Chris Dawson’s sordid affair with a teenage girl he taught and moved into his marital home brought him more recent attention than his career playing first grade rugby league ever did.
For decades Dawson had been largely forgotten outside Sydney’s northern beaches until a hit podcast and fresh police investigation into the 1982 disappearance of his wife Lyn made him infamous around the world.
The former Newtown Jets player has for months been under the spotlight as the public awaited the results of a new brief of evidence forwarded to the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions.
That came to a head on Wednesday morning with the 70-year-old former school teacher’s arrest.
Two coroners have heard Dawson wanted his wife out of the way after commencing an affair with former student Joanne Curtis.
Dawson and his twin brother Paul, also a teacher and first grade footballer, each had affairs with girls they had once taught and according to evidence heard at a 2003 coronial inquest both had sex with Ms Curtis, including at the same time.
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Chris Dawson has been arrested over the disappearance and presumed murder of his wife Lyn. Mrs Dawson disappeared from the couple’s home on Sydney’s northern beaches in 1982
Joanne Curtis, now 54, was just 16 when she was first groomed for sex by her teacher Chris Dawson. When Mr Dawson’s wife Lyn disappeared in January 1982, Joanne moved into their home at Bayview. Ms Curtis is pictured on Sydney’s northern beaches where she still lives
NSW Police forensic officers search the former home of Chris and Lyn Dawson at Bayview in September. The body of Mrs Dawson, a nurse and mother-of-two, has never been found
Lyn Dawson was 33 when she disappeared from Sydney’s northern beaches. Family and friends said it would be unlikely she would ever voluntarily leave her two young daughters
The Teacher’s Pet podcast by The Australian newspaper threw the Dawson brothers under intense scrutiny as listeners learnt about the disappearance and presumed murder of 33-year-old Lyn.
Ms Curtis was just 16 when she was allegedly groomed for sex by Chris Dawson at Cromer High School. He became her teacher and was initially someone the quiet but headstrong girl believed she could confide in.
‘At the time I was having problems with family at home… and I guess I felt that I could go to him with this problem because he seemed to be drawn to me in some way,’ Ms Curtis told police in 1998.
‘And so I did and he took advantage of that and abused me, really.’
Ms Curtis began socialising with Dawson at the Time and Tide Hotel at Dee Why on Friday nights. She became babysitter to the Dawsons’ two daughters Shanelle and Sherryn and often stayed the night in their home.
According to evidence at a 2003 coronial inquest, Dawson began having sex with Joanne when she was still 16 and he was 32.
Chris Dawson was twice the age of Joanne Curtis (pictured) when they began having sex while she was in Year 11 at Cromer High and he was a teacher there. The pair married when she was 19 years old
Chris and Lyn Dawson pictured on their wedding day on March 26, 1970. Mr Dawson would go on to marry his teen lover Joanne Curtis in 1984 and is now onto his third marriage with Sue
A crew from Channel 9’s A Current Affair confronts Chris (right) and Paul Dawson this year
‘Joanne describes their relationship as “strong” and on several occasions from 1980 onwards Chris Dawson placed love letters in Joanne’s bag at school and invited her to marry him,’ Matt Fordham, the police advocate assisting the coroner told the court.
Joanne – who had a troubled home life with a violent stepfather – told the coroner that in October 1981, while she was studying for her HSC, Chris Dawson invited her to move into his family home.
‘I had nowhere else to go,’ she said.
Mrs Dawson disappeared in January 1982, more than a year after her husband began having an affair with Ms Curtis.
Chris and Lyn Dawson were living in the same street – Gilwinga Drive, Bayview – as his brother Paul and Paul’s wife Marilyn when Mrs Dawson went missing.
The brothers have always been exceptionally close. They were both physical education teachers – Chris at Cromer and Paul at nearby Forest High – when Mrs Dawson disappeared.
This aerial photograph shows how close Paul and Chris Dawson’s houses were in January 1982
Lynn Dawson (left) was a nurse and devoted mother to her two daughters. She met Chris Dawson (together at right) at school. He went on to play first grade rugby league for Newtown
Chris Dawson, now 70, lives at Mt Coolum on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. He has always denied any involvement in his first wife Lyn’s 1982 disappearance and presumed murder
As children the brothers had their own secret language which had to be corrected with speech therapy. Paul, the older of the pair, drives a car with ‘1 Twin’ number plates. Chris has ‘2 Twin’ on his vehicle.
