The six crucial facts that could convict Chris Dawson of murdering his wife 40 years ago
The fate of ex-football star Christopher Dawson hangs on six crucial factors which will determine his future as either a free man or a convicted murderer likely to die in jail.
With his seven-week murder trial now drawing to a close, the 73-year-old accused wife killer’s life will soon be in the hands of one man: NSW Supreme Court Justice Ian Harrison SC.
The venerable judge has ruled the trial with a firm hand but a reasonable touch, sometimes turning to humour, self deprecation and the absurdities of the human condition.
Crown prosecutor Craig Everson SC closed his case on Thursday and Chris Dawson’s defence team Pauline David and Greg Walsh will say on Monday whether the accused himself will take to the witness box to give evidence.
Dawson, who has pleaded not guilty to the murder of his wife Lynette, is not required to testify and in doing so would open himself up to cross examination by Mr Everson and his assistant prosecutor, Emma Blizard.
Nevertheless, the former PE teacher – whose legal counsel fought a battle right up to the High Court to try and prevent his murder trial from proceeding – is about to face one of two sharply contrasting futures.
If Justice Harrison finds Dawson not guilty, the former PE teacher can return to his third wife and Sunshine Coast home, and resume his retirement, albeit in reportedly declining health.
Should His Honour find Dawson guilty, he will be incarcerated in a NSW prison, disgraced and discredited as a four-decade-long liar, and subject to pleas by those who loved Lyn Dawson about the location of her body.
Is Lynette Dawson dead, or was she still alive after January 8, 1982 is one of the matters of contention in the case – with the defence claiming there were ‘sightings’ and the Crown saying Lyn is dead
The testimony of the schoolgirl who became Chris Dawson’s second wife, JC (pictured with the then young daughters from his marriage to Lyn and her own daughter) is a crucial part of the case against him if the judge finds it sound
Christopher Michael Dawson has pleaded not guilty to murdering 33-year-old Lynette Dawson and disposing of her body in January 1982 so he could allegedly have an unfettered relationship with his babysitter, former student and future teenage bride, JC.
His defence includes that Lyn left her marriage of her own accord and abandoned her two young daughters, then aged four and two.
Dawson’s defence lawyers will close their case, probably this coming week.
It is then anticipated Justice Harrison will take some weeks to consider complex legal questions he is eminently equipped to resolve before delivering his verdict.
These are some of the factors which legal counsel and His Honour have flagged as central to the case during the trial.
The defence has argued long and hard that Lynette Dawson could live on a commune, or in a cult, but the crown contends the devoted mother would not have left behind her two beloved daughters
#1 IS LYNETTE DAWSON DEAD?
The defence has argued long and hard that Lynette Dawson could still be alive, or at least was alive after she vanished from her marital home at 2 Gillwinga Drive, Bayview around January 8, 1982.
This is because – despite two coroner’s inquests finding Lynette Dawson is dead and was murdered – if the prosecution cannot establish this beyond a reasonable doubt, then there is no case for a murder.
Chris Dawson’s barrister made much of four different ‘sightings’ of Lynette after January 1982, at locations including on the NSW Central Coast, near Gladesville Hospital, and inside Rockcastle Hospital, now South Pacific Private in Curl Curl.
The Crown contends three were cases of mistaken identity, and one was possibly invented by the accused’s late brother-in-law.
But Dawson’s lawyer argued there was ‘willful blindness’ and deliberate failure by police to conduct any investigation in an impartial manner.
Pauline David said detectives had an ‘intentional refusal’ to consider evidence Ms Dawson was alive and a ‘significant and very serious contravention of the obligations of the police officers’ had dominated the case.
The Dawson twins can be heard on telephone calls played during the trial railing against media, Lyn’s family and the schoolgirl for suspecting Chris of murdering his first wife
Pauline David (right) with Dawson outside the Supreme Court made a blistering attack during the trial on police, podcaster Hedley Thomas and the possible poisoning or seduction of witnesse
Part of this relates to phone calls Chris Dawson said he received from Lyn, on the day she disappeared and for up to six weeks afterwards.
The alleged time his wife kept ringing him varied according to different accounts Dawson gave over decades to Lynette’s mother, her siblings, his family, police and even a tradie in late 2018, three months before he was charged with murder.
In indignant cross-examination, Ms David quizzed detective after detective as to why they hadn’t chased up the first phone call Dawson said he received from Lyn.
This was to the Northbridge Baths on Saturday, January 9, 1982, where Helena Simms and her granddaughters waited in vain for their beloved daughter, ‘my Lyn’, and devoted mother, who was never to return.
Lyn left behind wardrobes full of clothes, her wedding and eternity rings, nursing badges, her mother and siblings – and two children she was devoted to, had commissioned portraits of and, for the elder girl, was excitedly planning her first day of school.
The trial heard that ‘proof of life’ checks on Lynette’s bank accounts, tax file, Medicare, nurse’s registration or other could show she was alive.
