After 40 years,witnesses piece together puzzle of Lynette Dawson’s disappearance

Lynette Dawson had been excited about her 4½-year-old daughter starting school when she vanished without a trace from Sydney’s northern beaches in January 1982.

“I’m pretty sure that she had already got the uniform and the shoes,” her colleague Sue Strath told the trial of Chris Dawson,who has pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife four decades ago.

Lynette and Chris Dawson.

Lynette and Chris Dawson.Supplied:NSW Supreme Court

During the first two weeks of evidence,family,friends and workmates have told the NSW Supreme Court that Lynette,33,was a proud and affectionate mother whose world revolved around her two girls. She had waited for years to conceive after marrying Dawson in 1970,and the couple had taken steps towards adoption.

But in the months before she disappeared, her relationship with her husband soured,as the couple’s teenage babysitter and a former student of Dawson,known as JC,moved in and out of their home.

Dawson,the court has heard,had been leaving love letters in the schoolgirl’s bag and in a handwritten card for her 17th birthday in 1981 calling her his “lovely beautiful Bub”.

“Hoping today is a very happy one and knowing we will share all the birthdays to follow. All my love forever,” the card read.

Chris Dawson leaving the NSW Supreme Court,where he is on trial accused of Lynette’s murder.

Chris Dawson leaving the NSW Supreme Court,where he is on trial accused of Lynette’s murder.Edwina Pickles

JC told the court Dawson had taken her for driving lessons as a way to spend time alone with her and,on one occasion while parked at Dee Why Beach,the court was told,they kissed for the first time.

Then,in the months before Lynette disappeared,JC told the court,that she and Dawson had driven to a building site in western Sydney to speak to a hitman to kill his wife,only for him to later tell the schoolgirl he had got cold feet.

In the weeks before she vanished,Lynette told her sister,Patricia Jenkins,that Dawson was “always so angry with her” anddescribed him as having “black eyes flashing”.

With Lynette’s whereabouts still a mystery 40 years after she left her Bayview home,her brother,Greg Simms,said in his evidence:“I would like an answer to my sister’s disappearance.”

Lynette’s last contact

On her last day of work,as a nurse at Warriewood Children’s Centre on January 8,1982,Lynette arrived hand-in-hand with Dawson after marriage counselling. She hoped they could “move forward and work together”,her colleagues said.

The Crown alleges Dawson killed Lynette on or around that date,alone or with others,and disposed of her body,motivated by his desire to have an unfettered relationship with JC.

Dawson,now 73,says he dropped his wife off at a Mona Vale bus stop on January 9,and,instead of meeting him as they had arranged at Northbridge Baths,she called him to say “she would not be returning home that day”.

Dawson’s barrister Pauline David said subsequent phone calls were made by Lynette before he reported his wife missing on February 18,1982.

A newspaper advertisement,published on March 27,the day after their wedding anniversary,read:“Lyn I love you,we all miss you. Please ring. We want you home,Chris.”

Annette Leary,who worked with Lynette,said a couple of months after her disappearance,she had seen Dawson with JC and the two little girls at a shopping centre.

“He said he had a letter from Lyn,and she was in Queensland,and he didn’t know when she was coming back,” Leary said. She denied she was mistaken about the letter,and said he’d had a call too.

Dawson told police that,in the calls from Lynette,she said she “needed some time away”. He also mentioned a man from a “religious sect” being at the house.

His barrister claims failures plagued the police investigation,including delays and lost records,and “vital evidence consistent with Lynette Dawson being alive after January 8 and 9” was not available.

The Crown is seeking to disprove reported sightings of Lynette after January 9,including at Kulnura on the Central Coast,Curl Curl,Gladesville and Macquarie Street in the city.

The defence argues Lynette had reasons to disappear.

Chris Dawson and the babysitter

Dawson,who played rugby league for the Newtown Jets,met JC in 1980 when she was in year 11,and he was her physical education teacher. She started babysitting his children about July of that year.

A card that babysitter and former student JC says she was given by Chris Dawson.

A card that babysitter and former student JC says she was given by Chris Dawson.Supplied:NSW Supreme Court

“He told me that he had seen me in the playground the year before,when I was 15,and decided that he would like to get to know me better because I was attractive to him,” JC,now 57,said during her four days in the stand. She said that,whenever she had biology,Dawson would leave love notes in her schoolbag.

JC moved into his Bayview home in October 1981 amid what the court has heard was a “horrendous” family life while finishing the HSC. Lynette’s colleagues said she told them Chris was “pressing” her on it and,being the caring “person that she was”,she wanted to help.

