped seal Dawson’s fate, though he tried to pass her off as an aggrieved ex-wife. Their marriage ended in 1991. Judge Harrison, however, determined that Dawson’s obsession with Curtis was the motive for him to murder his wife.
Lynette’s body has never been found.