A self-confessed arsonist, thief and a liar, Robert Silkman has emerged as the star witness in the Chris Dawson murder trial.
But who is the shadowy figure with the bombshell testimony?
Silkman, a former Newtown Jets’ teammate of Dawson, has rocked the Supreme Court with an explosive claim the accused asked him to find a hitman to kill his wife Lynette on a footy trip in 1975.
But the mysterious man in black – who appeared via videolink – is also a convicted arsonist with underworld links, who was grilled for hours about his chequered past and reliability as a witness.
In bizarre, sometimes almost comical exchanges with Dawson’s barrister Pauline David, Mr Silkman agreed he’d lied to police and authorities to stay out of jaill….but maintained he was telling the truth about Chris Dawson.
Convicted arsonist and thief Robert Silkman (above at Bansktown police station) gave bombshell evidence about a request by Chris Dawson in 1975 for a hitman to kill his wife Lynette, six years before police allege she was actually murdered
Asked by Ms David if he had been ‘lying since you were a young adult’, Mr Silkman said ‘I have lied, that’s correct’.
But Silkman told the court he was not lying bout about Dawson’s shocking question on a flight back from a team footy holiday.
He also said he didn’t approve of Dawson’s romance with schoolgirl babysitter JC, because ‘I have daughters’.
‘If my daughter is 15 and one 26-year-old bloke is wanting to groom her and get her in the bedroom … I do know what he’s done to young girls,’ Mr Silkman said
Silkman was an acquaintance of notorious Sydney gangster Neddy Smith, who he met while playing football with Smith’s brother-in-law Jets halfback and later heroin trafficker Paul Hayward in the mid-1970s.
Barrister Pauline David (above with the accused Chris Dawson) contends that convicted arsonist and thief Mr Silkman has been ‘lying for decades’ and his hitman story is a fabrication
Newtown Jets rugby league game day book from 1975 when the side was playing Canterbury , showing Chris Dawson and his twin Paul listed on the same reserve side and Robert Silkman, who has given bombshell evidence that the accused asked for a hitman to get rid of his wife Lynette ‘for good’
Initially testifying from gloomily lit room in his house because a back injury made it painful for him to travel, the bald-headed Mr Silkman, dressed all in black, has given evidence over two days via AVL from Bankstown Police Station.
His criminal record, which included stealing 5000 bricks in 1973, firebombing a Kogarah property in 1991 and dodgy investments via a crooked banker who visited him in jail, were tendered during his time in the witness box.
The court also heard Silkman had a massive cannabis habit back in his offending years, but hadn’t used for 15 years.
The NSW Supreme Court heard Mr Silkman describe on Thursday his amazement when Chris Dawson allegedly approached him on a Coolangatta to Sydney plane flight to ask if he knew someone to help ‘get rid of his wife’.
Mr Silkman and his teammates were returning home from an end-of-season Gold Coast holiday by Newtown Jets players when he was sitting in an aisle seat and says Dawson bent over and spoke to him.
‘He came along and kneeled down to my level … and asked me did I know anyone to get rid of his wife. I was taken aback, I said “what do you mean for good?”.
The murder trial of Chris Dawson (above with wife Lynette) has heard a claim that he approached a Newtown Jets teammate in 1975 and asked him if he could help ‘get rid of his wife’. Lynette Dawson was allegedly murdered in 1982
‘And he said “yeah” and I said “I’ll talk to you when I get back to Sydney”,’ Mr Silkman told the court, adding that no further discussion with Dawson ever took place.
He said he then turned to the Jets player sitting next to him on the plane, Ray Lee.
‘I said “you wouldn’t believe what Chris Dawson just said to me?” and I was laughing, “he said he wanted to know if I can use someone to get rid of his wife”.
‘And I said “he’s f***ing mad”.’
In the course of Mr Silkman’s cross-examination by Pauline David which ensued, Justice Ian Harrison took the step to grant the witness immunity against self-incrimination when being quizzed about his past crimes.
Justice Harrison said Mr Silkman’s credibility as a witness, given his dishonest past, would have to be judged.
Now in his 70s, Mr Silkman told the court he had met Neddy Smith at a pub in the 1970s when he went for a drink with his friend, Paul Hayward.
The Chris Dawson murder trial heard a Newtown Jets team mate of Chris Dawson who had met gangster Neddy Smith (Smith is above, left, with wife Debra and a man Smith later murdered, Harvey Jones) had been asked on a plane flight by the accused for help in getting his wife Lynette Dawson killed
Robert Silkman, who has met Neddy Smith at a pub with Newtown Jets’ teammate Paul Hayward (pictured above) – Smith’s brother-in-law – said when Dawson asked him for help ‘to get rid of’ Lynette Dawsonm he replied ‘you mean for good?’
Robert Silkman said when Chris Dawson (above) approached him on the return flight from a Newtown Jets team holiday with the request, he’d told another Jets player that Dawson was ‘f***ing mad’
But he said Smith – a heroin dealer and later a convicted murderer who was a notorious Sydney criminal and died in jail last year – was not a friend of his.
‘I didn’t have no association with Neddy Smith, only a hello in a hotel,’ Mr Silkman told the court, adding that ‘nothing was secret’ about that fact.
Mr Silkman said the approach by Chris Dawson on a plane flight from the Gold Coast to Sydney had occurred after a Jets end-of-season holiday in late 1975.
The teammates had stayed at the Tiki Village in Surfers Paradise, and on October 1, 1975, watched the Muhammad Ali boxing fight against Joe Frazier in the Philippines, known as the ‘Thriller in Manila’.