Lynette Joy Dawson, it would seem, is dead.
Two different witnesses testified they saw Chris either in a terrible argument with Lyn Dawson or pushing her face into the mud that once surrounded the swimming pol of the marital home at Bayview (above)
#2. THE MOTIVE AND THE BRUISES
While the Crown does not have to prove motive, it is one of the layers in building a circumstantial case, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle or as prosecutor Craig Everson has put it, ‘the strands in a cable’.
But are alleged bruises on Lynette Dawson proof her husband wanted to kill her?
The trial has heard much legal debate about tendency and circumstantial evidence, with prosecutor Craig Everson SC contending they do prove the accused had an animus against her and a motive to kill her.
Mr Everson has told the court Dawson had three ‘coexistent’ and compelling motives.
‘One of them was to get rid of Lynette Dawson. The second one was to bring in (Mr Dawson’s second wife JC).’
The third was to avoid the financial consequences of going through a divorce.
Greg Walsh (above with his client Chris Dawson) argued that evidence about bruises and black eyes seen on Lynette Dawson was in doubt and ‘so tenuous, so imprecise, so speculative’ it was of no probative value
These motives, Mr Everson argued, shows Dawson had three tendencies: an animosity towards his wife, that he had contemplated using a third party to kill her, and that he wanted the school student JC he was having an affair with to be his wife and the mother to his children.
But the relevance of trial testimony about bruises and black eyes seen on Lynette to show a tendency for violence by the accused toward her has been debated by both Crown and defence, and indeed the judge, during the trial.
Different witnesses gave evidence of seeing Lynette at a shopping centre, outside her husband’s school, at work, at a tennis game, and at home, with a black eye, bruises around her throat or on her arms and thigh, or crying and upset.
Mr Everson said witnesses’ accounts of seeing Lyn with black eyes, and bruising on her arms and legs was a ‘small piece of a larger mural of circumstances’.
‘The unexplained bruising from those people is just simply a fact to be taken into account as a strand in the cable,’ he said.
He cited the case of Adelaide woman Emily Perry who was tried in 1980 for attempting to murder her husband with arsenic-based weed killer.
Eminent Supreme Court judge, Justice Ian Harrison will have to decide if there is enough circumstantial evidence to convict Chris Dawson of killing his wife Lynette (above, the couple together)
In that case, the court heard her previous husbands had an ‘unfortunate habit’ of dying from arsenic poisoning
But Greg Walsh for Dawson argued the bruising evidence was in doubt and ‘so tenuous, so imprecise, so speculative’ it was of no probative value.
The accused’s sister-in-law, Paul Dawson’s wife Marilyn, testified that she’d seen bruises on Lyn, who she thought had delicate skin which bruised easily.
And His Honour has posed the question of how he is to consider such evidence, which he described as ‘a problem’, saying Lynette Dawson was seen with bruises or black eyes, but that didn’t prove who inflicted them.
‘In my perception, there are no bright lights shining in this area,’ he said. ‘It’s all a bit dark and dingy and I might need some particular help.’
3# SCENES OF ABUSE
The prosecution called several people to testify they saw Chris Dawson being violent or aggressive to Lynette.
The defence has disputed this by cross-examining of these witnesses, trying to throw doubt on their memory, suggest they are biased, and by the glowing testimony of Dawson’s family members that he wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Different women said they saw him either violently attack Lynette and push her face into the mud by the backyard pool, have a fiery argument by the trampoline, swing her into a doorframe and aggressively flick her with a towel.
He also reportedly demeaned her, with cruel songs, with names like ‘fatso’ and calling her a ‘fat ugly b***h’ when she struggled to lose weight after having their second child.
Lyn Dawson (above with Chris before their marriage) was depicted by the Crown as a devoted but emotionally and physically battered woman before she disappeared
Of the towel flick – claimed by the babysitter who preceded JC in the Dawson home – Justice Harrison made an observation in his occasionally droll way.
‘Some people might argue it’s a long drive through a dark night to contend that flicking someone with a tea-towel is associated with killing them,’ he said.
4# STAR WITNESSES – CAN THEY BE BELIEVED?
The so-called ‘star’ witnesses of the Dawson trial were the schoolgirl-babysitter-wife, JC, and the ‘shady’ football team mate, Robert Silkman, who’d met gangster Neddy Smith.
They may be eclipsed by a third witness, if the defence decides next week to call the accused himself, Chris Dawson. The question for the judge goes to their credibility – who can be believed?
JC, the defence contends, had been out to get Dawson since their 1990 marriage split and a bitter custody battle over their daughter.
She gave lengthy evidence about being groomed by Dawson from the age of 16, inveigled into his home as a babysitter, and then as a substitute wife, mother and housekeeper – and, she says, a sex slave – when Lyn vanished.
JC depicted her life as prisoner-like in their Gold Coast ‘compound’ where he told her to see, what to buy, what to wear, and that it had better not be sexy.
