Chris Dawson, aged 73, is on trial for his life.
He is alleged to have killed his wife Lyn more than 40 years ago.
If convicted Dawson will die in jail.
As most of Australia is aware, this prosecution has been spurred by journalist Hedley Thomas’s hugely popular podcast series The Teachers Pet, in which Thomas basically alleged that Dawson knocked off his missus so that he could move his 16-year-old mistress and pupil Joanne Curtis into the family home, and make her his wife instead.
It’s a great story, but one lacks a rather important thing.
There is no body, there are no eye witnesses, and their no admissions made by Dawson.
The only things that are known beyond any reasonable doubt are that the Dawson marriage was unhappy, that he was having an affair with Curtis, that his wife disappeared, and that Dawson moved his teenage lover into the house a week after Lyn was last seen.
It makes for a compelling narrative, and the circumstances are cause for suspicion, but there are clearly other reasonable possibilities that might explain Lyn Dawson’s disappearance, the most obvious of them being that depressed and disturbed about her husband’s lack of love for her and his philandering, a distraught Mrs Dawson simply drove up to the Gap or somewhere similar, and jumped off.
Death by suicide.
It is equally as likely a possibility as that of Dawson – a man with no criminal history or convictions, who other than the allegations Thomas has made against him, has led a blameless life – having killed, or arranged for the killing, of his wife.
Nevertheless, Chris Dawson is now on trial charged with murder, in a case that has captivated the attention of the nation, and indeed many people around the world, all of whom are desperately seeking to learn the truth.
There is a major impediment to that however.
News Limited’s main reporter on the trial is The Australian newspaper’s Nation Crime Correspondent David Murray.
David Murray is Hedley Thomas’s brother-in-law.
The pair have a very close relationship, both personally and professionally.
Notwithstanding the presumption of Murray’s professional objectivity, the conflict of interest is patently clear, and obvious for all to see.
Would Murray risk torching his relationship with Thomas by conducting a deeply critical analysis of the thesis of his friend and brother-in-law that has brought him fame, fortune and global acclaim? An approach that may leave Thomas exposed to financially devastating legal action by Dawson for essentially ruining his life by casting him as a killer, and landing him in this mess?
Perhaps, but it seems unlikely.
Which means that you have to take everything that Murray writes about this trial with a huge grain of salt, a basketball sized lump of it.
So let’s have a look at day one in the trial, in which the Crown Prosecutor Craig Everson SC gave an overview of the case against Dawson.
Everson SC said that a witness named Robert Silkman would give evidence that in October 1975 Chris Dawson had approached him on the return flight home to Sydney from a Newtown Jets rugby league team end of year season trip to the Gold Coast, and asked him if he knew someone who could get rid of his wife.
David Murray’s headline in The Australian reporting on the claim was Chris Dawson sought hit man to ‘get rid of his wife’.
That is not what the prosecutor said at all.
There was no mention made of a hit man, that is simply an invention by Murray, an untruth that has now been repeated around the world.
What the prosecutor actually said was that Dawson’s former-16-year old lover later turned ex-wife Joanne Curtis would give evidence that in late 1981 Dawson told her that he had contemplated hiring a hit man to get rid of his wife, but had decided against it because innocent people would get hurt.
There is a six-year gap between the two alleged incidents, but Murray – for reasons known only to himself – has conflated them into one, and a host of other news media have reported his mis-reporting as fact.
So we kick off with a great lie, in a News Limited coverage of the trial that is bound to be filled with a host of them.
Let’s tell you a little bit about this witness Robert Silkman shall we, for neither Murray nor The Australian nor News Limited ever have.
The first thing that you need to know is that in around September 2018, after The Teacher’s Pet had been broadcast, the NSW Police posted a $200 000 reward for anyone that came forward and gave hitherto unknown information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the disappearance of presumed murder victim Lyn Dawson.
Within 2 months Robert Silkman approached police and made a statement in which he made his highly unbelievable claims that the prosecution are going to use as corroboration of Dawson’s ex-wife’s allegations about events that she says occurred more than a half a decade later.
Let’s pre-empt Silkman’s coming evidence, and take a critical look at the witness and what he is about to say, according to what we already know.
The first obvious question is why Dawson would approach Silkman and ask such a highly incriminating question on a plane flight where there were people – potential witnesses – not only only sitting next to Silkman but all around, in seats to the front, back and sides.
It makes no sense.
Dawson and Silkman had supposedly been on and of year footy trip together at the Gold Coast that would have lasted a week, during which there would have been plenty of time for the accused man to corral the witness 1 on 1 and have a private chat about the matter. Why then would he have done it on a plane?
The six year gap between this alleged conversation and the one that the ex-wife will say she had with Dawson about a hit man is the second issue. It speaks for itself.
