'I was friends with Chris Dawson's second wife. This is what she told me.'

The following is an extract from Rebecca Hazel's book The Schoolgirl, Her Teacher and his Wife

I first heard about Lynette Dawson in 2007, twenty-five years after she disappeared from her home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. I was working as a lawyer in a women’s refuge, not far from where Lynette had lived in Bayview. 

I would often drive to and from work the long way, following the road that tracked the jagged coastal ledge. On some days, big storms slammed massive swells of water onto the rock platforms. On others, the ocean was as calm as a bottle-green field. There were treats too – a pod of dolphins, a whale lolling close to shore or, further out, offering a farewelling spout of water as it headed north for winter. But at the refuge, 2 kilometres inland, there was no hint of the ocean. Dazed women arrived with their children, and in the communal kitchen and living spaces, they met and shared snippets of the ordeals that had brought them there. For the first couple of weeks, they wouldn’t venture out much, but eventually, they’d find their way to the shopping centre, the park and the beach.

Watch: Lynette Dawson’s Brother, Greg Simms And Chris Dawson's Lawyer Greg Walsh Speak Outside Court. Post continues after video.

Video via 7News.

The staff didn’t get out of the fibro cottage much either. The refuge consisted of two houses in a dull suburban street: one where the women slept, and the other – the fibro cottage – for the staff, where I shared an open-plan office in what would have once been someone’s lounge room. We’d often sit together around the kitchen table and eat lunch. I liked sitting next to my colleague JC because she was smart and had a quick, dark sense of humour. I was in my early forties and, because I still had small children, I was always tired. JC was a year older than me but had a loose, jaunty manner, and when I was with her, I felt younger. One day, we were chatting about a trip to New York that I was planning.

‘I bloody love that place,’ she said. ‘Nobody recognises me.’

‘Are you famous?’ I asked, jokingly.

‘I’ll tell you about it one day,’ she said without humour, then abruptly pushed her chair back and walked off. In the days that followed, the conversation niggled at me. 

A few weeks later, JC and I were in town for a meeting and afterwards, we skived off to a café that made good coffee, something that wasn’t easily found in the suburbs back then. At a little round table in the sun, and with some gentle probing, JC told me her story – or part of it.

‘I married a man whose first wife had gone missing,’ she began and placed her cup heavily on the saucer. ‘I moved into the house not long after. We got married a few years later.’ Her voice turned hard, clipped. ‘She’s never been heard from since.’


As she spoke, she looked increasingly distressed. I saw a lot of distress at the refuge, but I couldn’t get a read on what was going on with JC here. Did she still have strong feelings for this man? I knew that she was a single mother now, and I wondered if the divorce had been messy and painful. Was it this that had led her to work in a refuge? 

‘The police think that he killed her.’

We both fell silent. I felt the sun on my neck, tasted the bitterness of the coffee in my mouth. And when the shock of her words passed, I asked her his name. 

Chris Dawson,’ she said flatly, like she was sick of saying it.

JC was seventeen when Chris Dawson’s wife, Lynette, went missing in 1982, and she told me that within a few days of Lynette’s disappearance Chris had moved her into his house with the Dawson's two small children. Later, he and JC got married and had a daughter of their own. Then, after almost ten years, JC left Chris, taking only the little girl they’d had together.

Read more: The other victim of Chris Dawson's crimes.

Almost as an afterthought, she said, ‘He was my teacher at school and whenever something like this comes up, they always drag me out as... I don’t know.’ She sounded frustrated, distressed too. ‘I don’t know what!’

What does she mean by this? I wondered. A teacher who lures a student into a relationship? A teacher who has a relationship with a student and whose wife disappears? JC shook her head, seemingly also confused by whatever this was, and why she was trapped by it.


‘It’s my life,’ she said. ‘It will never go away.’

I could see that she didn’t want to talk anymore. We left soon after. I came away confused and with so many questions. It didn’t make sense. How could Lynette Dawson just disappear? Wouldn’t her family and friends have made a ruckus? What did the police do? What did the school do about a teacher having a sexual relationship with a student? And JC’s parents? And how could the JC I knew have once been part of a story like this? What did JC think had happened to Lynette? And with her background, how could JC bring herself to be a resource worker in a women’s refuge? Did working there remind her of the past? Or perhaps the tight security and practices at the refuge made her feel safe? 

When I got home I googled Chris Dawson’s name and dozens of articles came up – so many, in fact, that I couldn’t understand how I’d missed the story over the years. At the time of Lynette’s disappearance, Chris Dawson was a minor celebrity, having been a well-known rugby league player for the Newtown Jets, along with his identical twin, Paul. The two men were handsome and fit. And JC, his ‘student lover’, was always mentioned too. I began to read. 

Many of the articles recycled the same two photos of Lynette and Chris. One was a black and white photo taken on their wedding day. Lynette is wearing a high-necked white dress with a daisy-chain headband and a long veil, and Chris has thick sideburns and is in a slim-fitting suit with a ruffled shirt and a bow tie. He is leaning towards Lynette, and they look like an iconic 1970s Australian couple – happy, healthy, young and tanned.


Chris and Lynette Dawson on their Wedding Day. Image: The Sydney Morning Herald/NSW Supreme Court.

