More than 40 years after her disappearance, a Sydney court heard how Lynette Dawson described her last months alive.
Scribbled in ten-year-old journals, Helen Simms’ thoughts reveal a seemingly dark tumult that engulfed 2 Gilwinga Drive, Bayview in the spring and summer of 1981.
Over the next few months, Mrs Simms’ daughter, Lynette Dawson, would go missing from her home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, which she shared with her husband Chris Dawson.
Mr Dawson, now 73, is on trial before the NSW Supreme Court, where he pleaded not guilty to the murder of Lynette and the disposal of her body.
Lynette was last seen on January 9, 1982 – according to Dawson, he dropped her off at a bus stop in Mona Vale before she fled, leaving behind her two beloved children.
Mrs Dawson’s body was never found and she never contacted her friends and family.
According to Dawson, he called her several times shortly after her disappearance.
During Dawson’s opening week, he learned that the former rugby league teacher and star said he received a phone call while on duty at the Northbridge Baths the day she disappeared.
His attorney Pauline David told the court that during that phone call, Mrs. Dawson had told her husband that she would not meet him by the pool, as planned, and would not return home.
The phone call left him “shocked” and he went back to break the news to Helen Simms, who was there that day.
Documents and evidence filed in Mr Dawson’s trial reveal allegations of an unhappy home life leading up to Mrs Dawson’s disappearance.
The court has heard of JC – a then-teenager who started out as Mr Dawson’s student at a Sydney high school where he taught, became the family’s live-in nanny before moving to Gilwinga Drive following Mrs Dawson’s disappearance.
The Crown Prosecutor claimed it was Mr Dawson’s desire to have “free access” to JC – whom he later married – that prompted him to kill Ms Dawson.
But Mr Dawson says that although he “failed” Mrs Dawson, he had no reason to kill her and there was evidence that she was still alive after her last known sighting.
Helen Simms was a prolific writer.
The mother of four, including her youngest child Lynette, wrote her thoughts daily in journals and kept in touch with friends and family through letters throughout her life.
Some of those diaries, filed during Mr Dawson’s trial, reveal to her that she describes what she said was concern for her daughter’s family life in the latter stages of 1981.
“Lyn upset + depressed,” she wrote on a rainy Sunday in November 1981, adding that she “hadn’t slept all night” because she was upset about Lynette and Chris.
Four days later, her diary entry read: “Lyn called for over an hour. Upset things in their household! Making my sleep disturbing.”
She ended with the thought, “(Her husband) Len said (JC) has to go!!”
By this time, the court heard this week, JC had moved into the Dawson family’s home as a babysitter while she was completing her HSC.
Having endured a violent and violent family life, the court heard, JC moved in with the Dawsons so she could focus on her final months of Year 12.
But JC told Justice Ian Harrison that she and Chris Dawson would have sex at night after Lynette Dawson went to sleep.
In December 1981, the last embers of the Dawson marriage died.
HIGH SCHOOL LOVERS
Never-before-seen photos from a Simms family album seen in court this week show Lynette and Chris Dawson as a perfect couple.
They were lovers in high school and met when Chris attended Sydney Boys High School and Lynette attended Sydney Girls High School.
They married in March 1970 at the age of 21 and had two children.
Throughout the 1970s Chris played professional rugby league for the Newtown Jets and later in the country NSW.
He held several part-time jobs during the early years of their marriage, including as a part-time model, fitness instructor, and on a garbage truck.
In 1979 he started working as a physical education teacher at a secondary school in Sydney, where he started teaching JC in 1980.
It is there that his family life has changed forever.
In one of Helen Simms’s diary entries dated December 6, 1981, she describes an alleged conversation with Chris.
The entry reads: “Chris said again ‘I just want to take care of my 2 little girls!’ I said, ‘what about Lyn?’ He said, ‘She’s in the kitchen where she belongs’!!”
IN THE KITCHEN
On the witness stand this week, Lynette’s older brother Greg Simms – a former veteran police officer of 27 – told the court a similar incident at the family home in August 1981.
“My mother was in the kitchen working on the stove, which was very close to the suspect,” Mr Simms said.
“No words were said for a while then Mr Dawson suddenly turned to my mother and just said ‘look at my two sweet little girls’.”
According to Mr. Simms, his mother turned and said, “And your sweet big girl” as he gestured to Lynette on the porch.
