Hello. I'm Caroline Jones. 20 years ago, a devoted young
mother disappeared, leaving behind a glamorous high-profile husband and two
young daughters. For nearly two decades, Lyn Dawson was written off as just
another missing person. And there it would have rested, but for the
determination of Lyn's close circle and the unexpected tenacity of a police
detective. This is their story.
PAT JENKINS: Mum didn't drive, so she'd take the train up
to the Central Coast because that's where Chris had said that Lyn had rung from.
My mother never stopped searching for Lyn. We all were searching for Lyn.
GREG SIMMS: Mum would always, if it was Terrigal or
anywhere, just go and wander round, in the hope she might run into her. She'd
take Lyn's photo. She'd show it to shopkeepers, to people in the street at
Terrigal and Gosford. Mum's focus was there, that, you know, perhaps that's a
place where she could search and find some answers.
PAT JENKINS: It's very difficult to put into words the
depth of grief you feel when a...a loved member of the family just drops out of
GREG SIMMS: I can remember sitting at home watching a...
watching the football one night and they had a beer ad on. And the camera just
swang...swung around through the...the crowd when they were doing a wave. And I
thought, "Ooh! That looked like Lyn." And then you would purposely wait for that
ad to come on. But you'd be going down the street and you would see someone with
blonde hair or her build. And you'd think... you'd get all your expectations up.
And you'd go and walk up. It wasn't her. A different person.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: She was a wife, a mother, a sister
and a daughter and she has many friends out there who loved her. And she's just
basically been taken off the planet, never to be seen again.
She's also happened to be married to a high-profile
league star. Chris Dawson and his twin brother Paul both played for the Newtown
Jets in rugby league, and later both played in rugby union. Both good-looking
men, both modelled on occasions. Playing it to Dawson.
PAT JENKINS: Many members of the family would watch both
the Dawson boys playing football. Mum used to follow the football so she could
see Lynette and see her grandchildren. We were aware during the year 1981 that
things didn't seem to be quite right. I just thought, "Oh, it's a bit of a rough
patch," and things would sort themselves out. None of us knew how bad things
were. I think Lyn covered up many of the problems. I think she had this image
that, you know, wonderful children, a happy family. And I just think that she
just couldn't face the fact that perhaps this image wasn't the real thing. Lyn
and Chris both went to Sydney Girls and Sydney Boys High and that's where they
met. They were both prefects in their final year. They were a good-looking
couple. They used to dress beautifully. And he didn't drink, he didn't smoke. He
was very physically fit and he always looked good. She really loved Chris. And
even when things were going wrong, I think she always felt that, in the end,
everything would work out.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: In 1981, Chris had developed a
relationship with his student, Joanne Curtis. Uh, that resulted, towards the end
of the year, of Joanne moving into the Dawson house.
PAT JENKINS: And Chris rang Lyn and said, "Do you mind if
she comes here and stays until after the High School Certificate?" Joanne was
having problems at home. And I just at the time thought, "Well, just how
absolutely generous of my sister." She was a very hospitable person and to
warmly welcome someone into her home in these circumstances.
SUE STRATH: Lyn Dawson and I worked together at
Warriewood Children's Centre in the occasional care. She was the nurse and I was
her childcare worker. Her workmates were her main friends and the people she
spoke to. So we were very close to her. We all knew that Chris was having an
affair with Joanne and I wasn't going to tell her about Joanne, that, "Your
husband's having an affair with a 16-year-old." And I remember saying to her,
"Do you think this is a good idea, having a 16-year-old in your house? And she
just said nothing. You know, "Chris, my Chris" - always 'my Chris' - "My Chris,
I trust my Chris all the time."
CAPTION: Just before Christmas, Chris Dawson left Lyn and
headed for Queensland with Joanne Curtis. Along the way, according to Joanne,
she changed her mind and broke off the relationship.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: Chris moved back to the family
home and then, with Lyn, decided to seek counselling which they went to on
Friday, 8 January 1982.
PAT JENKINS: That evening, Mum rang Lyn about 8:30.
GREG SIMMS: She got Chris on the phone and she had a talk
with him. He said to Mum that everything was fine, they'd been to a marriage
counsellor and everything was going to work out. And Mum said, "Can I speak to
Lyn?" And he was reluctant to put Lyn on the phone. And finally, he relented and
she came to the phone.
PAT JENKINS: So Mum rang Lyn. The first thing Mum said
is, "You sound a bit sozzled."
GREG SIMMS: She said to Mum, "My husband's poured me a
lovely drink "and everything is just going to be fine." And she said it with a
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: Mrs Simms thought that unusual
because Lyn and Chris weren't drinkers.
Lyn had organised to meet her mother the following day at
the Northbridge Baths at Northbridge.
