Renee Simms is often told that she’s the spitting image of her aunt, Lynette Dawson.
The daughter of Greg Simms, Lyn’s younger brother, Renee never had a chance to meet her aunty. She would disappear before Renee was even born.
Lyn was described to her as “the loveliest person you’d ever meet,” a registered nurse and mother to two young girls. She married her high school boyfriend, Chris Dawson, who would go on to play first grade rugby league for the Newtown Jets in the 1970s.
Through his investigation, which has so far spanned 14 episodes, we’ve learned a great deal about the life of Lyn – who two separate coronial inquests concluded was murdered – and her husband Chris, who the State Coroner believes was responsible.
After finishing up with the Newtown Jets, Chris became a high school sports teacher at Sydney’s Cromer High, near where the couple lived in Bayview. Lyn worked at a local childcare centre.
You can listen to Mia Freedman’s No Filter interview with The Teacher’s Pet creator, Hedley Thomas.
Whispers began circulating in 1980 that Chris was having a sexual relationship with Joanne Curtis, a Year 11 student at Cromer High. Joanne would often babysit for the Dawson children, and sometimes stayed the night.
Lyn would eventually find out, and confront both Chris and 16-year-old Joanne about their affair.
It was amid these circumstances, that Lyn seemingly vanished into thin air.
“I’ve only ever known her through the eyes of my father,” Renee told Mamamia.
Her father, Greg, was close friends with Chris who he “idolised”.
“I think the fact that Chris was my dad’s best man speaks volumes,” Renee said.
“Like there’s wedding photos now that have Chris in them and Dad looks at them and… it’s almost like the photos are ruined.”
Her family, from Renee’s understanding, did not immediately accept that Chris had any involvement in Lyn’s disappearance. Renee was brought up believing her aunty was a missing person; perhaps because her grandmother, Helena Simms, could not bare to contemplate the alternative.
But there was a “general feeling” Renee recalls, that “Chris had done something”.
After the first coronial inquest in 2001, where it was ruled that Lyn had been murdered by a “known person”, the family began to explore their suspicions.
Renee has just one memory of her uncle Chris, from when she was around four or five.
“I was playing in the front yard of my nan’s house, and he was standing way across the road and just watching,” she said.
“So the girls [Chris and Lyn’s daughters, Shanelle and Sherryn] were just coming to visit Nan and he was just standing there watching them come over… but he wouldn’t come anywhere near her house. He wouldn’t drop them at the front door. He stood well in the distance and watched them.
“He was not coming anywhere near us.”
What is most bizarre about Chris’ behaviour, is that he had not been accused of anything. There had been no real tension in the family prior to Lyn’s disappearance, and even after she went missing, Lyn’s mother Helena was a fierce defender of Chris. “I think for quite a long time, particularly my nan was very confused as to why he would be distancing himself, because she completely trusted everything he was telling her,” Renee said.
But following Lyn’s disappearance, Chris didn’t seem to want anything to do with the Simms family.
Chris and Lyn’s daughters, and Renee’s cousins, Sherryn and Shanelle, grew up in Queensland with their father and for a short time, their stepmother Joanne Curtis.
Shanelle was four when her mother went missing, and believes she is no longer alive.
Since the Teacher’s Pet podcast began, Renee and the Simms family have sent her supportive messages, checking that she is okay. They have regular contact with Shanelle, who has spent a lot of time overseas.
Sherryn, however, has not had contact with Renee or her family since their grandmother Helena’s funeral in 2001. She fiercely believes in her father’s innocence, and has described the media attention as a “witch hunt on my dad.”
Sherryn told the Gold Coast Bulletin, “My dad’s getting hounded because there’s all these people that have got it in for him. Rather than focusing on perhaps that there could be someone else.”
She added that her stepmother Joanne, who married her father at 19 years of age, “was a bitch… she can live with that.”
The heightened media attention has also taken its toll on Renee’s father, Greg, her uncle, Phil, and aunty, Pat. They are struggling with having a wound reopened, but if this leads to an arrest, or a trial, Renee says, “It’s completely worth it”.
“It’s really tough to go through, particularly for the siblings,” she said.
“But they know in all honesty this is probably our last hope of ever being able to get justice for Lyn. We are willing to push this as hard as we can while the ball is rolling.
“We likely won’t get this chance again.”
You can listen to The Teacher’s Pet podcast here.