In the other, they are sitting at the top of a football bleacher with one of their daughters. Chris is in shorts and a T-shirt and Lynette is wearing slacks and a jacket, with a scarf tied around her neck. Both parents are glancing down at their small daughter, who stands on Lynette’s far side, not between them. They are both older than in their wedding photo, but there is something different about Lynette here – her hair is darker and shorter, and she’s wearing large glasses. It’s almost like motherhood has accelerated her maturity – has aged her – in a way that fatherhood doesn’t seem to have affected Chris, who still looks fit, lean and handsome.


Read more: The last words Chris Dawson heard from his daughter.

Many of the articles also featured a photo of JC when she was thirty-nine. In it, she is walking purposefully, wearing sunglasses and a bold pink blazer, and the wind is blowing her blonde hair back from her face as if to show off how beautiful she is. It’s a powerful image. The sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who was groomed and abused by her teacher is gone and the mature woman is in charge now. There’s a hint of arrogance to her as well, possibly because she’s not looking directly at the camera. That frozen JC is nothing like the person I know. 

The more articles I read, the more the same set of unsatisfying facts came up. It was clear that the police suspected Chris Dawson of killing his wife, and that JC’s continued presence in his life was intricately connected with that suspicion. But if it was so clear, why wasn’t he charged and tried? How was it possible that someone so strongly suspected of ‘murder’ hadn’t been charged? Lynette’s disappearance had attracted considerable attention, including two coronial inquests. Why had someone not been prosecuted? Could a murderer be living a pedestrian suburban life like the rest of us? Among us? Or had the police got it terribly wrong?


Back then, when JC first told me about this part of her life, I had three young children and a husband who travelled a lot. Those years were overly busy ones for me. Yet I kept thinking about Lynette: wondering about her life, her children’s lives, imagining the sadness and complicated relationships that her disappearance must have left behind. One day, when my daughter was about two years old and I was bathing her, I suddenly became gripped with panic – she was the same age as Lynette’s youngest daughter when Lynette went missing. As I knelt by the side of the bath, my daughter laughing as she splashed her fat hands on the water, it felt unbearable to imagine that I might never see her again. Even worse was the thought of her needing me and me not being there. There were other times with my children when I would think again of Lynette and remind myself not to take them for granted, not even on the bad days. 

And I thought about JC’s life, too. At work, I saw her a little differently, if only because I was looking for something that hinted at her past. I liked and respected her as much as ever, but it was as if a door had fallen open and she was the only person who could tell me what was on the other side. I kept looking to her for answers. Did she have trouble, as an adult and a mother, coming to terms with her relationship with her teacher-cum-husband? What did she tell her daughter about her father, knowing that as soon as she was old enough she would be able to read about him herself? Had JC’s daughter stayed in touch with her father or her half-sisters? Did JC miss Lynette and Chris’s girls? And how had Lynette’s daughters fared, not knowing what had happened to their mother? And then losing JC too? Some years later, when my children were at school and JC and I no longer worked together, I was still thinking about her. I often found myself tracing and retracing parts of her life as I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to have been involved with her schoolteacher, to have married him, then to have lived through everything that followed. Thoughts of Lynette were often with me, too. She was married with two children and she lived in a well-to-do, glam­orous even, part of Sydney. She had a job, two brothers and a sister, and was close to her mother – from the outside, she had a solid and safe middle-class life. If, in another universe, she had read about this happening to someone else, she probably would have thought, ‘That could never happen to me, I have so many people who would come looking for me.’ And yet, she vanished. She was just like me, and many women I knew, but a terrible thing happened to her, yet no one has been able to figure out precisely what. 


Listen: The Teacher's Pet: 'The Moment I Realised My Dad Murdered My Mum.'

 My work at the refuge was connected with these worries. I could only remember one or two women who had arrived without their children because in an unplanned moment, they’d seen a chance to get out alive. They left because they wanted their children to have a mother, and once they were safely at the refuge, they frantically set about retrieving them. From the work I’d done as a lawyer in domestic violence, it was hard to believe that Lynette would have walked out on her two little girls, and even if she had, it was even more unlikely that no one would ever see or hear from her again. The law was mostly about paper trails, and I wondered where Lynette’s ran out.


One day, I pulled out the file of newspaper articles I’d collected and started writing. Since I was young, I’ve written as a way of making sense of things, usually on loose pieces of paper that I tear up and throw away as soon as I’ve finished. But I didn’t discard what I wrote about Lynette and JC that day. I wanted to understand if Chris Dawson had anything to do with Lynette’s disappearance. And why had JC’s relationship with him continued to dominate her life? In many of the articles I’d collected, Detective Sergeant Damian Loone of the New South Wales Police Force kept coming up. He’d already been investigating the case for ten years by the time I first heard from JC about Lynette’s disappearance. It seemed that he couldn’t turn away from it either. So I decided to try to find him. 

Before I did, I wanted to read the transcript from the coronial inquest. There had been two inquests, one in 2001 and one in 2003. But only the 2003 inquest had called witnesses so it was this tran­script that I wanted to get a copy of. I wanted to know what the witnesses had to say and to consider the evidence that the DPP had when he decided, twice, not to proceed with laying charges. And I didn’t want to ask Detective Sergeant Loone questions I should have known the answers to. 

I could have chosen to turn away from this dark story. It wasn’t mine, after all. What exactly was I doing? Whatever had happened to Lynette Dawson all those years ago, her daughters, her family and her friends hadn’t been able to turn away from it. And JC couldn’t. So I decided not to either.


Image: Supplied.

The Schoolgirl, Her Teacher and his Wife is now available for purchase here.

Feature Image: Supplied.