TRUE CRIME: A Disappearance, A 4-Decades-Old Cold Case, And A Conviction Finally Delivered

TRUE CRIME: A Disappearance, A 4-Decades-Old Cold Case, And A Conviction Finally Delivered

On January 8, 1982, Lynette Dawson’s mother called to make lunch plans with her daughter for the next day, but Lynette, a 33-year-old mother of two, failed to show up.

Six weeks later, on February 18, Lynette’s husband, Chris, reported her missing.

Chris and Lynette met in 1965 when they were 16 years old. Pat Jenkins, Lynette’s sister, described them as “a good-looking couple.” The high school sweethearts married five years later, on March 26, 1970, and went on to have two children together.

Chris and his twin brother, Paul, were both professional rugby players and part of the New South Wales Rugby League Club Championship winning team in 1973. When they ended their rugby careers, the two brothers began teaching physical education at public high schools near Sydney, Australia. In 1979, Chris started teaching at Cromer High School, where he met and took an interest in 16-year-old Joanne Curtis.

Joanne came from a broken home with an abusive stepfather, CNN reported, and was taken by Chris’ attention. In 1980, she started babysitting for the Dawsons and Chris also started giving her driving lessons. It was during one of 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 Chris was married. At one point, Joanne moved in with the Dawsons while Lynette was still in the home. She told authorities that she and Chris would have sex when Lynette was in the shower or asleep.

Two days after Lynette went missing, Chris moved Joanne into his home permanently and she began wearing Lynette’s clothes and jewelry. In 1983, Chris finalized a divorce from Lynette; a year later, he married Joanne  — however, they would go on to also get divorced in 1993.

For almost 40 years, suspicion surrounded Chris regarding his first wife’s disappearance, but he consistently denied any involvement and insisted she had abandoned her family over financial disputes. His denial included claims that Lynette had called him several times after she disappeared and had used her bank card.

In 2001, nearly 20 years after Lynette disappeared, a coronial inquest was held, with Deputy State Coroner Jan Stevenson concluding that Lynette must have been murdered — and by someone she knew. Stevenson recommended charges against Chris, but then-Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery refused, saying there wasn’t enough evidence, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. In 2003, a second coronial inquest was held and charges were again recommended against Chris, but none were filed.

The case went cold again for more than a decade. Then, in 2015, the New South Wales Police Force’s cold case unit reinvestigated Lynette’s disappearance. Three years later, police dug up the property Chris and Lynette owned but found no trace of Lynette’s body.

Despite the absence of a body or direct evidence that Lynette was dead, Chris was finally arrested on December 5, 2018, and charged with murdering his wife.

“I’m shaking. There is a long road in front of us in bringing Lyn home, but this is a big step,” David Jenkins, Lynette’s nephew, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Chris requested a judge-only trial, arguing that the publicity surrounding the case would make it impossible to find an impartial jury. On August 30, 2022, Justice Ian Harrison convicted Chris, now 74 years old, of killing Lynette.

“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 [on or] 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 Chris had lied about speaking to Lynette in the weeks after her disappearance, saying the claim “defies common sense.” The justice 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 untrue.

Joanne’s testimony also helped seal Chris’ fate, though he tried to pass her off as an aggrieved ex-wife. Justice Harrison, however, determined that Chris’ obsession with Joanne was the motive for him to murder his wife.

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