Chris Dawson: The eight words that sealed his fate

In late November 1981, Lynette Simms came across a booth at the Narrabeen High School Christmas Fair: a young artist, Kristin Hardiman, had set up a table displaying her products and works.

The young mother, with two children in tow – one beside her and another in a stroller – arranged for Ms. Hardiman to come to her home to paint her children.

The following month the artist traveled to Bayview, Ms Simms’ home on Sydney’s northern beaches, which she shared with her husband Chris Dawson, to photograph the two young girls.

But when, after completing the sketches, the fine arts student called the Dawson home in mid-January 1982, Dawson answered the phone and told her bluntly, “She’s gone and doesn’t want them anymore.”

Over four decades later, the chance encounter was instrumental in proving that Dawson in January 1982, in an attempt to make room in his home for his teenage lover, killed his wife.

This week, perhaps, the long and winding road to justice has come to an end.

In 2022, following a lengthy trial, Dawson was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 24 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 18 years.

In May Dawson watched via video link from prison as his lawyer, public defender Belinda Rigg SC, appealed to the state’s highest court – the Court of Criminal Appeal.

But on Thursday – more than four weeks after a three-day appeal hearing – Justices Julie Ward, Anthony Payne and Christine Adamson rejected his appeal in a unanimous 3-0 decision.

Judge Adamson reflected on Dawson’s words to Ms Hardiman.

“He could only say that with such certainty because he had killed her,” Judge Adamson said.

THE SUMMER 1981-82

At the center of the case – one of the country’s longest-running unsolved murders – is a woman who can only be known by her court-ordered alias JC.

She appeared at the trial as the Crown prosecution’s star witness.

She was Dawson’s student in Year 11 PE and became the Dawson family’s babysitter before she began having sex with him.

At the time, Dawson had proposed marriage to her and on her 17th birthday he gave her a card that read: “To my lovely, beautiful friend, I hope you are very happy today and knowing that we will share all the birthdays to follow.”

The court was told she had sex with Dawson at his Bayview home while he was babysitting.

“JC recalled (Dawson) preparing alcoholic drinks for (Ms Simms), which would cause her to pass out in the chair or fall asleep and go to bed for the night,” Judge Adamson said.

JC moved into the Dawson home for a time in late 1981, but was confronted by Mrs Simms who accused her of “taking liberties” with her husband.

He moved a few doors down on Gilwinga Drive, with Dawson’s brother Paul and his wife Marilyn.

But from 23 December 1981 “JC’s tenure with Paul and Marilyn may be considered to have expired”, Judge Adamson said.

Just before Christmas 1981, after JC had graduated from high school, Dawson and JC packed their belongings into his car and set off to start a new life in Queensland.

The court was told he left a lifetime note for Ms Simms saying: “Don’t paint too bad a picture of me to girls.”

But before they could get to Queensland, JC broke out in hives and developed a gastric problem, became homesick and asked Dawson to turn around.

THE LAST STROKE

They returned to Sydney on Christmas Day, but instead of returning to his wife, he hid out at Paul’s house.

“The final blow was delivered on Boxing Day when JC told the appellant he wanted to end the relationship and went to stay with one of her sisters in Neutral Bay,” Judge Adamson said.

The Court of Criminal Appeal found that at this point it had become “clear” to Dawson that JC did not want to continue a sexual relationship with a married man with two children.

She traveled to South West Rocks to holiday with friends and family; however she had told her to call him every day.

“His departure made the appellant’s position particularly precarious and placed him at grave risk of losing it,” Judge Adamson said.

“There was a real prospect that, in that environment, JC would be able to find somewhere to live in Sydney that didn’t involve (Dawson), enroll on a course that would take her away from the Bayview area and it would have put her in a difficult situation. new cohort or form a bond with a male who, unlike the appellant, was more or less his age and was not married with children”.

He found that the only way Dawson could maintain control over JC was to “remove the deceased from his life”.

“Killing the deceased on January 8, 1982 or early January 9, 1982 was the only way (Dawson) could get what he wanted before JC made other arrangements for his adult life and it was too late,” concluded Judge Adamson.

The court was told that around January 10 Dawson told JC on the phone: “Lyn’s gone. She won’t come back. She come back to Sydney and help me take care of the children and stay with me.