PAT JENKINS: Chris was working, as a holiday job, as a
lifesaver and Mum was going to meet Lyn and the children and they were going to
have a picnic there.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: Shortly after Mrs Simms arrived at
the pool, Chris receives a phone call and comes back a short time later and
tells Mrs Simms that that was Lyn on the telephone saying that she needed some
time away to sort things out.
PAT JENKINS: Well, Mum was absolutely devastated and
shocked. I mean, she'd spoken to Lyn just the evening before. Lyn would've told
her if she intended to go away for a few days. But I think the shock was that
Lyn had left at all, because it was just so unexpected, so out of character,
Lyn, who just loved her children, loved her whole family. It just was totally
SUE STRATH: Just the day before, I had seen her walking
hand in hand with him, walking back into work. And she was very positive, very
hopeful for the future. And she was looking forward to a positive outcome from
seeing the marriage guidance counsellor. And then the next day, she went
missing, never to be seen again? And I remember thinking, "No way. "There is no
way she would ever, ever have left her daughters." She just loved them dearly.
And I immediately thought... ..I immediately thought Chris has got something to
do with this. She was looking forward to seeing her daughter start school. It
was a big event in her life. They had the uniforms early and her daughter was
dressed up in them. This is her eldest daughter's first day at school coming in
the next couple of weeks and she was as excited as her daughter.
And what mother would ever leave their daughter to see on
the first day of school? You would never, ever do that.
DET. SGT. DAMIAN LOONE: Within 24 hours of Chris
allegedly receiving this telephone call from Lyn, saying that she's gone away
and she needs some time to sort things out, Chris Dawson rings Joanne Curtis...
..and informs Joanne that, "My wife has gone away. "She's not coming back." And
from that day, Joanne moved into the Bayview residence and became basically a de
facto mother to the children and a partner of Chris.
PAT JENKINS: The children had said to Mum, "You haven't
been across to see our cubbyhouse. "We got a new cubbyhouse for Christmas." And
Mum said, "I can't go. "I can't go there now because I used to stay overnight
"and you haven't got a bed," because they had separate rooms at that stage. And
one of the little girls said, "You can sleep in Daddy's bed”. My mother said, ‘I
couldn't do that'. And the little girl said, ‘Oh, well, Joanne does'.
Mum had jotted down things that the children used to say.
One of the things she jotted down that the girls had told her was Lyn was their
pretend mother, she wasn't their real mother. There's other things. ‘Mummy is
lost. Daddy has Joanne now'. Uh, "Daddy shares everything with Joanne. Daddy
will marry Joanne when she becomes a mother. We hope they don't find Mummy in
the holidays. Joanne wants to marry Daddy'. It was just an impossible thing to
deal with when she was dealing with so much already.
His life just went on. And that was one of the things
that was so hard. As well as our grief to not know what had happened to Lyn, we
didn't know if she was alive or dead, if she was safe, if she was warm, cold, he
didn't seem to care. How could he be like this? To us, it was the most
devastating loss. And yet, to him, it was as if it didn't mean anything.
GREG SIMMS: All the information that we did receive in
Lyn's disappearance was coming through Chris. He would ring up Mum and say, "Oh,
Lyn's rung me. She needs more time to think'. Or he'd ring up and talk to Mum
and say, "She's been seen at Gosford'. We had no reason whatsoever to doubt him
because he was a part of the family.
PAT JENKINS: There was also - because Mum was such a good
mother - there was a sense of embarrassment and perhaps shame that she... ..that
Lyn could have left her children like that. Um, which...it was very difficult
for Mum to talk to her friends about this because if Lyn had died in a car
accident, everyone would have been very sympathetic. But then there was this,
you know, "We really can't talk about that "because she's walked away from her
family." That was such a burden for Mum to have to bear, as well as having lost
SUE STRATH: After she went missing, I was waiting for the
police to come. And we just presumed they would come and see us because we were
the last people to see her alive. I saw her till 4:00 or 5:00 that afternoon and
she went missing the next day, apparently. Um, no-one ever came. No-one ever
PAT JENKINS: This ad is in the Salvation Army paper. The
Salvation Army were wonderful. Mum really felt they were the one organisation
that tried to help. And she wrote to all the nursing hospitals in every State,
even New Zealand. She wrote to the police force in New Zealand. She wrote to all
the police stations in every State in Australia. I think that was seeking every
avenue she could to try and find some answer to, you know, what had happened to
CAPTION: A year after Lyn went missing, Chris Dawson
obtained a divorce and later married Joanne Curtis. They moved to Queensland but
by 1990 the marriage had failed and Joanne returned to NSW. Through a social
worker, Joanne contacted Lyn's family.
