Shanelle Dawson’s mother’s story is reclaimed in one of the two new books

Joanne Curtis, Shanelle’s babysitter (whom she calls “J” in the new book), moved into her mother’s bed and wore her mother’s clothes. She even wore (from 1984) her mother’s wedding ring.

Dawson wrote, “I felt unloved” by J when she began her relationship with her stepmother. J was a student at Cromer High School in Sydney’s Northern Beaches (when they first met). Curtis divorced Chris Dawson in 1993. “She didn’t really want to be my mom and she wasn’t.”

Shanelle confronted her father in September 2018 about the role he played in her mother’s murder, five months after Hedley Thomas’ podcast The Teacher’s Pet was released.

Sherryn’s younger sister, who was only two when their mother vanished, is still loyal to her father. She and Shanelle have now become estranged.

Review: My Mother’s Eyes – Shanelle Dawson with Alley Pascoe (Hachette); The Teacher’s Pet – Hedley Thomas (Pan Macmillan).

In her book My Mother’s Eyes (written with journalist Alley Pascoe), Shanelle Dawson writes:

As a mark of respect, I have capitalized Mum and Mother in these pages. I didn’t do the same thing for father and father.

These powerful but blunt words set the mood for a story that is captivating, even if it’s difficult to read. Dawson’s journey was not easy. She left her home at the age of 17 and traveled the world for 15 years, starting when she was 18. She lost her partner, whom she called her “soulmate,”” who was found dead in a hammock in Brazil while traveling without her. In 2014, she became a mother on her own.

Her coping mechanisms, such as working with psychics to tie up loose ends, may seem confronting or strange. She says, for instance, that a psychic was the one who made her realize what her father had done.

In her preface, she pleads with readers not to judge her. She says that, while she is fortunate in many respects, this book gives her mother a chance to speak and is an effort to exorcise herself.

Dawson’s art is a work that deals with fear in many different ways. Fear of forgetting, fear of losing her mother, and fear that domestic violence crimes continue to be perpetrated. Fear is not a simple emotion. It is complex and layered. And here, it is linked to grief.

Dawson explains:

I have had psychics tell me that the precious body of my Mother is no longer in one piece. […] We won’t be able to get closure by burying the body in its entirety. It’s hard to accept that.

Dawson was also afraid of the truth and what it would mean if her mother’s killer were convicted. She writes:

The world sees monsters, but I only see my father. I love him despite everything.

Dawson’s Father may not be “Father”; he is still someone she has loved her entire life.

Read more: True crime entertainment like The Teacher’s Pet can shine a light on cold cases – but does it help or hinder justice being served?

The Teacher’s Pet

Thomas released The Teacher’s Pet’s first episode in May 2018. Chris Dawson has been incarcerated after 17 attacks that uncovered new evidence, new witnesses, and two trials for murder.

Dawson, 75 years old, is a former teacher of physical education. He was sentenced in 2022 to 24 years in prison for murder with an 18-year non-parole. In 2023, Dawson will be sentenced to three years in prison for sexual offenses with a two-year non-parole. Has reportedly filed an appeal against the murder verdict.

Hedley’s The Teacher’s Pet Podcast uncovered new witnesses and evidence. Dean Lewins/AAP

The boom in journalistic true crime podcasts in Australia is largely due to Sarah Koenig’s long-form journalism, which was featured in 2014’s serial. This format is now everywhere. Many true-crime audiobooks do not live up to the expectations of listeners, just as many true-crime books fail to meet readers’ expectations. It is not enough to recount events, especially in cold cases.

True crime fans are looking for accurate, detail-oriented stories and theories that can be tested. Humans are naturally curious. We want to know the truth. We are often obsessed with cold cases, because we have a tantalising sense that a crime might be resolved.

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