Ms Curtis gave evidence in 2003 of Chris Dawson’s allegedly possessive nature, detailing their relationship from its start when she was a schoolgirl to its conclusion in Queensland a decade later.
She had met Dawson when he became a PE teacher at Cromer High in 1979 and she was in Year 10. He had been married for nine years, had two daughters and was 16 years older than Ms Curtis.
While it is unclear just how much Mrs Dawson knew of her husband’s relationship with Mr Curtis, the affair was no secret at Cromer High and neighbours had seen the schoolgirl swimming topless in the family’s pool.
Ms Curtis told the coroner that Dawson chipped away at his wife’s confidence while they were all under the same roof.
‘He was very cold and used to sing songs to her that had double meanings, that he didn’t care about her and that she was physically unattractive,’ she said.
‘Just digging away at her. Just singing songs that were to wear her down, just upset her.’
Joanne Curtis (centre) with her school teacher lover Chris Dawson’s children Shanelle and Sherryn. Ms Curtis babysat the girls then became their stepmother when she married Chris
Christopher Dawson’s teen lover Joanne Curtis plays with his daughters Shanelle and Sherryn
Lyn Dawson was a devoted mother whose family say would never have left her two children. At left is Lyn with husband Chris and daughter Shanelle. Lyn pictured with Shanelle at right
In early November 1981 Dawson was booked into hospital for a nose operation and asked his wife not to visit but her mother did and found him with Joanne.
‘This would appear to be one of the first times that Lynette had seriously considered the possibility that they were having an affair and this led to Lynette confronting Joanne about their relationship,’ Sergeant Fordham told the coroner.
Ms Curtis told the same court: ‘Lyn confronted me… and said to me, “You’ve been taking liberties with my husband.” I didn’t know what to say.’
That was the last time the schoolgirl spoke to Mrs Dawson.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MISSING MOTHER-OF-TWO LYN DAWSON?
1970: Lynette Joy Simms marries footballer Christopher Michael Dawson. They are both 21 and later have two daughters, first Shanelle and then Sherryn
1980: Mr Dawson, who retired from playing rugby league to become a PE teacher, starts affair with 16-year-old pupil Joanne Curtis at Cromer High School on Sydney’s northern beaches
1981: Mr Dawson persuades Mrs Dawson to let Joanne move in to their home to get away from her violent stepfather and finish her Higher School Certificate
December 1981: Mr Dawson and his young lover run away together to Queensland but Ms Curtis changes her mind and they return to Sydney
January 8, 1982: Mrs and Mrs Dawson go to marriage counselling. Mrs Dawson’s mother speaks to her daughter, who is not a big drinker, on the telephone and thinks she sounds ‘sozzled’.
January 9, 1982: Mr Dawson says he dropped his wife at a Mona Vale bus stop so she could go shopping at Chatswood. Mrs Dawson fails to turn up to meet her mother, husband and children at Northbridge Baths. Mr Dawson says his wife rang him and said she needed some time to herself
January 10 or 11, 1982: Mr Dawson picks up Joanne from South West Rocks on the mid north coast of NSW and she moves into his home. He reports his wife missing six weeks later.
1983-85: Mr Dawson divorces his missing wife and marries Joanne. The newlyweds move to Queensland where Joanne has the couple’s daughter Kristen
1990: Mr Dawson and Joanne split up. She moves back to Sydney and urges police to search his old garden for a body
2000: Mrs Dawson’s pink cardigan is found during a police dig on the family’s former property at Bayview
2001 and 2003: Two coroners find that Mrs Dawson was murdered by a ‘known person’ – Chris Dawson – but he is not charged with any offence
2006: An episode of the British TV series Antiques Roadshow is filmed in Padstow, Cornwall. Mr Dawson later claims a woman seen in the background of the episode could be his missing wife
2018: Police prepare another brief for the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions. The Australian launches its podcast, The Teacher’s Pet, about the case
Ms Curtis moved down the road for a short period with Paul Dawson, his wife and their three daughters. Days before Christmas 1981 she agreed to run off to Queensland with her lover but changed her mind just south of the border.