GREG SIMMS: I was that nervous in relation to it, I don't
know how I felt. I can't explain how I felt. It was probably... There was
probably some hate there. Of course there would have been. But it was just one
of those things. I just wanted... She had information. And we wanted to find out
that information. I suppose you could say I was in shock - that the information
she told us and the suspicions I'd had in relation to not seeing my sister again
had come to fruition, really. I knew then that I wouldn't see her again.
DET. SGT. DAMIAN LOONE: In 1991, Joanne came to the
police and volunteered information. She looked back at what happened to her as a
student at the school. And she's looking back on her life, I suppose, and said,
"I'm worried, I'm concerned." Some investigations were conducted. But they went
SUE STRATH: I'd like to think if I went missing, someone
would come looking for me. So I just kept nagging my police friend over the
years as a social thing. I'd say, "What will you do about my friend Lyn? You
know, and he just kept saying, "I can't. I'm in the wrong area."
But then he got transferred. And he rang me up and said,
Sue, I'm going to do something about Lynette Dawson. I've got my best detective,
Damian Loone, and I'm going to put him on the case to see if there's anything in
it at all. I nagged for 15 years when finally the nagging paid off.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: Well, in 1997, when I opened the
inquiry again, there were no physical records of what happened in those early
days. They'd been destroyed. All I had was a piece of paper with Lyn Dawson's
name on it and her missing-persons file number. So I had an article placed in
the local 'Manly Daily' with outstanding results. I had numerous people ring me
up and come forward and tell me stories and give me their versions of what
I find it unusual that the person that she's in conflict
with, that being Chris Dawson, is the only person that she contacts. She never
rang anyone else - her mother, her father, her brother, her sisters. Went to
some great extent of difficulty in organising a surprise 60th birthday for her
mum - sent out cards, sent out invitations. And her mother's 60th birthday came
and went and Lyn never contacted her. Never spoke to her. Doesn't explain to
anybody, doesn't contact anybody to cancel the party, or the arrangements.
And here's a girl, also, holding a very responsible job
as a nurse, working in a child-minding centre which her best friend, her
employer, runs. Doesn't even ring her girlfriend to say she's not going to work.
She's never applied for a passport. She's never applied for a Medicare card, a
She doesn't bank with anybody. She's a registered nurse.
She's not registered in any State or Territory in Australia. It wasn't until I
interviewed Joanne Curtis that I realised then that, after her story, that there
was something more in it than just a person who's left a family home and left
POLICE VIDEO: We're at a pool area of these premises
where we intend this morning to dig with the possibility of a body being buried
in this area.
PAT JENKINS: There was a great sense of relief - the fact
that finally it was being reinvestigated and reinvestigated thoroughly. It was
very, very distressing because they were taking sniffer dogs, they were digging
up areas near the pool, they were having a forensic scientist there.
POLICE VIDEO: Our anthropologist on-site here today will
commence a scraping of the surface. And we'll take it from there.
PAT JENKINS: All of a sudden, it just seemed so real. And
I think to that point, we hadn't let it be that real, the fact that she'd
possibly been murdered.
POLICE VIDEO: It's 4:30 on Thursday 7 December. And as
you can see, we've excavated the possible burial site next to the pool. And
nothing has been located.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: It's been very difficult to run
this inquiry without having a body. In February 2001, I presented a case to the
coroner. One of the hardest jobs you have to do as a police officer is accuse
someone of murder. It's a decision I made as a result of all the evidence I
collected. The coroner read the brief of evidence and by the completion of that
day, she had terminated the inquest. And her findings were that a known person
had committed the offence of homicide.
PAT JENKINS: From there, it went to the DPP, the
Department of Public Prosecution. And they had to make a decision as to whether
a person would be charged. And we had to wait nine months. It was a very hard
nine months because it was like this shadow hanging over us all the time, not
knowing which way it would go.
CAPTION: Two months before the DPP made his decision,
Lyn's mother, Helena Simms, died. In November 2001, the DPP decided not to
proceed with the charge.
PAT JENKINS: My mother had always had the hope that Lyn
would come back, that she was alive and would come back. Mum was such an honest
person herself. She believed that other people were honest, especially someone
she trusted, like a son-in-law. And if Chris said this, how could she not
believe him? Because to believe otherwise would believe that Lyn was dead. And
that would mean no hope of seeing her again.
There were some things that we found out that we didn't
tell Mum. But then after the first inquiry, she felt a real need to know
everything. When she found out that Chris had had Lyn's rings made into a ring
for Joanne, she was very upset about that. Because she said to me, "That's one
of the first things I asked Chris when Lyn went missing - Did my Lyn have her
rings?' And Chris said, "Yes, she did." And Mum said, well, she knew that Lyn
would always be able to go and sell her rings and get some money if she needed
to do that. It was absolutely devastating to find that Chris had lied to her in
this. And I think that was like a window that opened - that she realised, well,
what else wasn't the truth that she'd been told by him? And after that point,
her health went downhill.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: In February this year, the matter
went back to the Westmead Coroners Court for a full hearing. We subpoenaed
numerous witnesses who attended over a five-day period.