Mr Simms said Mr Dawson replied, “She can get into the damn kitchen where she belongs.”
PETAL AND GOD
In 1980, Mr. Dawson JC at a Sydney secondary school while in Year 11 when she was only 16 years old.
“He had told me he saw me on the playground the year before when I was 15 and decided he wanted to get to know me better because I was attractive to him,” JC told the court this week.
Asked about her interactions with Mr. Dawson in the schoolyard in the early 1980s, JC this week described it as “the grooming phases.”
She has told the court he would “brush up” on her, once at a sports carnival, he put his hand on her leg and often left notes and love letters in her school bag.
In a 1980 Christmas card, Mr Dawson wrote to JC: “Happy Christmas. Once or twice a minute. Love always, God.”
JC told the court that he signed off as “God” because she was 16 years old and he wanted to disguise his identity.
On her 17th birthday in February 1981, he left her a card with the promise: “we will share all the birthdays that follow”.
On another, he called her “petal,” his nickname for her.
Mrs. David told JC that Mr. Dawson had developed a “genuine affection” for JC in the late 1980’s.
But when Ms David suggested that Mr Dawson’s interest was not of a sexual nature, she refuted, “It absolutely was.”
“It was towards the end of 1980 that the relationship became a romantic one,” Ms David asked.
“It wasn’t a relationship and the sexual abuse started in the middle of the year,” JC replied.
JC has told the court that on one occasion in 1981, Mr Dawson drove JC, wearing her school uniform, to a building somewhere south of the Harbor Bridge.
She was unfamiliar with the area and unable to describe the building.
She stated that she waited in the car while Mr. Dawson went inside for 15 to 20 minutes.
“When Mr. Dawson returned to the car, what if he said something to you?” Crown Prosecutor Craig Everson asked.
“I think I asked him what that was about because it seems we didn’t do anything,” JC told the court.
“He said, ‘I went in to have a hit man kill Lyn, but then I decided I couldn’t do it because innocent people would be killed, could be injured’.”
Mr Dawson’s defense has said there is no “glimmer of truth” in the claim that he ever tried to hire someone to kill Lynette Dawson.
In a statement to police in 1990, JC said Mr Dawson made a confession to her several weeks after they visited the building.
She told the court this week that she had made a mistake in the timing and then corrected her statement.
“LYN IS GONE”
JC moved into Dawson’s home in October 1981 as a live-in babysitter, describing how Lynette was initially warm and welcoming to her, that was her nature.
But in November, JC told the court she was confronted by Lynette, who accused her of taking “liberties” with her husband.
JC left Dawson’s house and went in with Mr. Dawson’s brother, who lived 500 meters away while she finished school.
Then, just a few days before Christmas of that year, Mr Dawson and JC packed their belongings into garbage bags and piled them in the back of his car and left for Queensland with the intention of starting a new life, the court heard.
The court heard that he left a note for Lynette saying, “Don’t paint a too dark picture of me for the girls.”
But before crossing the state line, JC – who was then 17 years old – fell ill, said she missed her family and demanded that he turn around.
They returned to Sydney, Chris to his family and JC to her family on Boxing Day.
In the new year, JC traveled to South West Rocks on the NSW Mid North Coast for a holiday with family and friends.
There she called Mr. Dawson every day, at his request.
She said she was there for about a week and a half and on a phone call Mr. Dawson told her, ‘Lyn’s gone, she’s not coming back. Come back to Sydney and help me take care of the kids.”
Lynette Dawson disappeared on January 9, 1982.
JC said Mr Dawson drove to South West Rocks on or about January 10 or 11 and drove her back to Sydney where she moved to Gilwinga Drive.
She slept in what was Lynette’s former bed and saw that many of Mrs. Dawson’s clothes and jewelry were still in the closet.
Dawson went to the Mona Vale Police Station on February 19, 1982 to report his wife missing.
“The missing person has contacted her husband several times to say she wants more time to think about returning home,” a missing person report said at the time.
“Information that she may be with a religious organization on the north coast.”
On 27 March 1982 – on what would have been his 12th wedding anniversary – Mr Dawson placed an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph.
“Lyn, I love you, we all miss you. Please call. We want you to go home, Chris.’
The trial before Judge Harrison is expected to last six weeks.