On January 9, 1982 Lyn Dawson made plans to meet her mother at Northbridge Baths, where her husband worked casually as a lifeguard. He told police he dropped his wife off at a Mona Vale bus stop about 7am.
Mrs Dawson did not arrive. Instead, her husband took a phone call at the baths which he said was from his wife who told him she was taking a break and needed to be on her own.
Joanne Curtis pictured with her daughter Kristen on Sydney’s northern beaches last week. Ms Curtis does not believe Lyn Dawson would have chosen to leave her own two daughters
Ms Curtis was on holiday with family and friends at South West Rocks on the NSW mid north coast when she says Dawson called her on January 9 or 10.
She told police Dawson said: ‘Lyn’s gone. She’s not coming back. I need you now. Come and live with me and the girls at Bayview.’
Ms Curtis believed it was the next day that Dawson arrived by car to collect her. She moved back into the Dawson family home as his lover and effectively mother to his children, four-year-old Shanelle and two-year-old Sherryn.
She wore Mrs Dawson’s clothes and jewellery. No one other than Chris Dawson has ever claimed to have spoken to his wife since the day she disappeared.
Ms Curtis told police in 1998 the situation was ‘very strange for everyone.’
‘I mean I tried to leave on a number of occasions because I didn’t want, I didn’t want to be in that situation with him,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to be in a relationship with him. I wanted to get away… because I was just a kid.
‘I was kept right in the dark and I was quite oblivious to, to lots of things, I was just under this sort of spell, I suppose.’
Asked if her older lover had been ‘distressed’ by the disappearance of his wife, Ms Curtis told police: ‘No, I don’t think he was distressed.’
Joanne Curtis out walking on Sydney’s northern beaches, 36 years after the disappearance of Lyn Dawson from her home at Bayview. Ms Curtis has declined to be interviewed by media
Joanne Curtis (left) holding her grandson. Ms Curtis lives a quiet life on Sydney’s northern beaches and is troubled by the events that led to Lyn Dawson’s disappearance 36 years ago
‘I think he was, you know, he had what he wanted,’ she said. ‘That was what he wanted, that was his, his goal was to have me and have the children and have the house and have no Lyn… He was ecstatic, as far as I am concerned.’
Dawson told Ms Curtis his wife – a softly-spoken nurse who worked part-time at a child care centre – might have run off with a cult. However, she took no belongings with her.
He reported his wife missing six weeks after her disappearance, claiming she had telephoned him several times, and made his first written statement to police in August that year.
For the rest of the 1980s the disappearance of Mrs Dawson was ignored by police. This was despite it being undisputed the doting mother would ever abandon her daughters and there being no further signs she was alive.
Ms Curtis married Chris Dawson at their home in Gilwinga Drive on January 15, 1984 with Paul and Marilyn Dawson as witnesses.
Dawson gave Ms Curtis one of his missing wife’s rings to wear for the ceremony. He was 35 and she was 19.
The couple later sold the home at Bayview and moved to Queensland where they had a daughter, Kristen, now aged in her early 30s. Dawson continued to teach.
Lyn Dawson’s favourite pink cardigan (pictured) was found when police conducted a small dig at the former Dawson family home at Bayview in 2000. The cardigan was found near the pool
Dawson allegedly treated Shanelle and Sherryn as princesses and largely rejected Kristen.
‘He was even more possessive of me and regretted Kristen,’ Ms Curtis told the coroner in 2003. ‘He wanted me to himself. He just wanted her out of the way.
‘I did as I was told. He chose what I wore. If I was going somewhere, he would have to approve it.
‘He was violent. There were some times when I locked myself in one of the bedrooms and he would try to break the door down.’
When Ms Curtis eventually left the marriage on February 1, 1990 and moved back to Sydney she went to police with her suspicions Mrs Dawson was buried on the property at Bayview.
She told police she left Dawson because she was frightened and desperately unhappy.
‘He was always possessive but once our daughter was born I think he felt a rivalry there with her,’ she said.