NEWS REPORTER: As Chris Dawson's ex-wife and one-time
family babysitter, the evidence of Joanne Curtis was always going to be
NEWS REPORTER: Police claim Chris, then a Cromer High
phys. ed. teacher, murdered his wife so he could move in with a student, Joanne
Curtis, who he later married. The murder allegation denied by his family.
CANDACE SUTTON: Joanne described her time when she was a
babysitter in the Dawson family home, how Chris would ply his wife Lynette with
drinks. He would fix a mixed drink for her and she would go to sleep. And it was
at those times that Chris and Joanne would have sex. And in the final few months
before Lynette's disappearance, Joanne said he became very cold towards Lynette,
and cruel. He sang her songs which...with double meanings, about how
unattractive she was.
NEWS REPORTER: She said the relationship reached a
desperate point soon after, when Chris told her outside a hotel, "I went inside
to get a hit man to kill Lyn, but I couldn't do it because innocent people would
be killed." Lynette disappeared the following month and Curtis and Dawson
married two years later.
CANDACE SUTTON: Joanne Curtis was a strong and very
credible witness. Her evidence at the inquest made me shudder. Listening to her
account of Chris Dawson's violence, his manipulative control-freak behaviour
when it came to her, and also with his first wife, was chilling. Joanne's
description of the husband she knew was a man who wouldn't let his wife go out
the door without his permission. He told her what clothes to wear, he would get
angry and possibly violent. And at times she would lock herself in a room and he
would try and physically break down the door.
PAT JENKINS: It was difficult listening to Joanne's
evidence but I think I found it more painful listening to the evidence of the
girls who worked with Lyn. They were the ones who gave us the information about
bruising on Lyn's neck and...and things that Lyn said had happened. Very violent
incidents... instances that had occurred.
GREG SIMMS: Just the revelation that she had, um, said to
one of the ladies that, um... ..when they were in the lift and had come down
from the marriage counsellor, that in the lift Chris had grabbed her by the
throat and said, "If this doesn't work, I'm getting rid of you." That shocked
PAT JENKINS: Also, our family was really shocked and
disgusted to learn in the court that allegedly both Chris and his twin brother
Paul, who were schoolteachers, had been having sexual relations with numerous
students under their care. These were married men, they had young children, they
were in a position of trust, and I just think they were really out of control
and they were using the school as their playground.
GREG SIMMS: I would just like to grab him and shake him
and say, "Tell me the truth." We all completely misread him. He was living a
double life. It was just like a cloak-and-dagger thing. You just couldn't
believe that he'd done this sort of thing.
CAPTION: On the 28th February, a second coroner found
that Lyn Dawson is deceased. Once again the brief of evidence was referred to
the DPP with the recommendation that a ‘known person' be charged with murder.
GREG SIMMS: We just need resolution. We've been hanging
around for 20 years. The DPP have got to do the right thing this time.
SUE STRATH: Some people think that Joanne has instigated
this whole business because of the marriage break-up, but I don't know Joanne,
and I don't know what allegations she has against Chris, only what I heard in
court. But I've always been pushing for something to be done. I've always pushed
for the police to look into the disappearance of Lyn.
The children should know their mother lived for them and
loved them dearly and would never, ever have left them. And that was the main
impetus of me pushing so hard - for the children.
PAT JENKINS: It's been very difficult with the coronial
enquiries knowing the effect it would have on my sister's children. And we knew
it would be very distressing for them. But I've reached the point where even if
what I say hurts my nieces - and I love them dearly - Lyn is the most important
person now, to try and find out what happened to her. And I think the girls are
old enough that they should be able to look at every aspect of what people are
saying and should want to find the truth out for themselves, however painful
that may be.
DET. SGT DAMIAN LOONE: Lyn Dawson - I've never met her.
But I think I've become to know her. There's not a moment of the day that I
don't think about this matter at all. I'm not going to give up - I'll just keep
going and eventually chipping away and chipping away, and something will give.
And the buck stops with me. And I will continue, to the dying days of my career,
to try and find her and to find out what happened to her.
CAPTION: This afternoon the DPP announced that there was
‘insufficient evidence to support any criminal charge against any person'.
The DPP said the second inquest “did not strengthen the
case against any person beyond that which existed… in November 2001”.
Chris Dawson declined to be interviewed but has
previously denied any involvement in murder.
Following this year's second inquest, Chris Dawson was
stood down from his job in a Queensland girls' school and has since retired from