The Teacher’s Pet: How I helped catch Chris Dawson

Reporter Hedley Thomas recalls the day he first learned of the now convicted killer.
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The library serving the journalists of The Courier Mail and The Australian is a place of quiet refuge.

It is sometimes a location to briefly hide from a newsroom’s harried chief of staff, searching desperately for a reporter to deliver on an editor’s impossible idea for page one.

But in early March 2001, I went to the library for something more mundane. I wanted to catch up with news and features published in the metropolitan daily newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne. A 2001 story in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph grabbed my attention. 

This was the first time I heard about a couple called Chris and Lyn Dawson.

WATCH NOW: The Teacher’s Pet case: Chris Dawson arrested. Article continues after video.

The story appeared under the byline of The Tele’s highly regarded reporter Charles Miranda. Police have stepped up the hunt for the body of a woman missing for 19 years as a chief prosecutor decides if her fate was murder.

The 1982 disappearance of Lynette Joy Dawson was publicly forgotten until a police prosecutor told an inquest this week that she was dead.

The inquest was told her husband and former League star Chris Dawson was a violent controller who had allegedly once throttled her and planned to hire a hitman to kill her for months before she disappeared.

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“Lyn was killed by a known person.” (Credit: Supplied)

On Wednesday, Glebe Coroners Court heard Dawson had begun a sexual affair with babysitter Jenny Carlson more than a year before his wife disappeared.

Ms Carlson, who attended the hearing, was allegedly told by Dawson about the hitman plan, which he later abandoned because “innocent people would get hurt”.

Sydney detective Damian Loone said new information received this week about the possible whereabouts of Mrs Dawson’s buried body was being actively pursued.

Senior Constable Loone, who has been working the case for more than three years, said the investigation, named Operation Luzon, would continue regardless of whether the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions decided if any charges could or should be laid.

“We will keep searching and I’m not giving up,” he said yesterday. 

Chris Dawson arrives at Downing Centre Local Court on 10 February, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Credit: Getty)

The DPP is examining more than 30 witness statements totalling hundreds of pages and a cut woman’s cardigan, believed to be Mrs Dawson’s, to decide whether a prima facie case exists.

One statement presented to the DPP states Mrs Dawson spoke to her mother the day before she disappeared. Sounding groggy, she told her mother: “Chris has made me a lovely drink.”

The court had earlier heard Mrs Dawson did not normally drink alcohol but in 1981 Dawson regularly gave it to her to make her sleepy so he could pursue his sexual relations with his 16-year-old babysitter.

I found the story riveting. 

This is an edited extract from The Teacher’s Pet by Hedley Thomas (Macmillan, $36.99) (Credit: Hedley Thomas)

Charles Miranda’s report was a follow-up to one published on page nine of the Daily Telegraph on March 1, the day after State Coroner Jan Stevenson found that a jury could reasonably conclude that Lyn was killed by “a known person” and that the DPP should consider prosecuting that “known person” for murder.

The euphemisms could not disguise the identity of the “known person”: Christopher Michael Dawson.

After reading both of Charles Miranda’s reports, I wanted to delve more deeply.

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Chris Dawson was charged with the murder of his wife in 2022. (Credit: Getty)

As a features writer for The Courier Mail, I strove to write pieces of a couple of thousand words for the weekend section called Inside Mail. 

I’d try to talk to more people involved in this intriguing case, travel to Sydney, profile Chris, Lyn and the young woman who was the family’s adolescent babysitter when she started having sex with her PE teacher.

I wanted to talk to the police officer, Damian Loone, and his only suspect, Chris, as well as his second wife, the former high school student. If Chris didn’t want to talk, I needed to hear from someone who backed him. For Lyn’s profile, a member of her family would be essential.

After a couple of calls to police stations on the Northern Beaches, I had a phone number for Damian Loone, who was happy to help. When I asked him who I could talk to in Sydney, he nominated Pat Jenkins first.

I told him I’d like to come to Sydney to try to cover the story in more detail. 

Hedley Thomas pursued the Dawson story for two decades. (Credit: Getty)

When I called Charles Miranda, he told me the twin brothers, Chris and Paul Dawson, were bizarrely close. 

“There’s a Jeremy Irons movie with twin brothers obsessed with themselves. And this is how he was. Chris lived two doors down. They were into group sex.”

I didn’t tell him that Loone had just told me he had a more senior officer’s permission for me to read these statements, if I came to the Dee Why Police Station.

Loone was offering to show me the police brief of evidence which had persuaded the coroner that Lynette Joy Dawson had been dead since January 1982 – and that 19 years later, the case against her husband was strong enough for a murder prosecution.

My next call was answered by Pat Jenkins, Lyn’s older sister. Before spending the company’s money, I needed to be confident of the family’s cooperation.I needn’t have been concerned. In this first conversation, and in the hundreds we’ve had since early 2001, Pat has been a model of openness and honesty.

“We want justice to be done.”

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