News, Culture & Society

Fiji Blue Lagoon honeymoon murder charge husband Bradley Dawson says bride’s death was an accident

The husband charged with beating his newlywed bride on their honeymoon at a luxury Fijian hideaway – and who then used a kayak to flee to an island 1.2 miles away – insists that her death is a tragic accident, Daily Mail Australia can exclusively reveal. 

Christe Chen, 39, was found dead on July 9 at the secluded $5,000-a-night (USD$3,500) Turtle Island Resort where the hit 1980 Brooke Shields’ film Blue Lagoon was filmed.

Chen and her husband, Bradley Robert Dawson, 38 – who she married in February – had only checked into the resort two days earlier. 

DailyMail.com exclusively revealed that Chen was found bloodied on the bathroom floor of the couple’s luxury bungalo. 

She had suffered multiple traumatic injuries to her body, and blunt force trauma to the head, according to a post-mortem exam report viewed by DailyMail.com. 

After Chen’s body was discovered, Dawson was nowhere to be found. A police manhunt located him 36 hours later on Matacawalevu Island, about 2km across the water from Turtle Island. He had told a local man that he’d left Turtle Island on a kayak in the dead of the night after he and his wife got into a heated argument.

Dawson’s lawyer, Iqbal Khan, told Daily Mail Australia that his client was too distraught to talk for days after he was charged with Chen’s murder.  

‘Something surprising happened,’ Khan told Daily Mail Australia. ‘Bradley’s okay now but he was really distressed when it happened. Last week he was in a desperate condition but he’s picking up now. It is a horrendous thing to happen on your honeymoon.’

Christe Chen Dawson, seen here with husband Bradley Dawson on an earlier vacation, was found dead 12 days ago at the secluded $5,000-a-night (US $3,500) Turtle Island Resort

Christe Chen Dawson, 39, married Bradley Robert Dawson, 38, in February but delayed their honeymoon to the tropical paradise until July

Christe Chen Dawson, 39, married Bradley Robert Dawson, 38, in February but delayed their honeymoon to the tropical paradise until July

The couple from Memphis, Tennessee, were staying in the lap of luxury at the exclusive five-star resort, which has just 14 villas across the 200-hectare island.

They married in February, but delayed their dream trip honeymoon until July. 

Only resort staff live on the remote tropical island, 350km north-west of Fiji’s capital Suva, which has restricted details of the tragedy from being released 

But one local told Daily Mail Australia the couple are said to have fought on the day of Dawson’s death, adding: ‘There was a heated argument.’

Resort staff said only that there was an incident which was a ‘private matter’ for the couple. Fijian police refused to comment on the case.

Dawson is now being held in a cell in Lautoka on the Fijian mainland awaiting a bail hearing next week, but his lawyer vehemently denies his client is a murderer.

Iqbal has yet to see the full police case against the American or post-mortem results to reveal a cause of death, but he’s convinced the murder charge will be thrown out. 

‘There is no way he can be convicted of murder. No way. Full stop,’ Khan said.

‘On the evidence that they have presented so far, there’s no proof of the charge of murder with intention to kill or premeditation. Nothing of that sort whatsoever.

‘On the face of it, it looks like an accident but I will be able to confirm that once I get the full disclosure next week and get in front of other witnesses.’

Dawson’s shattered mother has been in constant touch with the lawyer since her son’s arrest but has not yet flown out to Fiji.

‘I’m in touch with his mother in America,’ said Khan. ‘All his family and friends are devastated, because he was a nice quiet fellow. He’s never been involved with the law before and then this happened. This is something new.’

Chen was a talented baker who had run a successful bakery in Colorado. She later moved to Memphis where she studied to become a pharmacist

Chen was a talented baker who had run a successful bakery in Colorado. She later moved to Memphis where she studied to become a pharmacist 

Bradley Dawson, 38, is seen here being held in a cell in Lautoka on the Fijian mainland awaiting a bail hearing next week, but his lawyer vehemently denies his client is a murderer

Bradley Dawson, 38, is seen here being held in a cell in Lautoka on the Fijian mainland awaiting a bail hearing next week, but his lawyer vehemently denies his client is a murderer

Dawson used a kayak to paddle 1.2 miles from Turtle Island Resort to Matacawalevu Island in the dead of the night on Saturday, July 9. He was found by a local 36 hours later

Dawson used a kayak to paddle 1.2 miles from Turtle Island Resort to Matacawalevu Island in the dead of the night on Saturday, July 9. He was found by a local 36 hours later

Locals on neighbouring islands said staff at the exclusive resort, founded 42 years ago by American entrepreneur Richard Evanson, will be under strict orders to say nothing about the tragedy.

‘They are keeping it very hush-hush,’ said a resort worker on neighbouring Nanuya Lailal island.

Another on nearby Tavewa Island added: ‘They will keep a very tight lip about this.

‘They are a very respectable upmarket five-star resort. All the staff live and work on the island so they’ll try not to let details out if they possibly can.

‘We knew there had been a death but we had no idea it had been an alleged murder. That’s terrible. Nobody knew anything else. There’s nothing on the coconut wireless.

‘We all thought, ‘Oh God, it must be the yachting season’. Someone’s probably fallen off the yacht like what happened last time.’

