true crime

Arlene Fraser was Scotland's Lynette Dawson.

Content warning: This story includes descriptions of domestic violence that may be distressing to some readers.

When the podcast The Teacher's Pet was released in Australia, the country became equal parts fascinated and appalled by the incredible story, told by host Hedley Thomas. It was the story of Lynette Dawson, who disappeared without the trace. Her husband, Chris Dawson had always maintained his wife had simply left him and their children. But Lynette's friends and family never believed it. Their eyes were firmly fixed on Dawson. 

As Thomas' podcast gained traction, the case was reopened, leading to the arrest of Dawson, finally giving Lynette's family some closure. 

In April 1998, the people of Elgin in northeast Scotland, were experiencing a similar horror. 

Watch: The moment Chris Dawson was found guilty of Lynette Dawson's murder. Post continues below.

Video via Nine News.

Mother of two Arlene Fraser had been getting her children ready for school. She had sent them off on the short walk to Elgin Primary School, before calling the school to check on the expected return times for her son's excursion. 


The reception told Arlene she would call her back once she had some information. Ten minutes later, she did call back, but no one answered the phone. Shortly after, Arlene's friend stopped by to see her, only no one was home. 

When the two children arrived home after school, their mum was nowhere to be found. By 8pm, Arlene was officially deemed a missing person, sparking the biggest missing person search in Scotland's history.

Like Chris Dawson, Arlene's husband Nat Fraser told police his wife must have 'simply run away'. But like Lynette Dawson's family and friends, Arlene's loved ones didn't believe she would ever willingly abandon her children.

Arlene's disappearance is also the subject of a popular podcast, journalist Dale Haslam's Vanished: the Arlene Fraser Murder. Haslam delved into the case following the 25th anniversary of Arlene's disappearance last year. 

An imperfect relationship. 

By all accounts, Arlene was a simple woman with simple aspirations. She caught the eye of Fraser, an entrepreneur who, while not rich, was well off and successful. 

"I think when she met him, she thought, 'I could see myself being with him because he's got a secure life, and I could have a secure life with him,'" Haslam tells Mamamia's True Crime Conversations

Being both a local business owner and a member of a band that often played at the town's venues, Fraser was well-loved by the people of Elgin. But despite the popularity of his fruit and vegetable delivery firm, his charming smile and friendly persona, Fraser had another side. 


"He would get into fights, he would cause problems if people crossed him. And he was not averse to cheating either. So we had this split personality really, between bad and good, but for him his social reputation around Elgin was the most important thing in his life."

The couple's relationship progressed quickly. They married and had a baby all within a few months of each other. The wedding was a lavish affair, but Fraser turned up hungover, the first overt sign of his multifaceted personality. 

For the first few years of their marriage, Arlene settled into the role of homemaker, giving up much of her own life and aspirations to look after the couple's two children. 

Meanwhile, Fraser was out all hours of the day and night. He called it work, but was often out with other women. When she'd question him, he'd get angry, gaslighting her, and eventually hitting her. On one occasion he punched her in the stomach. On another, he strangled her with a dressing gown cord, leaving her in hospital. 

She tried to leave a couple of times, spending time in a domestic violence centre. But Fraser would always lure her back. Promising to change. 

After Arlene went to hospital, police intervened, banning Fraser from the family home, even though she asked them not to charge him. Two months later, Arlene vanished. 


It was just a regular Tuesday. But Tuesdays were special for Arlene. This was the day she met a friend for a regular catch up lunch. But when her friend arrived, about 15 minutes after Arlene called the school to check on her son's excursion, no one was home. 

"So she thought, 'Well, I'll come back in half an hour,'" says Haslam. "She did. And there was no sign of Arlene. So the period between Arlene making the call to the school, then Michelle calling at the house was 15 minutes. She's never been seen since."

Arlene's friend noticed she'd left her medication and her keys behind. The vacuum cleaner was plugged in and the washing machine had a wet load in it. 

When the kids arrived home to an empty house, they went to a neighbour's place to borrow a phone. They called their grandfather. By 8pm, police were called, and Arlene was officially declared a missing person. 

Arlene's friends and family knew something wasn't right, and they believed Fraser was responsible. 

"The friends told me that even the previous weekend, they were talking amongst themselves, hypothesising that Nat was going to do something bad," Haslam said. 

"Because for him during that time, when he was not allowed near the house, when he was on bail for the strangulation… (he was) fearing a loss of control and a loss of reputation. 


"He didn't like the fact that the community was gossiping about him. So in many respects, as chilling as it sounds, for her friends and family, it probably wasn't that much of a surprise when they got that phone call from the police."

The problem was, he had an alibi, having used a pay phone to make a call at the same time Arlene called the school. 

"He's got a cast-iron alibi. He's on CCTV at this phone box in Elgin Centre. He has been seen by all these people. He couldn't have possibly been at the house. But the other side of that was that they thought this alibi was too good. That nobody involved ever has that clear cut of an alibi that they happen to go to the one phone box where the only CCTV camera in the town. Detectives smelled a rat because they thought his alibi was just too good," says Haslam.

A country divided. 

While the town's people feared for Arlene’s safety, many felt the police were targeting the wrong person. 

"They just saw him as a 'loving family man', and thought he would never do anything bad. They thought: Why are the detectives giving him a hard time? We want them to go away. It was very difficult for the police in those early days."

A tip off eventually led police to an interaction between two men. One — a friend of Fraser's — had purchased a car from the other. A couple of weeks before Arlene's disappearance, her car inexplicably went up in flames, leaving her housebound.


Knowing she depended on having a car to get around, police believe Fraser arranged for a car to Arlene's place the morning she went missing — likely the car purchased by his friend, Hector Dick. 

"And Arlene would leave the house for a few minutes, have a look at the car, maybe take it around the block. And then it would be hers. And that this is what happened on the day only went missing, it was possible that she left the house voluntarily thinking that she would only be out of the house for a minute or two," says Haslam.

"She got into that car, thinking that it would just be a quick spin around the block to hear the engine sound and see how it drives. She was ultimately taken to a disposal site and killed and buried. But there was still no body and there was no crime scene."

As police continued to gather evidence, which was mostly circumstantial, Fraser was charged with attempted murder for the previous strangulation of Arlene. 

A verdict, but no closure. 

Fraser was also charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to police inquiries into the vehicle believed to be involved. Dick also faced the same charges.

In 2002, Fraser was indicted for his wife's murder, charged with conspiring to murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice. The following year he was found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment, with the recommendation to serve at least 25 years. 


But it wasn't over. Arlene's family still didn't know where her body was. Further devastating them, Fraser won an appeal against his conviction based on numerous pieces of evidence not being disclosed. He was released from prison and a retrial ordered. 

In 2006, eight years after Arlene's disappearance, Fraser was again found guilty, and sentenced to serve at least 17 years in prison. 

While Fraser remains in prison, Arlene's body has never been found. 

"Regretfully that with a passage of time, 25 years on, it's one of those where, as time goes on, the chances of finding that burial site are fading — unless the one man who knows where it is, tells police."

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a Queensland-based organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence. If you would like to support their mission to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, you can donate here.

Feature Image: International Missing Person's Register.