“Lyn was not happy about this because she felt they had problems they needed to sort out between them before they brought anyone else into the home,”her sister-in-law Merilyn Simms said.

Neighbour Julie Andrew said she witnessed the teenager walking around in G-string bikini bottoms,while Strath said Lynette had once told her about coming home and finding JC naked in their pool.

Childcare worker Anna Grantham said Lynette looked “very sad” one day after going home to find Dawson’s swimming trunks and JC’s bikini bottoms on the line.

“I think she felt that her husband had lost interest in her,” Lynette’s former boss Barbara Cruise said.

JC said she had usually only worn bikini bottoms while swimming as “it was just the fashion then”.

By November 1981,JC had moved out,after she says she was confronted by Lynette,who said,“You’ve been taking liberties with my husband.”

JC said that,at some point in those two months,Dawson drove her somewhere west,possibly inner west,and parked outside a building with a chain fence,while she stayed in the car in her uniform.

“He said,‘I went inside to get a hitman to kill Lyn,but then I decided I couldn’t do it because innocent people could be hurt.’ ”

In the days before Christmas 1981,JC,then 17,and Dawson left Sydney to start a new life together in Queensland. But JC said they didn’t make it and returned because she was sick and unhappy.

“Chris ‘shot through’ left Lyn and two girls on their own,” Lynette’s mother,Helena Simms,wrote in her diary. In a letter to Jenkins,her elder daughter,Simms said it was the “saddest Xmas I’ve had”.

“Lyn wants Chris to go to see the Doc ... to see what is making him so angry with her,” she wrote.

Jenkins said she last spoke to her sister on January 1,1982,when “Chris had gone on a yachting party” without his wife and children. “She said they’d had such a sad Christmas,could he drive them down to the park,and they could sit and watch the boats? And he said ‘no’.”

Asked by the Crown what her plan had been for her future with Dawson,JC said,“there was a lot of pressure to stay with him,and I was just a child”.

In early January 1982,she travelled to South West Rocks for a holiday with her sisters and friends,calling Dawson’s home number every day on a public phone “because he asked me to”,she said.

“He said he missed me terribly,couldn’t live without me.”

She said Dawson told her,“Lyn’s gone,she’s not coming back. Come and help me look after the children and be with me.”

Moving into Bayview

JC said Dawson collected her about January 10,11 or 12 and moved her “straight back into” his home,which was “bursting” with clothes and still had Lynette’s underwear in the drawers.

She was quizzed by the defence about her first police statement,in which she said this happened on January 15 and 16. JC said the dates had been “corrected” and denied she was misleading the court.

Chris Dawson and JC on their wedding day.

Chris Dawson and JC on their wedding day.Supplied:NSW Supreme Court

JC said the topic of Lynette’s whereabouts did not come up in conversation unless she got “so cranky” about taking care of the girls and learning to cook and clean,when she “wanted to be an 18-year-old with my friends doing what they were doing”.

“[I was] having to learn to be the substitute housekeeper,sex slave,stepmother,babysitter. Slave,just a slave,” she claimed.

JC and Dawson married in January 1984.

“The wedding ring was made from scratch to match his one that he had left over from his first marriage,” JC said. “The diamond ring was made using the diamonds from Lyn’s engagement ring and eternity ring that she left.”

When she separated from Dawson in 1990,JC met Lynette’s brother and his wife and told them about the “hitman” allegation.

Asked in his evidence whether he had taken the view Dawson was guilty,Greg Simms replied,“I believe so,yes.”

A school friend,who ran into JC after her marriage breakdown,said JC had told her Dawson once parked and “took something out of the glove box”,which she felt had been “money to pay someone to kill Lyn”.

“The substance of what she[JC] said was that she believed Lyn had been murdered,” the woman said.

Under cross-examination,JC denied being on a “mission to destroy” Dawson.

“He will destroy himself for what he’s done to people,and to me,and to Lyn,” she said.

In addition to recalling decades-old memories,witnesses have been peppered with defence questions about discussions shared over the years and their involvement inThe Australian’s podcast,The Teacher’s Pet.

David said it was “entirely understandable” that Lynette’s loved ones would like an answer,but the answer did not lie in the prosecution of Dawson.

The judge-alone trial before Justice Ian Harrison commenced on May 9 and has a six-week estimate.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories,analysis and insights.Sign up here.

Sarah McPhee is a court reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Most Viewed in National