The mounds of earth were carefully inspected by the bucket-load. Officers delved into the dark brown dirt with gloved hands, while drilling machinery, pickaxes and shovels were used to ensure no stone was left unturned.
The police were on a mission to find remains – human remains – or any kind of clue that might finally lead to them solving a baffling 36-year mystery. On Jan. 9, 1982, Lynette Dawson, a 33-year-old wife and mother of two little girls, went missing and she has never been seen since.
Her family who were shocked by Lyn’s disappearance have since come to believe she was murdered, and suspicion about her final resting place has long hung over the $2.4 million home on Sydney’s northern beaches that she formerly shared with her husband – and suspect in the case – Chris Dawson.
That house became a hive of activity on Sept. 12 as police moved in to commence a fresh search. The dig – the second at the property, which now has new owners – came after an Australian podcast, The Teacher’s Pet, sparked renewed public and media interest in the nearly four-decade-old case.
Chris has steadfastly maintained his innocence, saying that his wife and the mother of his children, Shanelle, then 4, and Sherryn, 2, simply ran away.
But the evidence increasingly seems to point to foul play and two inquests into Lyn’s disappearance have cited she was killed by a “known person” – most likely her husband.
He has never been charged due to a lack of evidence and, most notably, the lack of a body. But according to Detective Superintendent Scott Cook, Commander of the NSW Homicide Squad, a possible conviction doesn’t depend on a body being found at the Bayview home.
“We’re here for approximately five days, we anticipate – perhaps more, depending on weather. We’re searching a number of areas around the property,” he told media as the forensic teams moved in.
After six days of searching, five skips had been filled with excavated material from around Lyn’s former home and a tow truck was brought in to remove them.
“I’m just hopeful there will be some resolve for the family,” Michelle Walsh a former student of Chris, who was a PE teacher at the local Cromer High School, told WHO.
It was at this school where the story of The Teacher’s Pet begins. Chris, a former rugby league player who was described as a “rock star” by former students, had a fondness for 16-year-old Joanne Curtis.
The pair were soon having sex and other students remember how Joanne would often be found sitting on Dawson’s lap in his office.
It was around Christmas 1981 that things came to a head. Chris had become infatuated with Joanne and, in evidence she later gave to police, she says he had put down a deposit on a flat for them in nearby Manly. He was thinking about leaving his wife.
Weeks later, Lyn disappeared. Strangely, she didn’t take anything with her and, most important, say her family and friends, she left her two much-adored children behind.
Lyn’s disappearance remained a missing persons case and even when the evidence stacking up was sufficient for two coronial inquests to suggest Lyn had been killed, Chris was never charged.
Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, told the ABC that the evidence simply wasn’t strong enough.
“Without a body, without knowing first of all whether, in fact, she is dead, without knowing, secondly, if she is dead, how she died, it’s very hard to mount a case of a reasonable prospect of conviction just on motive and the undefined existence of means and opportunity. That makes it very weak,” he said.
However, with the raft of new evidence and witnesses coming forward in following the renewed media attention, the office of the director of public prosecutions (ODPP) is now reviewing the case.
Read the full article in this week's issue of WHO, on sale now.