true crime

Hedley Thomas' podcast helped catch a murderer. It almost ruined his marriage.

In January 2018, Hedley Thomas was still four months away from releasing episode one of his new podcast, The Teacher's Pet.

He had tasked himself with investigating the suspicious death of mother-of-two Lynette Dawson, who went missing from her family home on Sydney's northern beaches in 1982.

But his quest for answers had already become all-consuming, and it was starting to cause friction with his wife.

Lynette Simms (Dawson). Image: NSW Police.


"It started to chafe with Ruth during a family holiday when I was supposed to be giving time and attention back to my wife and remarkable teenagers, Alexander and Sarah," he wrote in his new book, The Teacher's Pet

His work days consisted of travelling to interview people close to the case, or consuming thousands of pages of police briefs, highschool transcripts and inquest findings.

Deep in an avalanche of information, Lyn's death was starting to occupy his every waking thought, and Chris Dawson was in his head. While on holiday not far from where the 70-year-old had settled in retirement, Thomas found himself constantly scanning for him.  

The obsession would only become more all-encompassing as the months went on. 

"The injustice in Lyn's case had made me righteously angry and increasingly difficult to live with. I was distracted and obsessively determined to try to put things right. My disinterest and lack of time for just about everything at home was acute," Thomas wrote.

"It took a toll [on my wife and I] for sure," he added in a conversation with Mamamia's podcast, True Crime Conversations. "Because of the stresses on us, it almost ruined our marriage. We came very close to separating."


After six months of investigation, Thomas started releasing weekly episodes of the podcast. It was his first venture into the world of audio journalism, and it proved astronomically popular. As more and more tip-offs streamed in, the workload only increased. 


"I am so busy that I am driving in my car from my home to meet someone for an interview, and on the drive I have my recording device on the dashboard of the car for another interview to save a bit of time, so that I can quickly grab that audio. It was insane," he told True Crime Conversations.

Listen: To Hedley Thomas chatting to True Crime Conversations. Post continues after podcast.

His attention to detail was essential because as he wrote in his book, "I was journalistically convicting Chris of murder," and "our credibility would be shattered if we got something fundamentally wrong".

But as millions of eager ears started tuning into the podcast around the world, Thomas was only sleeping when exhaustion overcame him at about midnight, before he'd start working again at 04:30am. 

After 14 weeks straight, he finally decided to take a break for the sake of both himself and his equally overworked audio producer.

"We had to take a pause... we were both completely shattered. He [my audio producer] looked pale...," said Thomas.

Tackling Lyn's story, and finding closure for her family, felt somewhat personal for Thomas - something he deliberately didn't publicly share during the podcast's creation.

Lynette Simms (Dawson) on her wedding day. Image: Australian Story.


As he told True Crime Conversations, "I grew up knowing that my father's mother – my grandmother – who lived on the northern beaches [of Sydney] raising my dad and his sister.... suddenly disappeared when she was 35 years old. This was a really traumatic event in a young family's life and my dad found it difficult to talk about."

It is believed Thomas' grandmother died by suicide, but he is confident his family history was an "underlying driver for the commitment and powerful interest I had in Lyn's disappearance. It is an extraordinary coincidence".


There was only one interview that Thomas was nervous for during the entirety of the podcast investigation, and that was unsurprisingly Chris Dawson himself. 

"I had a pretty firm idea he was a murderer... I also knew he hated me from the article I had written in 2001. I knew from his daughter Shanelle that he was furious I was doing a podcast investigation," he told True Crime Conversations. 

His phone chat with Dawson ended up being short and fairly uneventful. Dawson answered Thomas's call on the third ring, told him he'd "lost all faith in journalism," and hung up. 

"Shanelle [Dawson's daughter] did tell me though, that after that interview he broke his phone and she believes it was a reaction [to me]."

Chris Dawson. Image: AAP


During the making of the podcast, Thomas expected anger from police for intruding on their investigation and uncovering both inaction and alleged corruption at their hands - but he didn't expect to find himself having a confidential lunch with then NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller. 

"The police chief started sternly, delivering a thinly veiled warning that he and his officers could cut The Australian's reporters and me out of the loop of all police briefings about this case and other crimes," Thomas wrote in his book. 

Ultimately, the result of that lunch, however, was unity. Thomas agreed to share information with police, and the pair agreed to continue on with their respective investigations independently. 

But with the arrest of Chris Dawson in December 2018 for murder, Thomas found himself transported from being a journalist in the case, to a witness.

"I didn't look forward to that," Thomas told True Crime Conversations. "I still look back on it with equal parts trauma...


"The podcast was really going on trial. Chris Dawson's pathway to freedom after he was charged was in showing that he could not get a fair trial because I was a 'dreadful, biased, vindictive journalist.'"

Thomas described having "robust exchanges" with Dawson's defence during that time.

"If I was going to die I was going to die on my feet, and I wasn't going to make the sorts of concessions they wanted me to make. Because they weren't true, and I wanted to defend the journalism. I didn't want to shrink from what I'd done."

Hedley Thomas with Lynette's loved ones. Image: Getty.


Dawson was found guilty of murder in June 2023, with Justice Ian Harrison giving a lengthy summary of the case and evidence before sentencing him to 24 years in prison.

Speaking to True Crime Conversations, Thomas said he could tell early on what the verdict was.

"Very early in his judgement, Justice Harrison said that Lyn Dawson was dead, and that she died on or around 8th-9th January 1982, and that was at odds with what Chris had been claiming," he explained.

Hearing the result being read out, he felt relief but also immense sadness.

"It's a verdict that should have happened 40 years ago. I felt for the people who had endured so much pain before they saw justice - they didn't deserve that. The system should have done better," he told True Crime Conversations.

He still thinks about Lyn and speaks to her family often. 

"It's a beautiful relationship, and I think we'll be friends forever," he said.

Image: AAP Image/Dean Lewins. 

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