More than 40 years after her disappearance, a Sydney court heard how Lynette Dawson described her last months of life.
Scribbled in diaries for a decade, the thoughts of Helen Simms reveal a seemingly dark tumult that engulfed 2 Gilwinga Drive, Bayview in the spring and summer of 1981.
In the coming months, Ms Simms’ daughter, Lynette Dawson, would disappear from her home on Sydney’s northern beaches, which she shared with her husband Chris Dawson.
Mr. Dawson, now 73, is on trial at the New South Wales High Court, where he has pleaded not guilty to murdering Lynette and disposing of her body.
Lynette was last seen on January 9, 1982; according to Mr. Dawson, he dropped her off at a Mona Vale bus stop before she fled, leaving her two beloved children behind.
Mrs. Dawson’s body has never been found, nor has her friends and family been contacted.
According to Mr. Dawson, he called her several times shortly after she disappeared.
Mr Dawson’s trial with only one judge heard during its opening week that the former teacher and star rugby league player says he received a phone call during his shift at Northbridge Baths on the day she disappeared.
His defense attorney, Pauline David, told the court that during that call, Ms. Dawson told her husband that she would not meet him at the pool, as planned, and that she would not be coming home.
The call left him “shocked” and he broke the news back to Helen Simms, who was there that day.
Documents and evidence presented at Mr. Dawson’s trial reveal claims of an unhappy domestic life in the period leading up to Ms. Dawson’s disappearance.
The court heard JC, a then-teenager who started out as Mr Dawson’s student at a Sydney high school where he taught, became the family’s nanny before moving to Gilwinga Drive following Ms Dawson’s disappearance.
The crown prosecution has alleged that it was Mr Dawson’s desire to have “unrestricted access” to JC, whom he later married, that led him to kill Mrs Dawson.
However, Mr. Dawson says that although he “failed” Ms. Dawson, he had no reason to kill her and there was evidence that she was alive after her last known sighting.
Helen Simms was a prolific writer.
The mother of four children, including her youngest daughter, Lynette, scribbled her thoughts daily in journals and throughout her life kept in touch with friends and family through letters.
Some of those diaries, which were presented at Dawson’s trial, reveal that she described 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 “didn’t sleep all night” because she was upset about Lynette and Chris.
Her diary entry four days later read: “Lyn phoned…for over an hour. Upset things in her home! Disturbing my sleep by worrying.”
She ended with the thought, “(Her husband) Len said (JC) should go!”
At that stage, the court heard this week that JC had moved into the Dawson family home as a nanny while she completed her HSC.
JC had endured a violent and abusive family life, the court has heard, and moved in with the Dawsons so he could focus on his final months of Year 12.
But JC told Judge Ian Harrison that one night she and Chris Dawson had sex after Lynette Dawson had gone to sleep.
By December 1981, the last embers of the Dawsons were dying.
HIGH SCHOOL LOVE
Never-before-seen photos from a Simms family album seen in court this week show Lynette and Chris Dawson as a perfect match.
They were high school sweethearts and met when Chris was attending Sydney Boys High School and Lynette was at Sydney Girls High School.
They married at age 21 in March 1970 and had two children.
Throughout the 1970s, Chris played in professional rugby league for the Newtown Jets and later in the country of New South Wales.
He held various part-time jobs during the early years of his marriage, including as a part-time model, fitness instructor, and on a garbage truck.
In 1979, he began work as a physical education teacher at a secondary school in Sydney, where JC began teaching in 1980.
It is there that his family life changed forever.
In one of Helen Simms’ diary entries from 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 27-year veteran former police officer, told the court of a similar incident at his parents’ family home in August 1981.
“My mother was in the kitchen (working) on the stove, which was very close to the defendant,” Simms said.
“There were no words for a while, then out of the blue (Mr. Dawson) turned to my mother and just said, ‘look at my two dear little girls.’”
According to Mr. Simms, her mother turned and said, “What about your dear big girl?” as he pointed to Lynette on the terrace.
