Four decades after killing his wife Lynette and disposing of her body, the former Sydney schoolteacher will spend at least 18 years in jail.
On Friday, Justice Ian Harrison delivered a maximum sentence of 24 years, noting the 74-year-old would likely die behind bars after being found guilty of murder in August.
“Mr Dawson is not old by contemporary standards, but the reality is that he will not live to reach the end of his non-parole period,” the judge said in the NSW Supreme Court.
“I am nevertheless required to impose a sentence that satisfies the community’s expectations of punishment, retribution and denunciation.”
He called the murder, which occurred in the couple’s Bayview home in January 1982, an objectively serious crime inspired by Dawson’s “uncontrollable desire” to be with his teenage lover, known as JC.
JC was Dawson’s former high school student and also worked as babysitter for the couple’s two daughters in 1980 and 1981. The pair eventually married in 1984 and divorced in 1991.
The crime was an “objectively very serious offence” because he planned to kill his wife and did so in her own home, the judge said.
Mrs Dawson would not have known what was coming on that fateful night, he added.
“Lynette Dawson was faultless and undeserving of her fate. Despite the deteriorating state of her marriage to Mr Dawson, she was undoubtedly also completely unsuspecting,” he said.
“Tragically her death deprived her young daughters of their mother so that a significant part of the harm caused to others as a consequence of her death, is the sad fact that Lynette Dawson was treated by her husband, the father of the very same girls, as completely dispensable.”
Her body has never been found.
Claims media hype behind the four-decade-long mystery served as some extra punishment which should shorten the jail sentence were rejected by the court.
“Mr Dawson has now been convicted of the crime which attracted the publicity in question. In those circumstances Mr Dawson is now the author of his own misfortune,” Justice Harrison said.
Dawson did not react and sat stony-faced as he was given a non-parole period of 18 years, expiring on August 29, 2040.
He was taken away to Silverwater prison, where the court heard he had already suffered threats and taunts from other inmates, including being referred to as the “Teacher’s Pet”.
Dawson will be 92 before he can apply for release and his maximum jail term will expire on August 29, 2046.
Outside court, Mrs Dawson’s brother Greg Simms spoke of the impact this final chapter had on the family.
“Today marks the end of a very long, painful and challenging journey. At last we have justice for Lyn and that was our main aim.”
“Chris Dawson discarded her, the Dawsons disregarded her. From today on we would like her to be known and remembered as Lynette Joy Simms.”
He said he hoped Dawson would live a long life so that he could serve the sentence imposed on him.
“We really didn’t believe this day would ever come. What we need now is to find Lyn and put her to rest. It’s our time to begin living our lives without having this hanging over our heads. Chris Dawson has had 40 years of freedom. Now it’s our turn.”
Dawson’s lawyer Greg Walsh said his client still maintained his innocence despite the guilty verdict and his daughter’s plea to reveal where her mother’s body was.
“I’m innocent. I don’t know where she is because I didn’t murder her,” Dawson allegedly told Mr Walsh
The solicitor said there were no winners in a case like this, with Mrs Dawson’s family and the community suffering and Dawson himself likely to spend the rest of his days in jail unless he is successful in appealing the conviction.
“It’s a very, very sad case indeed. You see the family there and they’re suffering. They’re feeling it and they’ve felt it for a number of years.”
Mr Walsh, who has been representing Dawson for four-and-a-half years, said he would be stepping down from the role and public defender Belinda Rigg SC would be taking his place.
Dawson has filed an appeal of his conviction.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS FOLLOWING LYN DAWSON’S DISAPPEARANCE:
January 1982 – Lynette “Lyn” Dawson, 33, disappears from her home at Bayview on Sydney’s northern beaches, leaving behind two young daughters. The family’s babysitter, a schoolgirl who can only be identified as JC, moves into the home within days.
February – Chris Dawson, a teacher and former Newtown Jets rugby league player, reports his wife missing six weeks after he says she disappeared.
January 1984 – Dawson marries JC in a ceremony with his family in attendance.
December 1984 – Dawson and JC move from the Bayview home to the Gold Coast.
March 1990 – Dawson and JC go through an acrimonious break-up. JC returns to Sydney.
May 1990 – JC gives her first statement to police regarding Mrs Dawson’s disappearance.
January 1991 – Dawson gives an electronically recorded interview to police.
2001 – An inquest recommends a “known person” be charged with Mrs Dawson’s murder, but the Director of Public Prosecutions later says the evidence was not tested because no witnesses were called.
2003 – A second inquest calls witnesses and recommends a known person be charged with murder, referring the matter to the DPP. Again, no charges are laid.
2010 – NSW Police announce a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.
2014 – The reward is doubled to $200,000.
2015 – Strikeforce Scriven is established and the Dawsons’ entire Bayview block is mapped.
April 2018 – Scriven detectives request the DPP review their brief of evidence.
May – The Australian newspaper releases The Teacher’s Pet podcast about Mrs Dawson’s disappearance. It is eventually downloaded 60 million times worldwide.
July – NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller admits police “dropped the ball” in the 1980s investigation.
September – Police dig up the backyard at the Bayview home the couple shared at the time of Mrs Dawson’s disappearance but don’t find remains or items of interest.
December 5 – Chris Dawson is arrested on the Gold Coast and spends the night in a watch-house.
December 6 – Dressed in a polo shirt, shorts and thongs, the then 70-year-old is extradited to Sydney, where he’s charged with his first wife’s murder and appears in court via video link. His lawyer, Greg Walsh, says he “strenuously asserts his innocence”.
December 17 – Dawson is bailed to live back in his Queensland home.
August 8, 2019 – Magistrate Michael Allen warns some reporting of the case could affect a fair trial, saying: “Someone would have to be living in a cave or be naive in the extreme to perhaps ignore the potential for unfairness to a person who receives this level of media scrutiny”.
February 11-13, 2020 – Magistrate Jacqueline Trad hears evidence before committing Dawson to stand trial for murder.
April 3 – Dawson formally pleads not guilty to murder, with his lawyers flagging an application for a permanent stay of proceedings.
September 25 – Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Fullerton grants Dawson only a nine-month halt to allow the “unrestrained and clamorous” public commentary about his wife’s disappearance to abate before his trial.
June 11, 2021 – The Court of Criminal Appeal refuses a permanent halt to proceedings.
April 8, 2022 – The High Court backs the lower courts’ decisions not to permanently halt proceedings.
May 2 – Supreme Court Justice Robert Beech-Jones orders the trial to proceed before a judge alone following an application by Dawson.
May 9-July 11 – The trial is heard by Justice Ian Harrison, with prosecutors alleging Dawson was violent and abusive towards his wife and killed her to have an unfettered relationship with JC. Dawson’s lawyers pointed to various witnesses claiming to have seen Mrs Dawson alive and well after January 1982.
August 30 – Dawson is found guilty of murder.
November 10 – Sentence hearing in front of Justice Harrison where victim impact statements are read by Mrs Dawson’s brother and sister Greg Simms and Patricia Jenkins as well as Dawson’s daughter Shanelle. Mr Simms calls Dawson a “conniving monster”.
December 2 – Justice Harrison sentences Dawson to a maximum of 24 years in prison with a non-parole period of 18 years.