“What (Dawson) told JC to get her to live in the Bayview house – that the deceased would not return – was true,” Judge Adamson said.

“Because he had killed the deceased he knew that she would not return and that therefore there was no risk associated with installing JC in the master bedroom and inviting her to wear the deceased’s clothes and jewellery.”

PROOF OF LIFE

At trial, the Crown prosecution, led by barrister Craig Everson SC – now a judge in the NSW District Court – relied on a fully detailed case.

Mrs. Simms’ body had never been found and she had never contacted anyone after her last telephone call to her mother, Helena Simms, on the evening of January 8, 1982.

Ms Simms did not show up for work at Warriewood Children’s Center on Monday 11 January nor did she go to collect her pay.

Checks on evidence of life found no trace of his life after January 8.

“Searches established that the deceased did not travel from Australia on an Australian passport, was not registered with Medicare or the Australian Taxation Office, did not have a driving license in any Australian state or territory, was not located via reference to unidentified bodies or human remains, is not registered as a nurse, is not registered as a voter and is not registered with Centrelink,” Judge Adamson said.

Dawson’s defense was based on alleged sightings of Ms Simms after she disappeared: in an orchard along the Central Coast road, outside Gladesville Hospital and at Rockdale Private Hospital.

The Court of Criminal Appeal found that Judge Ian Harrison, who found Dawson guilty and sentenced him to 24 years in prison, did not err in finding that Mrs Simms was not alive after January 9, 1982.

The Court of Criminal Appeal also rejected suggestions that Ms Simms may have died by suicide after leaving the family home.

“If she had done so, it was inevitable that her body would have been found and that there would have been some indication of the act,” Judge Adamson said, noting that Ms Simms had no history of mental illness and had already “weathered”. Storm” when Dawson left her just before Christmas 1981.

“COMPLETELY WITHOUT CREDIBILITY”

The Court of Criminal Appeal found that “Mr Dawson’s version of events should be rejected as entirely incredible”.

Judge Adamson described him as a liar and was shown to be “wholly lacking in credibility both in relation to direct lies and half-truths, of which there is a litany in the evidence”.

She noted that after leaving Mrs Simms, he telephoned her on Christmas morning, telling her he would be home by Boxing Day.

But she said: “He was probably already at Paul and Marilyn’s house, intending to skip the Dawson family Christmas dinner and spend the day with JC in Paul and Marilyn’s bed.”

Then, on New Year’s Eve, he told his wife and children he couldn’t spend the evening with them because he was going to a party on the yacht, but then drove to Manly with JC in his car.

“When (Lynette) asked if she and the children could watch the boat from the shore, she said, ‘no,’” Judge Adamson said.

“Upon returning home on New Year’s Day, he told (Lynette) that he had been ‘seasick all night’.”

CREDIT CARDS

A central point of Dawson’s appeal was that the evidence had been lost over time, which had put him at a “forensic disadvantage” during the trial as he tried to prove that Mrs Simms was alive after January 9, 1982.

Dawson claimed to have received bank statements showing that Mrs Simms had made purchases from Katies on 12 January 1982 and from Just Jeans on 26 or 27 January.

At the same time, Dawson went to Mona Vale police on Feb. 18 to report a person missing.

Judge Adamson noted that Dawson “was well aware of the potential significance” of the bank records and, as a joint account holder, had access to the records at the time.

“His failure to keep records which he identified at the time as important cannot adequately be characterized as a consequence of the delay,” Justice Adamson found.

And now for Chris Dawson?

Dawson did not appear in court on Thursday afternoon as perhaps his last hope of being released from prison was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Now his only option would be to take the case to the High Court.

But even then the court will face a high hurdle to even allow his appeal to be heard.

He will turn 76 next month.

And following his conviction for carnal knowledge, the District Court was told in September last year that he had been diagnosed with early stage dementia and mild cognitive impairment.

After being convicted of having an unlawful sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student, he was sentenced by District Court Judge Sarah Huggett to three years in prison and had a year of probation added.

His non-parole period will expire in August 2041, when he will be 93.

New “no body, no parole” laws passed by the NSW parliament in 2022 – dubbed “Lyn’s Law” – mean Dawson will not be released on parole until he reveals where Ms Simms is buried.

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