Simms said Dawson replied, “She can get in the damn kitchen where she belongs.”
PETAL AND GOD
In 1980, Mr. Dawson began teaching JC at a secondary school in Sydney as a year 11 when he was only 16 years old.
“He had told me that he had seen me on the playground the year before when he was 15 and decided he would like to get to know me better because he found me attractive,” JC told the court this week.
When asked about his interactions with Mr. Dawson in the schoolyard in the early 1980s, JC described it this week as “the preparation stages.”
She told the court that he would “brush up” on her, once at a sports carnival putting his hand on her leg and often leaving notes and love letters in her school bag.
In a Christmas card dated 1980, Mr. Dawson wrote to JC: “Merry Christmas. Once or twice every minute. Always love, God.”
JC told the court that she signed as “God” because she was 16 years old and wanted to hide her identity.
On her 17th birthday, in February 1981, he left her a card in which he promised: “we will share all the birthdays that follow”.
In another, he referred to her as “petal,” his nickname for her.
Mrs. David told JC that by the late 1980s, Mr. Dawson had developed a “genuine affection” for JC.
But when Mrs. David suggested that Mr. Dawson’s interest was not sexual in nature, she refuted, “It absolutely was.”
“It was in the late 1980s that the relationship turned into a romantic relationship,” Ms. David asked.
“It was not 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 took JC, who was wearing his school uniform, to a building somewhere south of the Harbor Bridge.
She was not familiar with the area and could not describe the building.
She said that she waited in the car while Mr. Dawson got in for 15 to 20 minutes.
“When Mr. Dawson got back in the car, what if anything did he say to you?” Crown Prosecutor Craig Everson asked.
“I think I asked him what it was about, because it doesn’t seem like we did 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 they would kill innocent people, they might get hurt.'”
Dawson’s defense has said there is “not a grain of truth” in the allegation that he ever tried to hire someone to kill Lynette Dawson.
In a statement to police in 1990, JC said that Mr. Dawson had made the “hitman” confession to him several weeks after visiting the building.
She told the court this week that she had been wrong about the timing and later corrected her statement.
“LYN IS GONE”
JC moved into the Dawsons’ home in October 1981 as a live-in nanny and described how Lynette was initially warm and welcoming to her, such 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 moved out of the Dawsons’ house and went to live with Mr. Dawson’s brother who lived 500 meters up the street while she finished school.
Then, just a few days before Christmas that year, Mr. Dawson and JC put their belongings in bin bags and stacked them in the back of their car and set off for Queensland with the intention of starting a new life, he heard. the court.
The court heard that he left a note for Lynette which read: “Don’t paint too dark a picture of me for the girls.”
But before crossing the state line, JC, who was 17 at the time, fell ill, said he missed his family and demanded that he turn around.
They returned to Sydney, Chris with his family and JC with his 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 he would call Mr. Dawson every day, at his request.
She said she was there for about a week and a half and during a phone call, Mr. Dawson told her, “Lyn’s gone, she’s not coming back. She comes back to Sydney to help me take care of the children”.
Lynette Dawson disappeared on January 9, 1982.
JC said that Mr. Dawson drove to South West Rocks around January 10 or 11 and took her back to Sydney, where she moved to Gilwinga Drive.
He slept in what was Lynette’s old bed and noted that many of Mrs. Dawson’s clothes and jewelry were still in the closet.
Mr. Dawson went to the Mona Vale Police Station on February 19, 1982 to report his wife missing.
“The missing person has contacted her husband on a number of occasions to say she wants more time to think about returning home,” a missing person’s report at the time said.
“Information that she may be with some religious organization on the North Shore.”
On March 27, 1982, on what would have been their 12th wedding anniversary, Mr. Dawson placed an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph.
“Lyn, I love you, we all miss you. Please call me. We want you home, Chris.
The trial before Judge Harrison is expected to last six weeks.
Originally published as Teacher’s Trial: Inside the Last Months of Lynette Dawson’s Life