An Australian man who became the subject of a popular crime podcast has been found guilty of his wife’s cold case murder.
Chris Dawson’s trial in a Sydney court followed decades of speculation about the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Lynette.
Her body has never been found and all the evidence was circumstantial.
Dawson was charged in 2018 after the podcast garnered global attention and prompted a renewed investigation.
The 74-year-old denies killing Mrs Dawson, maintaining she had abandoned him and their two children – possibly to join a religious group.
When handing down his verdict on Tuesday, Justice Ian Harrison said the evidence against Dawson was “persuasive and compelling”.
The judge found Dawson was obsessed with his teenage babysitter, who is known as JC for legal reasons, and waned her as a “replacement” for his wife.
Dawson had become increasingly desperate as previous plans to leave his marriage failed and JC wanted to end their relationship, Justice Harrison said.
“I’m satisfied that the prospect that he would lose [JC] so distressed, frustrated, and ultimately overwhelmed him that… Mr Dawson resolved to kill his wife,” he told the New South Wales Supreme Court.
Mrs Dawson’s brother said the court had confirmed what his family had known for years.
“She loved her family and never left them of her own accord. Instead her trust was betrayed by a man she loved,” an emotional Greg Simms told reporters.
A sentencing date is yet to be set. Dawson’s lawyer has indicated he is likely to appeal against the conviction.
Tears from Lynette Dawson’s family
Ashen and dazed. Chris Dawson appeared to be in shock as he stepped into a lift on the 13th floor of the court with his older brother, Peter, and his lawyer during a break in the judge’s deliberations.
I stood an arm’s length away from a man who a couple of hours later would become a convicted killer.
After 40 years, the mystery and tragedy of Lynette Dawson’s disappearance have finally been solved.
The judge demolished her husband’s defence, labelling key parts ‘absurd’ and ‘fanciful’.
There were gasps from his family members when the guilty verdict was eventually handed down. There were tears from Lynette Dawson’s relatives who sat quietly nearby.
The former teacher was led away in handcuffs, shaking his head. Justice Harrison’s lengthy verdict has finally exposed his lies and deceit.
The case shot to global prominence when it was investigated by journalist Hedley Thomas in podcast The Teacher’s Pet.
The series won Australian journalism’s highest honour and has been downloaded more than 60 million times, topping charts around the world.
The podcast and its impact were key issues in the trial, with Justice Harrison criticising its “less than balanced view” on the case and ruling it had affected the evidence of some witnesses.
The case was initially delayed due to publicity the podcast created, and Dawson’s lawyers tried to halt it altogether, arguing the series had contaminated his shot at a fair trial.
Dawson was instead granted a trial before a single judge, rather than jury.
Victim ‘idolised her children’
Lynette Dawson, a 33-year-old mother of two, disappeared from her Sydney home in January 1982. Police have never found any trace of her.
Two separate inquests into her disappearance concluded that she was killed by a “known person”.
But until the podcast explored the case, prosecutors had said there was not enough evidence to lay charges.
Dawson has maintained his wife phoned him one weekend in January 1982 and said she needed time away. He said he also received several calls from her afterwards.
His defence team pointed to alleged sightings by five people after Mrs Dawson was reported missing as evidence she could have been alive after January 1982.
But prosecutors argued Dawson was driven to murder after his failed plots to leave the marriage – which they said included contemplating hiring a hitman, and a thwarted move to Queensland to start a new life with JC.
Justice Harrison rejected the claim about the hitman and allegations Dawson had been physically abusive towards his wife.
But he did note that Mrs Dawson “idolised her children and her husband” and all her possessions remained at her home.
“Even her contact lenses were found… in a blue container when delivered by Mr Dawson with her belongings,” he said.
None of Mrs Dawson’s friends and family have heard from her since she disappeared.
Considering the circumstantial evidence as a whole, Justice Harrison said he was “left with no doubt” that Dawson had indeed killed his wife and disposed of her body.
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