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Rebecca Hazel’s book on the crimes and aftermath of Chris Dawson has been more than 10 years in the making. The Schoolgirl, Her Teacher and His Wife was due to be published in late 2018, only to be halted suddenly when Dawson was charged with the 1982 murder of his wife Lynette. Dawson was found guilty by a judge in the NSW Supreme Court last year and is now serving a 24 year prison sentence.

The case needs no further introduction, thanks to the storming success of The Teacher’s Pet podcast, which was downloaded hundreds of millions of times across the world (about 120,000 people subsequently tuned in for the live-stream of Dawson’s sentence).

Hazel collaborated with Thomas for parts of the podcast series, providing the episodes with research and insight into the other of Dawson’s victims: JC, the schoolgirl he moved into his home in the day’s following Lynette’s disappearance and eventually married. Hazel and JC met in 2007 when both were working at a women’s refuge on the Northern Beaches. “It’s my life”, she tells Hazel in their first discussion about the years she spent with Dawson and the endless speculation about his involvement in Lynette’s disappearance, “it will never go away.” In an early stage of the book, Hazel recounts when she nervously told JC (by that time her former colleague) that she wanted to write a book on the case. JC, a woman whose resilience amazes Hazel countless times over, wholeheartedly supported the project.

The book is a crisp procedural with beautiful descriptive flourishes, such as when JC and Hazel visit Gilwinga Drive, the street Dawson lived with Lynette and later JC, and the place which was the scene of a high-profile search for Lynette’s remains.

Hazel is a lawyer and brings plenty of expertise and sophisticated to her analysis of the legal twists and turns of Dawson’s case. For years – until Dawson’s arrest – family, friends and even some police had expressed disappointment at the dragging investigation into what had happened to Lynette. At the same time, JC – the student and then the wife of Dawson – had escaped her marriage and rebuilt her life, together with her daughter. Dawson’s eventual arrest for the carnal knowledge committed against her forms a postscript at the book’s end, noting that he was found guilty in June 2023.

The relationships formed by Hazel with JC, members of Lynette’s family, the senior police officer who inherited a flimsy case file yet remained determined to do the missing mother justice, and the journalist behind the podcast, Hedley Thomas, form the bedrock of this richly researched work. Both those who closely listened to the podcast, as well as the rare few who know little about the crimes and trials of Chris Dawson, will find great interest in Hazel’s considered and nuanced construction.