Former Sydney school teacher Chris Dawson, subject of the hit podcast The Teacher’s Pet, has on Tuesday been found guilty of the murder of his wife Lynette Dawson. She was last seen in January 1982.
NSW Supreme Court Justice Ian Harrison SC delivered his verdict on her disappearance. He ruled that Lynette Dawson (known as Lyn) is dead, and “died on or around 8 January 1982”. He rejected evidence of sightings from several witnesses.
Justice Harrison also rejected theories that Lyn had died by suicide or “joined a religious community”, pointing out that someone in the wider community “by now would have come forward”.
After going through evidence from the defence and Crown for more than five hours on Tuesday, Justice Harrison said he accepted that Chris Dawson had formed a motive to kill his wife to continue the inappropriate relationship he had formed with a Year 11 student in his class at Cromer High. She was 16 at the time the relationship began in 1980.
He also found Dawson’s behaviour after Lyn’s disappearance hinted at “evidence of consciousness of guilt”. Addressing Chris Dawson, Justice Harrison then said: “you did murder Lynette Dawson. I find you guilty.”
Per The Australian, the last time any of Lyn’s family members had spoken to her was the evening of Friday January 8 1982. Lyn’s late mother Helena Simms talked to her daughter via phone, later writing in her diary that Lyn seemed “half-sozzled” during the call.
It took six weeks for Chris Dawson to report his 33-year-old wife missing. In the meantime, he had moved the student into his Bayview home that he shared with his two daughters, aged two and four.
The student had briefly lived at the Dawsons’ Bayview home in 1981 following family difficulties in her own home.
In 2018, journalist Hedley Thomas investigated the disappearance of Lynette Dawson for his Walkley-winning podcast The Teacher’s Pet. It was a worldwide smash hit and led to the re-investigation of the case.
In December 2018, Chris Dawson was arrested in Queensland and charged with Lynette’s murder. He pleaded not guilty.
Because of the high levels of interest in the case thanks to the podcast, Chris Dawson was granted a judge-alone trial. Pre-trial publicity meant the case was deemed unsuitable to be heard by a jury.
However, Justice Harrison did not accept the defence’s claim that the podcast had “infected” witness evidence.
Justice Harrison found that only one witness was found to be influenced by The Teacher’s Pet and her conversations with Hedley Thomas.
The trial ran for more than three months and was covered in a second podcast called The Teacher’s Trial. Hedley Thomas maintained his criticism of the police’s initial investigation.
He said: “I am sure that Lyn’s family and friends appreciate that this judge has conducted a fair trial of an alleged murderer in circumstances where if a proper police investigation had been done in the early ’80s, there would have been much more for the prosecution and the defence to unpack.”
Here’s what will happen next to Chris Dawson — from bail to a potential appeal, and of course when Teacher’s Pet will come back.