Issue number three is that Robert Silkman was indeed a criminal, but not a violent one. He was a fraudster and con-man, a bullshit artist and liar of the one-time Balmain player Wayne Innes’s ilk, not a hard man who knew gunnies.
At least two other of Dawson’s team-mates were though, and a former player who still hun around the club.
Gary Sullivan was a violent armed robber.
Paul Hayward was a heroin trafficker who was in business with both Roger Rogerson and his (Hayward’s) brother-in-law Neddy Smith, both men of whom were men who would will kill you for a dollar or on a whim, and a pair who both ended up in jail for life for murder.
Victor Spink was one of NSW’s biggest drug importers and traffickers, a race fixer with George Freeman (and the man whose intercepted phone calls brought JA Cassidy down), and a leading figure in the Sydney underworld with deep connections to very serious criminals via his involvement in the global shoplifting ring the Kangaroo Gang.
If Dawson really wanted his wife knocked why would he not have approached one of these men on the QR, rather than ask the low-grade con man Silkman about the matter on a crowded plane?
The fourth issue is that as mentioned above, Robert Silkman is a life long conman, one convicted and jailed on multiple occasions for offences of dishonesty, a crim who has been in and out of jail all of his life and boasts a rap sheet dating back to the early 1970’s.
NSW Court List, 1974
We are talking here about a man that that the esteemed NSW Supreme Court Judge Justice Windeyer essentially said in court judgement couldn’t be trusted as far as you could throw him (see picture at top).
That judgement was in relation to a case in the 1990’s in which Silkman had paid a corrupt bank manager $5 000 a pop to approve him fraudulent mortgages and loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars that he never had any intention at all of repaying. One of the mortgages was granted while Silkman was in jail.
Here is the guts of what the Judge said.
The result is that Mr Silkman knowingly embarked on a fraudulent operation, involving a bank manager, for the purpose of obtaining funds which he would perhaps otherwise not have obtained.
(He was) a user of cannabis and not understanding what was happening at the time …. the truth is that Silkman got exactly what he wanted by engaging in fraudulent conduct unknown to the Bank.
Silkman has been released from jail by the time that the judgement was handed down, and had gone straight back to hot working, which leads us to issue number five.
After his release our man Robert the witness struck up a relationship with some poor single mother who had a rare disease that made her teeth fall out. She’d just come out of a violent marriage in which she had copped a beating almost every day of the week, and unsurprisingly suffered from a psychiatric condition called dependant personality disorder, which means that she would do whatever a controlling man who pretended he loved her told her to do.
The woman’s dead dad had left her his house in his will.
Silkman talked her into mortgaging it to fund a claimed business venture. He told her the mortgage would be $60 000, and that he’d pay it off, but he was lying. The mortgage was actually for $170 000, which he bought dope with and punted the rest, the whole lot, never repaying a cent.
The minute the dough was gone Silkman took off, and the woman never saw him again. She would have had to go to jail if she wanted to, for that’s where he landed again for the umpteenth time in his life.
In the year 2001 the first defendant entered into a romantic relationship with a man known as Robert Silkman. While her evidence in the matter did not establish exactly when it was that she first became romantically involved with Mr Silkman, nor when that relationship came to an end, it is apparent that at all relevant times during the transactions which led to the creation of the subject loan and mortgage her affair with Mr Silkman was ongoing.
According to the history the first defendant gave to Dr Klug, psychiatrist, she has lost contact with Silkman and is aware that he had been convicted of criminal offences and was serving time in prison. Accordingly, it is the first defendant’s misfortune to have had both a miserable marriage and then an unfortunate and equally miserable association with a rogue.
So this is Robert Silkman, the crown’s number 2 star witness: a con-man, a liar, a serial jailbird, a love rat, a swindler, a cheat, a rogue, a fraud, and a man whose every uttering a Supreme Court judge said should be treated with considerable care.
Which brings us to the sixth and final issue, the reward.
The career con came forward and made his highly incriminating statement against Chris Dawson just weeks after the reward had become public knowledge, and in the wake of The Teacher’s Pet podcast doubled in value to $200 000.
His claims neatly dovetail with and support those of the crown’s no 1 star witness, the ex-wife Joanne Curtis, who had already spoken about her hit man allegations, as vague and amorphous as they may have been, means that Silkman almost certainly knew of them.
It’s very hard to escape forming a suspicion that Silkman has made the whole thing up in an attempt to get the reward isn’t it? After all, lies and deception are what con-men do, and punt addicts are always desperate for an earn for a bet, and leopards never change their spots.
You’ve never heard any of this from Hedley Thomas or David Murray before have you?
That’s because they are unbiased professional journalists who report nothing but the objective facts, not story tellers purveying tales with a one way slant.
Or at least that’s Robert Silkman would tell you anyway.
I’m not so sure.