The case remained unsolved for over 40 years.
Until, at the end of August this year, a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Australia, found Chris Dawson, 74 years old, guilty of the murder of his wife, Lynette.
This Friday (12/02), the sentence was announced: 24 years in prison – with the right to parole after 18 years. The judge acknowledged that he is likely to die behind bars.
Chris’ attorney has indicated, however, that his client will likely appeal the decision.
Chris, a former professional rugby player, lived with her and their two children in the city of Sydney.
They were a seemingly normal family until she disappeared without a trace in January 1982. At the time, Lynette was 33 years old.
Chris had left rugby in the late 1970s and had become a PE teacher at a public school on Sydney’s North Beaches.
And it was precisely during the classes that he fell in love with Joanne Curtis, one of the teenage students, who was mentioned as JC in the trial that had just ended.
JC was just 16 when Chris fell in love with her, according to details revealed both at the trial and in the 2018 investigative podcast that unearthed the case, The Teacher’s Pet🇧🇷
Joanne was part of a dysfunctional family, where violence and alcohol were part of the daily routine.
Despite being twice her age and married, the teacher established a close relationship with the young woman. Chris hired the teenager as a nanny at his home and began a secret relationship with her.
According to JC’s testimony during the trial, they both had sex on the sly, when Lynette was sleeping or taking a shower.
Chris Dawson was obsessed with the teenager, who he saw as a “replacement” for his wife, according to Judge Ian Harrison’s assessment.
Just three days after Lynette disappeared, the young student moved in permanently with the Dawsons.
In the months leading up to his wife’s disappearance, Chris grew increasingly desperate as divorce plans fell through and JC threatened to end the case, the judge said.
“When affection turned into a sexual relationship, Dawson was faced with the harsh reality that he could not remain married and still maintain an increasingly intense relationship” with the teenager, according to the magistrate.
“The prospect of losing her caused distress, frustration and ended up overwhelming him so much that Dawson decided to kill his wife,” the judge said.
Chris Dawson denies killing Lynette and has always claimed that she abandoned him and their two children, possibly to join a religious group.
Police haven’t found a single trace of Lynette since her disappearance in the 1980s.
Chris claimed his wife called him days after the disappearance to say she needed a break from their relationship.
That first call, he assured, was followed by others, but there is no proof of this. Therefore, the judge believes that this version is a lie.
The husband’s defense also alleged that at least five people claimed to have seen the missing woman alive after January 1982.
This also did not convince the judge, who considered the episodes to be errors of perception by the alleged witnesses.
Two years after Lynette’s disappearance, in 1984, Chris Dawson and Joanne Curtis were married and had a daughter. The couple divorced in 1993.
Two investigations into Lynette’s disappearance in 2001 and 2003 concluded that she was killed by a “known person”.
But prosecutors didn’t see enough evidence to press charges until journalist Hedley Thomas investigated the case on a podcast.
Winner of the Walkley, Australia’s highest journalism award, The Teacher’s Pet has amassed over 60 million downloads and reached No. 1 on the Australian charts. The show also enjoyed strong ratings in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
The podcast — and the impact the content had on public opinion — played a key role in Chris’s 2018 arrest and murder charge.
Judge Harrison criticized the “unbalanced view” of the case and ruled that it had affected evidence provided by some witnesses heard in the past.
The commotion generated by the podcast even delayed the start of the trial.
The defense even tried to stall the case, arguing that the program’s impact deprived the defendant of the opportunity for a fair trial.
Finally, it was decided to carry out the trial with a judge instead of resorting to a popular jury, considering that people outside the magistrate would be more influenced by public opinion.
Announcing the 24-year prison sentence on Friday, Judge Ian Harrison said Dawson’s crime was “self-indulgent brutality” that “was neither spontaneous nor inevitable”.
He had been convicted on August 30, 2022, after a three-month trial that included evidence and testimony from several witnesses.
While none of the evidence was conclusive on its own, after evaluating it as a whole, the magistrate ruled that Chris Dawson’s guilt was “convincing”.
The judge rejected the defendant’s version that Lynette Dawson left the house voluntarily.
He assessed that the victim “idolized her children and husband” and that all her assets remained in the family home after her disappearance.
“Even the contact lenses were found in a blue container,” he claimed.
Furthermore, since Lynette disappeared, none of her friends and family have heard from her or any indication that she might be alive anywhere in the world.
Taking the circumstantial evidence as a whole, the judge stated that “without question” Chris killed his wife and disposed of the body.
After the verdict, the culprit was handcuffed and left the room shaking his head, showing dissatisfaction.
Lynette Dawson’s family members in court reacted to the verdict with tears.
The brother, Greg Simms, said the court’s decision only confirmed what they had known for years.
“She loved her family and never left them of her own free will. That trust, however, was betrayed by a man she loved,” Simms explained to the press, visibly moved.
He also alluded to the body never found and to Chris Dawson, whom he urged to “finally do what’s right” and “allow us to bring Lynette home and rest in peace, offering her the dignity she deserves”.
– This article was originally published on September 1, 2022 in https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/internacional-62751316
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