To be enthralled in The Teacher’s Pet, the podcast series by Hedley Thomas for The Australian, is hardly unique. The series has been downloaded more than three million times by listeners the world over.
The subject matter is the sudden disappearance of a young mother Lynette Dawson in January of 1982 from the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Her body has never been found and there haven’t been any confirmed sightings of her in the 36 years since she vanished.
Her husband Chris Dawson was a star footballer and a PE teacher at Cromer High School at the time (who happened to be having an affair with a 16 year old student Joanne Curtis who he had moved in to the family home in 1981.) He has vehemently maintained his innocence and explained Lyn said she was leaving to join a religious group.
Lyn was a devoted mum to her two daughters, Shanelle and Sherryn, who were 4 and 2 when she disappeared, whom her friends, family and colleagues are unanimous she would never have willingly abandoned.
Hedley Thomas traces, in extraordinary detail, the circumstances of her disappearance including the years, months, weeks and days leading up to the 8th of January 1982, the last day she was seen alive.
I know where this new podcast by the inimitable Hedley Thomas goes and, let me tell you, it goes places you won’t believe. Jaw-dropping. Spine-tingling. Don’t miss it. #theteacherspet Podcast hope to solve murder https://t.co/KhtytHPyz6
— Trent Dalton (@TrentDalton) May 17, 2018
He speaks to Lyn’s colleagues who recall her arriving to work with bruises and who knew of the marital tension her husband’s relationship with their former babysitter was causing. He speaks to former Cromer High School students about that relationship and about Chris Dawson’s conduct at work: about a culture where sex with young students was considered a fringe benefit for teachers. He speaks with her family members who initially refused to believe foul play was involved.
He explores in forensic detail what followed – or more correctly what didn’t follow – which can accurately be described as a breathtaking travesty of justice.
To describe the efforts of law enforcement to properly investigate Lyn’s disappearance as lacklustre is generous. Friends and family were barely interviewed. Police files went missing. Statements filled with critical omissions and lies went unchecked.
In 2001 and 2003 coroners separately determined that her husband, Chris Dawson, murdered Lyn but the DPP has never brought proceedings against him, citing too little evidence to prosecute.
— The Australian (@australian) July 4, 2018
The Teacher’s Pet is gripping and enraging: there are so many unanswered questions, so many inexcusable decisions and so much heartache.
Lyn Dawson was deeply adored: by her family, her children, her friends and, it seems, almost everyone who knew her well. She loved her kids, her husband and her only “vice” was occasionally buying clothes she didn’t need.
Her mother, Helena Simms, has since passed away but she was dogged with grief, heartbreak and anger from that January day her daughter didn’t turn up at the Northbridge Baths for a swim with the kids as they had planned the night before. She spent the remainder of her life searching for Lyn: traveling to the central coast often just to scan faces in the hope she would find her missing child. Lyn’s father, Len, was similarly angered and traumatised.
Their other children, Lyn’s siblings, Pat Jenkins, Greg Simms and Phil Simms, share the anguish and are desperately hoping the evidence uncovered by The Teacher’s Pet, and the surrounding publicity, will create enough pressure for the DPP to reconsider taking action. They want Lyn’s remains found and they want justice.
Shanelle and Sherryn have grown up without their mother: without knowing what happened to her.
‘I have layers of anger, rage’ https://t.co/FFI95kyhdX
— The Australian (@australian) July 22, 2018
Joanne Curtis, Dawson’s former student and young lover, was moved into Lyn’s bed the week she ‘disappeared’ before marrying him in 1984 at just 19 years of age. They had a child together in January 1985 but have since divorced and she no longer has contact with him.
There is no end to the tragedy this tale involves. It is horrendously sad. Listening in, as I have been doing for the past week along with millions of others, I am struck, time and time again, by the power imbalance that played out and perpetuated the injustices.
Chris Dawson was popular rugby league player considered a god in his local community. He was revered and from all reports that was how he liked it.
He was the powerful husband and Lyn was the obliging wife who learned to tread carefully around her beloved spouse’s temper.
It was a power imbalance, at the end of the day, that kept friends and family from being more vocal in supporting Lyn and questioning Chris. It was a power imbalance that stopped them from asking more questions about the bruises lest they be seen to be ‘interfering’.
It was a power imbalance that kept so many of her friends and co-workers from pushing the police to investigate further because that simply wasn’t ‘what women did’ back then.
It was a power imbalance that kept her family from pressing him for answers. It was a power imbalance that appears to have led police to take Chris Dawson at his every word: he was a local hero with friends in high places.
He wielded all the power – in their marriage, in their families and in the community – and it continued in the days, months and years after his wife’s disappeared.
May The Teacher’s Pet finally deliver Lyn the power she deserves to have her disappearance and probable murder thoroughly and properly investigated.