Here’s a little something about me:
During my first few years in Richmond I worked two different jobs that dealt directly with domestic violence. In the first job I observed how violence impacted people while I transcribed their first-person accounts of abuse and learned the toll it had taken on their lives. The second job was with a nonprofit that provided free services to people who had been impacted by sexual or domestic violence. These issues are incredibly, deeply important to me, and they are a huge part of why I’m a murderino.
But even with my knowledge and background, The Teacher’s Pet podcast has completely rocked my world and blown my mind. I tuned in last weekend after Karen and Georgia casually mentioned that they were listening to an Australian podcast about a missing woman, and let me say this is the first time I’ve binged a new series in months.
Be warned that this story is gut-wrenching. If you suffered while watching The Keepers, this might be rough for you. But like The Keepers, it’s also about a cold case that demands answers and accountability. The revelations unearthed by this podcast have rocked Australia since May, and now the rest of the world is tuning in.
Lyn Dawson went missing from her home north of Sydney, Australia, 36 years ago, leaving behind her husband Chris and two young daughters. She has never been heard from since, and her body has never been found.
Shortly after Lyn disappeared, the family’s 16-year-old babysitter Joanne Curtis – a student at the school where Chris was a gym teacher – moved into the home. It turns out that Chris had been abusing Lyn while manipulating this teenage girl from a broken home into having a year-long sexual relationship with him. Chris went on to marry Joanne, and he was never charged in Lyn’s disappearance, despite the incredible circumstances. This is all in episode one, by the way.
As the story unfolds we learn that Chris is a classic abuser in every sense: controlling, manipulative, coercive, threatening, physically violent and intimidating. Host of the podcast Hedley Thomas is determined to find out what happened to Lyn, and to uncover why no one came forward to the police when they knew about the abuse and Chris’ affair. In telling Lyn’s story Thomas also exposes the open secrets of Chris’ high school, which turned a blind eye while male teachers preyed on their female students.
That’s what’s so upsetting and maddening about this story: No one helped the police when they had the chance, and the police don’t appear to have made any effort to find Lyn or investigate Chris. There might have even been a cover-up on Chris’ behalf. It’s an incredible abuse of power in every sense.
Hedley Thomas gathers stories from Lyn’s friends and neighbors, old coworkers and relatives, people who knew Chris and Joanne, and people who were involved with the investigations. He’s a deft interviewer, and he patiently extracts detailed accounts from his sources with the utmost professional detachment. He gives Lyn’s friends a platform to express their outrage that she was never found, that her daughters grew up without their mother, that no one was held accountable. Then he asks his most pressing question: Why didn’t you come forward when Lyn disappeared?
Not everyone has a compelling answer. You can hear them squirm, contorting into some interesting verbal gymnastics that deflect and minimize and shift blame. Generally everyone indicates that mistakes were made, people have regrets. I didn’t know Australia had such conservative attitudes toward domestic violence in the 1980s, but the decades of complicit silence from so many people is astounding.
If you know that someone is being abused, be a fucking friend and ask them how you can help, or speak up to the police. Everyone who thinks, “That’s not my business” – you’re wrong. We all have a responsibility to protect each other and bring abusers to justice. If you doubt that, I bet The Teacher’s Pet will change your mind.
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual or domestic abuse, help is available. For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).