On Christmas Day in 1981, Chris Dawson handed his teenage babysitter a card with three letters printed on the envelope.
While the letters are seemingly insignificant, the card given to the young girl by the former Newtown Jets forward played a key role as Dawson was this week sensationally found guilty of murdering his wife Lynette.
The girl – who can only be known as JC – was central to the case.
Justice Ian Harrison, who oversaw the marathon trial, found Dawson’s “infatuation and obsession” with his former student led him to murder his wife in January 1982.
Chris Dawson is spending his first weekend in Silverwater prison as a convicted killer and is said to be “very, very sad” and scared after receiving death threats from fellow inmates.
The verdict marked the conclusion of a mystery that has hung over Sydney’s northern beaches and can be traced back to a series of love letters slipped into the schoolbag of a vulnerable young girl over four decades ago.
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THE TEACHER, HIS WIFE AND THE BABYSITTER
In early 1980, Dawson began teaching a year 11 physical education class in which JC was a student.
She told the court that he would “brush up” against her and left notes and love letters in her school bag – which he had purchased for her – while she was in class.
One was addressed to “Petal”.
Another, dated Christmas 1980, read: “Happy Christmas. Once or twice every minute. Love always. God.”
Asked why Mr Dawson had signed the card as “God”, JC said: “He wanted to disguise who he was because it was 1980 and I was 16 and that’s what he called himself.”
On her 17th birthday, he gave her a card addressed to “To my lovely, beautiful bub.”
“Hoping today is a very happy one + knowing we will share all the birthdays to follow. All my love, forever. XXX,” Dawson wrote.
“To my lovely, beautiful (JC). The happiness your love gives me will be with me forever,” he wrote on Valentine’s Day in 1981.
Then in Christmas 1981, he gave JC a Christmas card with the initials “J.M.D.” on the front.
Instead of writing “C” to signify her last name, he wrote “D” for Dawson.
“All my love on our first real Christmas together,” Dawson wrote in the card.
“Knowing I’ll love you more each day, wishing only for your happiness forever. Chris XXX. 25.12.81.”
He referred to her as JD, despite the fact he was still married to Lynette, who would two weeks later be dead.
It was used by Harrison to demonstrate that Dawson lied during his one and only police interview.
At Beenleigh Police Station in Queensland in 1991, he told NSW detectives that in early 1982 – around the time JC left for a holiday up the NSW Mid North Coast – that he had broken off his relationship with JC.
“As far as we were both concerned, our relationship had finished,” Dawson told officers.
However, Justice Harrison found that was one of many lies to deflect attention from the fact he had murdered his wife.
He said the suggestion he and JC were in early January “finished” was “entirely inconsistent with the ‘J.M.D.’ card he gave JC professing his love for her roughly two weeks beforehand.”
In his extensive judgment, which spans 117 pages and is over 99,000 words long, Justice Ian Harrison found that the cards “bespeak, even at that relatively early stage, an infatuation of significant strength.”
“Mr Dawson was becoming confronted with the stark reality that he could not remain married yet still maintain his ever more intense relationship with JC,” Justice Harrison said.
During her evidence, JC also told the court of her troubled home life which was marked by violence, due to her alcoholic mother and stepfather, and in October 1981 she was forced to move out.
She took up Chris Dawson’s offer of a place to stay at his Bayview home because she did not want to move back in with her father who lived at Blakehurst, as she was just about to complete her HSC and did not want to move schools.
“Mr Dawson offered her friendship, stability and guidance as a well-respected and charismatic male figure of a kind that had been lacking in her life,” Justice Harrison found.
During her stay at the Dawson home, she would walk around the family pool topless and in a G-string.
When she attended her school formal in October that year, Dawson went as her date.
But she was forced to move out of 2 Gilwinga Drive after a confrontation with Lynette Dawson.
DISTRESSED, FRUSTRATED AND TORTURED
She then moved in with Chris’ brother, who lived a few doors up.
But just a few days before Christmas in 1981 – she piled all her belongings into plastic garbage bags which they put in the back of Dawson’s car and they set out to start a new life in Queensland.
He left a note for Lynette saying: “Don’t paint too dark a picture of me to the girls.”
But before they could cross over the state border, JC – who was 17 years old at the time – got sick, said she missed her family and demanded he turn around.
They arrived back in Sydney on Christmas Day – but instead of returning home to be with his wife and two daughters, he spent the day with JC hiding out at his brother Paul’s house.
Meanwhile, Lynette and her two daughters went to Chris’ parent’s house for Christmas family celebrations.
Early in the new year, JC travelled to South West Rocks where she holidayed with friends and family.
Around this time, JC told the court, she told Dawson she wanted to end their relationship.
While in South West Rocks, at Dawson’s request, JC telephoned him every day from a public phone.
It was during one of these calls that he told her: “Lyn’s gone. She’s not coming back. Come back to Sydney and help me look after the children and be with me”.
Dawson arrived at dawn and drove her back to Sydney where she began living at 2 Gilwinga Drive again, three days after Lynette went missing.
Lynette Dawson’s niece Renee Simms says there are “no real winners” after former schoolteacher Chris Dawson was found guilty of murder. Mr Dawson was found guilty of murdering Ms Dawson, who disappeared in January 1982, after a 10-week trial. “I think even 24 hours on we’re still sort of coming around to the idea it was a guilty verdict,” he told Sky News host Chris Smith. “It was a complete shock to us yesterday and I’m still not sure it’s completely sunk in.”
Justice Harrison found that while in South West Rocks, JC was beyond Dawson’s “emotional influence” and with other young people.
“Mr Dawson was in Sydney, hundreds of kilometres from JC, with no knowledge of what she was doing or with whom, while he remained shackled to a wife that he had only days before shown himself to be more than enthusiastic to leave,” Justice Harrison found.
“I am satisfied that the prospect that he would lose JC so distressed, frustrated and ultimately overwhelmed him that, tortured by her absence up north, Mr Dawson resolved to kill his wife.”
JC and Chris Dawson married in 1984, but separated about six years later, when she made her first statement to police about Lynette’s disappearance.
Dawson will return to court in November for a sentence hearing, during which both the prosecution and his defence will make submissions, before he is sentenced at a later date.