Real Life

How Joanne Curtis Became Chris Dawson's 'Teacher's Pet'

The teacher-student relationship is at the centre of the 36-year-old disappearance case.

By: Jess Pullar

The disappearance of Lyn Dawson was a case that gripped Australia, and the relationship between her husband Chris Dawson and his 16-year-old schoolgirl lover Joanne Curtis is at the centre of the mystery.

Now, 36-years on, the answers are unravelling.

Renewed interest in the case has flared up due to a new podcast called The Teacher's Pet - a deep dive into the unsolved mystery.

The Teacher's Pet podcast, hosted by Hedley Thomas, unravels some of the most intriguing details from the 36-year-old case.

The podcast itself has generated so much interest that it's now one of the most popular true-crime podcasts ever produced.

A Current Affair tracked down Joanne and tried to speak with her about the case. Some of Joanne's schoolmates were also interviewed, telling ACA they believe she was groomed by Dawson.

A Current Affair tracked down Joanne Curtis, who was 16-years-old when she moved into the home of Chris Dawson after Lyn disappeared.

We're hungry for more clarity on the disappearance, but before that, we've taken a step back to investigate the intriguing relationship between Chris and Joanne.

How did Chis and Joanne’s relationship start?

Chris was a sports teacher at Sydney's Cromer High School. It was here that he singled out one of his Year 11 students, Joanne Curtis, for special attention. The 16-year-old had a troubled life at her home in Dee Why.

Her tough life made Joanne vulnerable, but as her teacher, Chris was a protective presence for the young schoolgirl. Curtis became a babysitter for Chris and Lyn's two children, meaning the pair were often in close quarters, and it was around this time that they entered into a sexual relationship.

Schoolmates of Joanne's have recently spoken to media about Chris's inappropriate relationships with students. One student, Michelle Walsh, told A Current Affair that Chris had also groomed her.

"I feel that I had definitely been put in a position when I looked at how I felt about him, how comfortable I was in his company," she said.

Sydney in 1980, around the time when Chris and Joanne first met at Sydney's Cromer High School.

How did Chris and Joanne's relationship tie in with Lyn’s disappearance?

Two days after the disappearance of Lyn in 1982, Chris moved Joanne into their family home. It is believed that Joanne slept in his bed and would wear Lyn's clothing. What's more, Chris didn't alert authorities to his wife's disappearance for nearly six weeks.

Living in the home, Joanne acted as a mother figure to the former married couple's children, and in January 1984, Joanne and Chris married.

Joanne and Chris married and had a child together in the 1980s.

What became of the relationship between Chris and Joanne?

After marrying, the pair moved to Queensland together and had a daughter, making them a family of five. The pair split up in the late 1980s, and it was then that Joanne decided to give a formal statement to the authorities about Lyn's disappearance. The Teacher's Pet podcast discusses her statement, where Joanne reportedly said: "Maybe that [Chris murdering his wife] was always in the back of my mind..."

Joanne also said in her statement to police: "All I know was she'd gone, he said right from the word go she wasn't coming back."

Chris had a third child with Joanne. He and Lyn had two older daughters.

Whether she knew anything or not, there's plenty of suspicion around the close relationship between the former teacher and student. Podcast host Hedley Thomas told Mamamia that he has "no doubt that Joanne in her tender years was a victim of manipulation and grooming."

What do Chris and Lyn’s daughters think about it all?

Both daughters, Shanelle and Sherryn, have been reluctant to speak with media – until now. Shanelle, who was four-years-old at the time, spoke to 60 Minutes about the disappearance and how it left her feeling abandoned and confused for a long time.

And guilty or not guilty, Shanelle doesn't appear to hold a grudge against her dad.

"I would say he's got a side to him that's a lot like a loveable, adorable puppy dog," she told 60 Minutes.

"There is huge conflict in that. Especially people who are quite angry, and rightfully so, wanting answers about my mum. Yet there's still that part of me that really loves my dad, and feels protective of him."

In the interview, Shanelle was unable to give a straight answer as to whether she believes her father to be guilty.

Lyn Dawson with baby Sherryn. Source: Facebook.

Sherryn has been slightly more vocal about her stance. Speaking to the Gold Coast Bulletin in June, she likened the investigation to a "witch hunt" on her dad.

"My dad's getting hounded because there's all these people that have got it in for him," she said.

"Rather than focusing on perhaps that there could be someone else."

Whether Chris is guilty or not, there's still plenty of information yet to be revealed in this intriguing case. Stay tuned for more developments.

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