true crime

The confronting link between Keli Lane and Chris Dawson.

Update: Chris Dawson was arrested on Wednesday, 5 December, and will be charged with the murder of Lyn Dawson.

Keli Lane, who grew up in the beachside suburb of Manly, northern Sydney, gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Tegan Lane in September 1996 when she was 21 years old.

Two days after she was born, Tegan disappeared. And, as far as police know, no one has seen her since.

Just 20 kilometres further north of Manly is a suburb called Bayview.

In the 1980s, Chris Dawson lived there with his wife, Lyn Dawson, and their two daughters.

Then, one day, in January 1982, Lyn Dawson disappeared. And, as far as police know, no one has seen her since.

Two separate coroners determined that Lyn had been murdered by a “known person” and recommended that charges be laid. Despite such recommendations, the then NSW DPP Nicholas Cowdery chose not to prosecute.

That was in 2001, and again in 2003.

The question about whether or not Lyn’s husband, Chris Dawson, should have gone to trial for the murder of his wife was the subject of recent Australian podcast, The Teacher’s Petled by investigative journalist Hedley Thomas.

In 2008, five years after the probable murder of Lyn Dawson had come across NSW DPP Cowdery’s desk, the same man was asked for legal advice on a very different case.

The whereabouts of Tegan Lane had been under police investigation for more than eight years. NSW Coroner John Abernethy had determined that he was “comfortably satisfied that Tegan Lane is in fact deceased,” though acknowledged the possibility that she might be alive somewhere.

The Unsolved Homicide Squad was uncertain if they had enough evidence to prosecute.

Just like in the case of Lyn Dawson, there was no body.

Just like in the case of Lyn Dawson, there was no forensic evidence.

Just like in the case of Lyn Dawson, there were no witnesses.

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But in 2009, NSW DPP Cowdery made the decision to charge Keli Lane with murder.

The same man was influential in the charges – or the lack of charges – laid against Dawson and Lane.

On Tuesday night’s episode of Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane, led by investigative journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Cowdery said that at the time of Lane’s charge, the DPP were facing significant financial and political pressures.

He explained that the NSW DPP had to prioritise high-profile cases such as Lane’s, and although that’s “not ideal… it’s not in the general public interest to have to do that… sometimes you have to.”

Holly Wainwright and I interview Caro Meldrum-Hanna on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.

Speaking to Mamamia, Caro Meldrum-Hanna drew the link between the two high profile cases which, only in the last few months, have both been brought back to light.

“The reason why the DPP didn’t take that up and prosecute Chris Dawson,” she said, “was because there was no body.”

“He [Cowdery] said that the fact there was no body meant that, as far as [he] could take it, she had simply gone missing, and that she might be out there somewhere. Because there’s no body [he asked] how are we going to prove that she’s dead, and not just that she’s dead but how she died?” she added.

This justification for Cowdery’s decision was presented on the September 7 episode of Australian Story titled ‘The Teacher’s Wife’.

Only weeks later, Cowdery appeared on Exposed, also on the ABC, and in Meldrum-Hanna’s words, “it’s the same sort of scenario… there’s no body. But this one was prosecuted.”

They are two of Australia’s most high profile cases, which bear striking similarities.

The biggest difference is who was charged. And, of course, who wasn’t.

You can watch all three episodes of EXPOSED: The Case of Keli Lane on ABC iview.

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