Lynette Dawson, a nurse and childcare worker, has never been seen since, but the mystery of her fate continues to haunt her family, friends and neighbours. It also provided the seed for bestselling author Michael Robotham’s thriller, BLEED FOR ME, now available in paperback in bookstores everywhere. Here, he explains how …
I was a young journalist working for an afternoon newspaper in Sydney when Lynette Dawson disappeared in January 1982. It didn’t make the headlines or cause a ripple of publicity, because nobody reported her missing at first.
Her husband, Chris Dawson, was a PE teacher at Cromer High School, on Sydney’s northern beaches. He was also a champion rugby league star for the Newtown Jets, playing alongside his identical twin brother Paul, who coincidentally taught at the same high school.
Former students say they were the coolest, most popular teachers and parents remember them as being incredibly charming and handsome. Both men had done modelling work and moved on to play rugby union.
According to his police statement, Chris Dawson dropped Lynette off at Mona Vale shopping centre on the morning of January 9, 1982. She had organized to meet her mother at Northbridge Baths that day, but didn’t show up.
Chris called his mother-in-law and said that Lynette ‘needed some time on her own’ and had gone off for a few days. On that same day he also called his 16-year-old lover, Joanne Curtis, and said, ‘My wife has gone away. She’s not coming back.’
Joanne was a student at Cromer High and also the Dawson’s regular babysitter. She moved into the family’s Bayview home and began looking after Lynette’s daughters. Meanwhile Lynette’s family waited to hear from her but Chris seemed to be the only person she was calling.
There should have been a police investigation. There wasn’t. Instead Lynette became just another missing person, one of hundreds who slip through the cracks every year and vanish.
In 1983 Chris Dawson filed for divorce and a year later married his schoolgirl lover. They left Sydney to live in Queensland, selling the house in Bayview and escaping the whispers and rumours that surrounded their relationship.
This story might have ended there, which would have been a bigger tragedy, but no less a mystery. In 1990 Chris Dawson’s second marriage broke down and Joanne returned to Sydney with a daughter that she had by him. She contacted Lynette’s family via a social worker and volunteered information to the police.
She described how she was groomed and seduced by Chris Dawson while still at school and how she had sex with him in the family home while his wife slept upstairs. She also revealed how a month before Lynette disappeared Chris had talked about hiring a hit man to ‘get rid of her’.
Despite her statement, the police still didn’t launch an investigation. It wasn’t until 1997 – fifteen years after Lynette disappeared – that a full inquiry was launched. By then the only physical records were a piece of paper with Lynette Dawson’s name on it and her missing persons file number.
The detective who took charge, Sgt Damian Loone, had to place a story in the local paper, asking for people to come forward. The response was remarkable. In the months that followed, the pool and patio area of the Bayview house was excavated and a pink cardigan was sent to America for mitochondrial DNA testing. It also emerged that Chris Dawson had returned to the house in Bayview three times and asked the new owners if he could look in the back yard because ‘it meant a lot to him…’
In 2001, police presented a case to the NSW coroner. Within a day, the inquest had been terminated and the recommendation made that a ‘known person’ be charged with Lynette’s murder.
It was then up to the DPP, the Department of Public Prosecution, to decide. After nine months the ruling came back that the evidence was insufficient to proceed.
In February 2003 there was a full hearing at Westmead Coroner’s Court. Over five days of evidence from numerous witnesses, a picture emerged of Chris Dawson as a serial groomer of schoolgirls. His activities included sharing girls with his brother and instigating encounters where both men slept with Joanne Curtis when she was still 16.
Chris Dawson refused to give evidence at the inquest but have always denied any involvement in his wife’s disappearance.
On February 28, 2003, a second coroner found that Lynette Dawson was deceased and again recommended that a ‘known person’ be charged with her murder. Again the DPP announced there was ‘insufficient evidence to support any criminal charge against any person’.
I have never met Chris Dawson. I could pass him in the street or sit beside him in the cinema and be none the wiser. I know he lives in Queensland and has retired from teaching. I don’t know what happened to Lynette Dawson, but the police suspect that she was murdered some time between January 8 and January 9 in 1982
Most novelists draw their material from real-life events, crime writers even more so. When I began researching my novel, BLEED FOR ME, I wanted to create the character of a handsome, charismatic schoolteacher who is a favourite among students and parents; someone who everybody loved and nobody doubted.
Through the strange twist of fortune or fate that brings a writer together with an idea, I came across the story of Lynette Dawson and realized that I had the seeds of a story. BLEED FOR ME is pure fiction, yet seeded with an emotional truth.
At one point in the narrative there is a conversation in which the schoolteacher explains that the process of teaching is also one of seduction – it’s about creating an interest and a passion where none previously existed. It’s about getting students to want something they didn’t know they wanted.
‘Students get crushes not because they want to be with me but because they wanted to be like me. I bring out their best. I make them feel special. It is a meeting of minds.’
I don’t know who killed Lynette Dawson, but I do know that Chris Dawson remains the prime suspect.
But I haven’t written her story…just as I haven’t written his. The fate of Lynette Dawson was the seed, not the inspiration for BLEED FOR ME. No crime should ever inspire anyone, let alone a novelist.
Instead I took the idea and changed the setting to England instead of Australia. And I begin my novel with a murder – the death of a celebrated detective, found with his throat cut on the floor of his daughter’s bedroom. Meanwhile his daughter, Sienna, covered in her father’s blood, turns up at a nearby house, traumatized and unable to speak.
By setting the story in a small village, I want to reveal how a single dramatic event can ripple through a family, a neighborhood, a community and a nation, until it touches every one of us and evokes our common humanity.