Under cross-examination, Mr Silkman denied he had made the story up and rejected a suggestion by Ms David that the football players instead stayed at Coolangatta.
‘We flew into Coolangatta. The venue was Tiki Village, Surfers Paradise,’ said Mr Silkman, denying he was making it up.
The 1975 Newtown Jets team including Chris Dawson (not pictured), his twin Paul Dawson (back row, fourth from left) had colourful identities such as drug trafficker Paul Hayward (front row second from left), armed robber Gary Sullivan (back row, second from left), disgraced cop David Oliveri (back row, third from left) and alleged mob driver Doug Kemister (bottom right)
The trial has heard that Newtown Jets former team mate of Chris Dason’s, Robert Silkman, will claim the accused asked him in 1975 – six years before Lyn Dawson(above) disappeared if he could get someone to kill her
Lynette Dawson disappeared in January 1982, just over six years after the Jets’ Gold Coast team holiday, and Chris Dawson is accused of murdering her and disposing of her body.
The crown argues that he did so to have an unfettered relationship with his babysitter and former student, known as JC.
His defence case is that Lyn left her marriage to Chris Dawson of her own accord and abandoned her two young daughters, then aged four and two.
Ms David quizzed Mr Silkman intensively about his run-ins with the law, suggesting he had swindled a woman of $170,000, via a dogy loan through his daughter’s real estate partner.
Mr Silkman, who was not charged in the matter, also denied he had been involved in an insurance scam when he burnt down the Kogarah premises of his friend Alan Thompson.
Suffering burns after using petrol to ignite felt, Mr Silkman was later found guilty of causing malicious damage by fire.
Asked why he burned the placed down , Mr Silkman said ‘he owed me money … $30,000’.
Pauline David: ‘Why did you call (Alan Thompson) at 3am?’
Robert Silkman: ‘To tell him I’d burnt his place down.’
Ms David: ‘You were party to an insurance fraud?’
Mr Silkman: ‘No’.
Asked why he lied about the arson, telling police he got burned in a barbecue accident, Mr Silkman replied, ‘The reason I lied is I didn’t want to go to jail (it) taught me to tell the truth in future because I went to jail’.
Jets star halfback Paul Hayward (left) , who got caught in Thailand in 1978 with 8.4kg of heroin, was married to the Neddy Smith’s wife’s sister and had a sorry end after being jailed in Thailand
Asked if he wanted the court ‘to accept you as an honest person’, he replied, ‘well I think I am’.
He agreed he’d signed a fraudulent $200,000 mortgage agreement in the visits room of Cessnock jail with a certain banker who got a $5000 sling, but said “I was earning $12 a week and (the banker) he was shady, he got plenty of five thousands’.
Asked by Ms David if it was the case he had been ‘lying for decades’, Mr Silkman said ‘Yeah, I’ve lied quite often’ but he said it was ‘not correct’ to say he ‘continues to tell lies when it suits’.
TO the suggestion he was lying about the plane flight hitman encounter to collect a $200,000 reward, Mr Silkman said the story was true and he didn’t know abut the reward.
‘If there is a reward it can be donated to violence against women,’ he said.
Chris and Paul Dawson (above in a Levi’s jeans ad in the 1980s) were both footballers for the Newtown Jets back in 1975 and had asterisks attached to their names, denoting ‘important player’
Robert Silkman was friends with Dave Oliveri, (left) a NSW policeman who later resigned in disgrace and on the Newtown Jets playbook was Doug Kemister (right) who later had criminal connections
Mr Silkman listed the Newtown Jets players he hung around with back in 1975, including Paul Hayward, who three years later was facing the death penalty in Thailand.
Hayward and Warren Fellowes were caught by Thai police with a suitcase containing 8.4kg of heroin and he spent 11 years in Thailand’s notorious prisons, before being granted a royal pardon, but returned home a heroin addict with HIV and died of an overdose in 1992.
Asked by crown prosecutor Craig Everson SC who he knew socially in 1975, Mr Silkman said he also mixed with Dave Oliveri.
Dave Oliveri was a NSW police Officer who became the subject of an ICAC investigation and resigned from the force in disgrace in 1988, but was never charged.
On a 1975 game playbook of Newtown games against Canterbury Bankstown, one player listed was Doug Kemister, who had criminal underworld connections.
Prosecutors have attempted to paint Chris Dawson (above with Lynette and one of their daughters) as a violent, controlling and abusive husband, but his defence contends Lyn left the marriage of her own accord, abandoning her children
The murder trial began in early May and is into its fifth week, with a one week adjournment interrupting proceedings when Mr Everson contracted Covid.
The crown’s witnesses have attempted to paint Dawson as a violent, controlling and abusive husband, with testimony emerging that Mrs Dawson had been seen variously with a black eye, and bruises around her throat and on her arms and thigh.
Witnesses have said they saw him shove his wife’s face into the dirt, swing her into a doorframe, and demean her with insults such as ‘fatso’.
Dawson’s legal team has argued the witnesses’ testimony has been contaminated because they had talked about the case with each other and had listened to The Teacher’s Pet podcast about the mystery surrounding Mrs Dawson, arguing it was broadcast with an assumption that her husband was guilty.
They have also argued that because these events happened four decades ago and memories have faded over time, the testimony given now is not an accurate portrayal of what happened.
Dawson claims JC’s allegations are lies spurred by a bitter custody battle which occurred after their 1990 break-up.
The trial heard an intercepted phone call between Chris Dawson and his sister in which they discussed his schoolgirl second wife JC (centre) which Lynette Hutcheon said had been ‘difficult, causing custody problems’ in the 1990s