The Tragic 1982 Murder Of Lynette Dawson Explained

In 2018, the true-crime podcast, "The Teacher's Pet," from Australian journalist Hedley Thomas helped reignite public interest in the 1982 disappearance of Lynette Dawson. In the wake of the popular podcast, Australian authorities revisited the case, due in part to public pressure, according to Reuters. As a result, Dawson's husband, Chris Dawson (pictured above), long suspected of committing the crime, was found guilty of murder. Here's a look back at the details of Lynette Dawson's disappearance and why it took so long for that verdict to be reached.

At the time that his wife disappeared, Dawson maintained his innocence and claimed his wife had abandoned her family. Under closer scrutiny, though, Dawson's story fell apart. Still, no charges were filed against Dawson in 1982. As new evidence emerged, though, including signs that Australian law enforcement may have mishandled aspects of the case, an Australian judge has now found Dawson guilty. Because Dawson was negatively portrayed in "The Teacher's Pet" podcast, that ruling will be appealed, according to Dawson's defense, as The Guardian notes.

Lynette Dawson's body has never been found

What hampered the initial investigation into the disappearance of Lynette Dawson was the fact her body was never found and, as of this report, remains missing, as BBC notes. After she disappeared, Chris Dawson claimed he spoke with his wife on the phone and that during these conversations, she expressed her desire to leave the marriage, based on reporting from CNN. Dawson was also reportedly sighted on several occasions, but the veracity of those claims has now been called into question, as is evidence that Dawson used her credit cards while she was reportedly on the run.

Also according to the BBC, Lynette Dawson reportedly loved her family and had few financial resources to establish a life of her own outside her marriage. Nor have relatives of Lynette Dawson heard from her in the time that has elapsed since her disappearance. A 2001 coroner's inquest into the Dawson case ruled she was likely killed by someone with whom she was familiar, and in 2003, it was recommended that Dawson be charged with the crime. With no body, though, evidence remained circumstantial and the case was never brought to trial, as The New York Times goes on to report.

Chris Dawson allegedly had an affair with a teenage student

What prosecutors argue motivated Chris Dawson to allegedly kill his wife was an affair that Dawson — a high school teacher — had with a student who was 16 years old when Lynette Dawson disappeared. Given her young age at the time, the student with whom Dawson maintained a relationship is identified in the press only as JC, according to CNN. What is known, though, is that she babysat for the Dawson family and just days after Lynette Dawson went missing, she was invited to live in the Dawsons' home.

Dawson and his former student later married and even had a child together, though they are now divorced. According to JC, she was groomed by Dawson, who, in her words, treated her like a "slave," based on reporting from the BBC. As The New York Times also notes, the emphasis on the inappropriate sexual relationship Chris Dawson allegedly maintained with a teenage student by the hugely popular Dawson podcast has helped expose a long history of similar abuse in Australian schools.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Chris Dawson tried to leave Lynette before she disappeared

Further evidence against Chris Dawson includes the fact he reportedly tried to leave Lynette with JC before his wife disappeared. In 1981, he and JC even moved for a time from Sydney, Australia, where his family lived, to the Gold Coast, near Brisbane. After that point, though, JC desired to not only return home to her family but to end things with Dawson. Lynette Dawson disappeared one year later. JC was away camping at the time that Dawson allegedly killed his wife. Dawson later told JC that Lynette was gone and would not be coming back, according to The Guardian. As the judge in the Dawson case also noted, Lynette reportedly confronted JC about the abusive relationship she was in with her husband. 

As well as further examination into the relationship Dawson allegedly maintained with his then student, "The Teacher's Pet" podcast also illustrated several instances in which Australian authorities failed to adequately investigate reports that Dawson's late wife had been spotted, or to handle subsequent requests for Dawson to be charged with the crime based on later inquest findings, as The Guardian notes. Prior to the most recent hearing, Dawson's defense cited the influence of "The Teacher's Pet" podcast and the time that had elapsed since the alleged crimes took place to permanently stay the proceedings. In 2020, a temporary stay was granted.

The Teacher's Pet podcast was made unavailable in Australia

Once the Lynette Dawson cold case was reopened in 2019, "The Teacher's Pet" podcast was made unavailable in Australia so as not to further unfairly influence a potential jury, as The New York Times explains. In addition to results of the 2001 and 2003 inquest findings, the latter including an excavation of the Dawson property at which time no body was found, the Dawson case was once more reopened in 2015 as new evidence became available, though charges were not filed at that time.

Though the evidence against Chris Dawson remains largely circumstantial, the judge in the judge-only trial — sometimes also called a bench trial, according to Cornell Law School, — later said (via the BBC) that he had no doubt that Dawson was motivated to kill his wife by an obsession with his teenage student, and that he had made several failed attempts in the past to end the marriage. There's also evidence that the young student with whom Dawson was involved had wanted to break things off with Dawson prior to Lynette Dawson's disappearance.

Lynette's brother wants Dawson to reveal where his sister's remains are hidden

Now that Chris Dawson is convicted for the death of his wife in 1982, Lynette Dawson's brother, Greg Sims (pictured above), has called on him to reveal where his late sister's remains are located, according to The Guardian. Sims said (via the Guardian) "This verdict is for Lyn. Today her name has been cleared — she loved her family and would have never left them of her own accord. Instead, her trust was betrayed by a man she loved."

Also according to the Guardian, Justice Ian Harrison, the presiding judge in the bench trial that Chris Dawson himself requested, said "The whole of the circumstantial evidence satisfies me that Lynette Dawson is dead ... and that she did not voluntarily abandon her home." In response to his client's conviction, Dawson's defense attorney Greg Walsh said his client maintains his innocence and would appeal the ruling. Dawson will also likely apply for bail before the sentencing, Walsh also added (per The Guardian).