Star witness Robert Silkman (above) testified that Chris asked him to secure a hitman, but the defence said he is not credible because of his career as a petty criminal
The other star witness was JC, the babysitter and schoolgirl who became Chris Dawson’s second wife, who the defence contends, was motivated to destroy him after a custody battle
Dawson’s lawyers sought to shoot this down, with Marilyn Dawson providing an account of a ‘lovely life’ on the Gold Coast. But it was corroborated by women who knew JC in the marriage to Chris.
JC’s other compelling evidence was the alleged ride in her school uniform with Chris to see a hitman to knock off Lyn.
For the defence, this developed almost into a theme with the surprise inclusion of witness Robert Silkman, who claimed that on a 1975 Newtown Jets rugby league end-of-season tour, Chris Dawson had asked him for a hitman to get rid of his wife ‘for good’.
Pauline David spent hours conducting an autopsy on Mr Silkman’s life of petty crime, surmising that a man convicted of dishonest acts could not be believed.
But a blameless former Newtown Jet, Ray Lee, told the court he remembered Silkman’s Dawson hitman story, from 40 years ago.
The spectre of gangster Neddy Smith (above) hung over the case with allegations by prosecutors of two separate attempts by the accused to hire a hitman to kill his wife
Throughout the Crown case, defence lawyers Pauline David or Greg Walsh have extracted accounts of Chris Dawson’s good character, from two brothers, a sister, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law.
Telephone intercepts of calls between Dawson relatives show a family less baffled by Lynette’s sudden disappearance than they are by the intense police interest in it.
Perhaps as a segue to sensational testimony by the accused next week, Pauline David played in court a series of Chris Dawson’s telephone calls, mostly with twin brother Chris, but also others including a tradie.
The calls felt curiously unsatisfying for Chris Dawson’s case, with him unleashing his famous quick temper in comments when he clearly knew his phone was tapped.
5# THE LACK OF A BODY
Lyn Dawson’s remains, no matter how old, might help illuminate the circumstances of her disappearance. But the fact no body has been discovered doesn’t mean there can be no definitive legal conclusion about her fate.
All police were able to come up with, during different phases of the investigation into Lynette Dawson through Operation Luzon and its offspring Task Force Scriven was inconclusive blood traces and an allegedly knife-slashed cardigan.
The ghosts of a body-less murder case past arose with the mention by the Crown of an appeal in NSW court history of ‘Burrell v R’.
No remains of Lynette Dawson have ever been found, but blood was extracted from the Dawson house and a knife-slashed pink cardigan (above) was dug up by the pool, although it had no DNA
This refers to one of two women, whose bodies were never found, but whose murderer was convicted, and imprisoned, and eventually died in jail.
Conman Bruce Burrell, a lazy, pompous would-be country squire, murdered wealthy widow Dottie Davis in 1995 and wealthy industrialist’s wife, Kerry Whelan, in 1996, both for money.
Both victims’ remains are believed lie somewhere in the vast Bungonia National Park near Goulburn, as Burrell boasted he could hide a body in bushland where ‘no one would ever find it’.
Burrell died aged 63 from cancer in 2016 in prison, ten years into a life sentence.
6# THE POLICE, WITNESS ‘CONTAMINATION’ AND THAT HIT No. 1 PODCAST
The defence argued that vital evidence supporting Chris Dawson’s innocence had been lost via police incompetence, or worse, a deliberate campaign by a series of one-eyed detectives determined to lock up the ‘guilty’ husband.
Pauline David might have tailor-made a case for a judge just like Justice Harrison.
His Honour’s impressive CV includes conducting the 1996 inquiry into allegations of corruption in the Australian Federal Police, and a stint as an assistant commissioner to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Ms David reserved particular derision for (now retired) detective Damian Loone, who was accused of being dissolute, sloppy and blinkered during hours of withering cross-examination and one furious call between the Dawson twins.
Dawson’s barrister subjected (now retired) detective Damian Loone (above) to hours of withering cross-examination in which he was accused of being dissolute, sloppy and blinkered
The defence sought to skewer ‘Teacher’s Pet’ podcaster Hedley Thomas (above) as a kind of Lucrezia Borgia of witnesses’ minds, poisoning their objectivity or seducing them with the glow of Hollywood
Award-winning podcaster, Hedley Thomas, creator of The Teacher’s Pet, copped it both barrels in a similar call between Paul and Chris.
Just as Ms David seeks to identify police failings as contaminating the case, she sought to skewer Mr Thomas as a kind of Lucrezia Borgia of witnesses’ minds, poisoning their objectivity or seducing them with the glow of Hollywood.
Both Mr Loone and Mr Thomas remained calm and focussed during the barrage of questions.
Justice Harrison, known in the legal profession for his integrity and professionalism, wit and being a onetime owner of a racy yellow Monaro, has probably already sorted out what weight to give all that.
The case continues.