The former Dawson family home in Gilwinga Drive, Bayview, as it is today. A pink cardigan which had belonged to Lyn Dawson was found when police searched an area near the pool
Lyn and Chris Dawson lived in this luxurious home in the hills above Sydney’s northern beaches. Some members of Mrs Dawson’s family believe her body is buried on the property
‘He didn’t like sharing me, he wanted me to stay in the confines of the property and not go and see people, so I didn’t have any associations until our daughter was two when I took her to playgroup, and I found out how other women had marriages.
‘I thought ours was just normal, in that he made all the decisions and I just followed them, his orders…
‘Then when I realised that there was something very strange about our relationship and he, he was getting more violent, and he would be violent in front of our daughter.
‘He would send the other two away, and there was all sorts of control, games he was playing, he used to start singing to me too, like he did to his former wife, and, you know, there were times I felt physically threatened.
‘I feared for my life at that point and I made the decision to leave, because I was scared and I was desperately unhappy.’
Asked if Dawson had ever asked her to do anything ‘out of the normal’ sexually, Ms Curtis said: ‘Well, yeah, you know… do this and you can have this.’
Chris and Lyn Dawson on their wedding day (left) and Lyn with their daughter Shanelle (right)
Kristen Dawson (pictured) is close to her mother Joanne Curtis and lives on Sydney’s northern beaches. She has grown up with accusations of murder being leveled at her father Chris
‘Yeah, I mean, yeah, you know. If I wanted a pair of shoes, well, you know, you have to pay for it type of thing.’
Detective Sergeant Damian Loone, who began re-investigating the case in 1998, told the coroner in 2003 that both Dawson brothers had been involved in numerous sexual encounters with students on the northern beaches.
‘Joanne Curtis admits that at Christopher Dawson’s instigation she had sexual encounters with Paul Dawson, including both Christopher and Paul Dawson together,’ Detective Sergeant Loone said.
Chris, Paul and Marilyn Dawson did not appear at the 2003 inquest.
In September police returned to the Bayview home to dig for Mrs Dawson’s remains but did not find a body.
Ground-penetrating radar was used on the property in 1990, 1991, 1999 and 2016. Digs were conducted in 2000 and 2016 and the entire block was mapped by a burial site expert in 2015.
Chris Dawson suggested a woman (right) who appeared in an episode of Antiques Roadshow filmed in Cornwall in 2006 and screened in Australia in 2010 could be his wife Lyn (left)
Joanne Curtis (left) and her daughter Kristen (right) go for a walk in a northern beaches park
Witnesses have described Dawson returning to the Gilwinga Drive property from time to time over the years, jogging and driving past the home and once asking where a new owner had been digging.
Until September Ms Curtis had not been photographed in public since 2003 when she gave evidence at the second coronial inquest to result in a finding Mr Dawson had killed his wife.
Despite those findings – the first was in 2001 – the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions had declined to take action against Mr Dawson.
Shanelle and Sherryn are now adults with children of their own. Shanelle has said she would like answers about her mother’s disappearance while Sherryn has openly backed her father describing a ‘witch hunt’ against him.
Chris Dawson has always denied any wrongdoing and blamed his onetime teenage lover for waging a campaign of lies against him.
He has said Lyn could still be alive and has pointed to a woman in the background of a 2006 episode of the television series Antiques Roadshow as looking like his missing wife.
Chris and Paul Dawson, pictured with a model in a David Jones newspaper advertisement have been exceptionally close all their lives. They both played rugby league for the Newtown Jets
In his last lengthy media interview Dawson told a reporter in 2003 the case had driven him to contemplate suicide but decided killing himself would make him look guilty.
Now 54, Ms Curtis still lives on the city’s northern beaches where the sordid events took place.
She has not had another relationship since splitting with Dawson in 1990 and is described by friends as a victim, survivor, brave woman and a ‘scared little girl’.
While Ms Curtis stays close to her daughter Kristen, Chris Dawson has been living in Queensland near Noosa with his third wife Sue. Paul Dawson lives a couple of hours’ drive south on the Gold Coast.
There is a $200,000 reward for anyone who has information which leads to the arrest and conviction of Lyn Dawson’s killer.
The former home of Chris and Lyn Dawson in Gilwinga Drive, Bayview, this year. Police found a pink cardigan near the swimming pool in 2000 and in September dug up further areas