Turtle Island Resort is on a small island of the same name off the coast of Fiji's mainland. The resort is known for being one of the most luxuriest in the island paradise

Turtle Island Resort is on a small island of the same name off the coast of Fiji’s mainland. The resort is known for being one of the most luxuriest in the island paradise

Turtle Island Resort is on idyllic Nanuya Levu which was the filming location for the 1980 hit film Blue Lagoon

Turtle Island Resort is on idyllic Nanuya Levu which was the filming location for the 1980 hit film Blue Lagoon 

DailyMail.com has learned that on the day Chen was found dead, the alarm was raised when neither Chen or Dawson turned up to eat breakfast. Their personal butler then went to the couples’ bungalow and found a ‘do not disturb sign’ on their door. They then failed to turn up to lunch, and at that point, their butler – who personally cleaned their bungalow – used a spare key to unlock the door. 

The butler – known as a ‘House Papa’ – discovered Chen lying bloodied on the bathroom floor around midday. 

Sources have told DailyMail.com that the 50-year-old had started cleaning other rooms in the bungalow before he saw blood stains on the bathroom wall. When he went to investigate, he found Chen beaten to death. 

He then alerted hotel management who called the Fiji Police Force in the nearby city of Lautoka, just under an hour from Nadi International Airport. 

At the same time officers recovered Chen’s body, they also sent a team to search for Dawson who was nowhere to be found, a source told DailyMail.com.

He was found on Matacawalevu Island, about 1.2 miles across the water from Turtle Island, by a local man around 3pm the next day, on Sunday, July 10.

Manoa Ratulele, 49, told DailyMail.com that Dawson told him that he used a kayak to paddle to the island between 2am and 3am on Saturday morning after having a fight with Chen. 

‘But he landed on a secluded beach and I don’t know what he was doing after that,’ Ratulele said. 

He told DailyMail.com that Dawson was bruised and bleeding from his palms and feet, injuries that may have been caused from falling onto nearby coral. Dawson also ‘appeared disturbed’ so Ratulele offered him water and help. 

‘At first he kept refusing food and water and insisted he was ok, but I insisted he had some water and after that he said – Please, I need to call the police,’ Ratulele said, adding that Dawson was drunk. 

‘He didn’t tell us he had killed his wife but I could still smell alcohol on him. He continued to repeat that ‘we had a fight’ and offered no start or end to that story, just kept saying ‘we had a fight’.’

A team of three police officers soon arrived on Matacawalevu Island to take Dawson back to Turtle Island and then to Lautoka on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, where he was charged with murder. 

Representatives for Turtle Island Resort confirmed the incident in a statement to DailyMail.com, saying: ‘We can confirm that an incident took place between a couple at the Island on July 9th, which has resulted in a tragic outcome and charges being laid. 

‘We cooperated fully with the police who conducted a thorough investigation and have now left the Island.

‘Out of respect for those impacted and given it is an open legal matter, we cannot provide any further comment at this time. We are deeply saddened by the event and send our sincerest condolences to Ms. Chen’s family and friends.’  

New Zealander Chelsia Lo, 33 was the partner of then 61-year-old Australian financier Ron Burton. She vanished in the dead of night from their $14million superyacht Alani II

New Zealander Chelsia Lo, 33 was the partner of then 61-year-old Australian financier Ron Burton. She vanished in the dead of night from their $14million superyacht Alani II

The island of Fiji is where the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon was filmed starring Brooke Shields

The island of Fiji is where the 1980 film The Blue Lagoon was filmed starring Brooke Shields

The tragedy is a haunting reminder of the last mysterious death at the tropical paradise. 

New Zealander Chelsia Lo, 33 was the partner of then 61-year-old Australian financier Ron Burton.

She vanished in the dead of night from their $14million superyacht Alani II when it was moored in the Blue Lagoon bay on June 13, 2011.

Her body was recovered two days later on June 15 with her death recorded as asphyxia, drowning and a scalp haemorrhage.

There was no post-mortem and Burton allegedly arranged for her body to be cremated on the same day as she was found.

A month later, he placed a brief death notice in the New Zealand Herald: ‘Died suddenly on 16 June 2011. Sadly missed by her partner.’

Fiji police at the time said there were no suspicious circumstances to the death, but NZ Police reportedly told Lo’s family they believed the tragedy was ‘strange’.

Before Dawson was taken into custody, he reportedly was on the run on the remote island, known for its pristine beaches, crystal blue-green waters, palm trees, lush vegetation and remote setting (pictured)

Turtle Bay sits on the private Nanuya Levu island and costs a $3,500 to $5,000-a-night, a booking agent with the resort told DailyMail.com.

The high-end all-inclusive resort has a minimum five-night stay and the only guests accepted are couples or doubles, according to Trip Savvy. 

The tropical island hosts at least one honeymoon pair per week, and only 14 couples can stay at the island at a time. 

Children are welcome but only during designated weeks called Turtle Island Family Time, the travel site said.

When guests arrive at Fiji they board a small seaplane for a short flight to the private Turtle Beach. 

The 200-hectare island, dotted with 14 villas separated by lush vegetation and oceanfront views, is a peaceful and private oasis and its 12 private beaches are among the top attractions.

Each guest has their own personal butler, known as the ‘bure mama’, who arrange picnics and dinners, island tours, horseback riding, snorkelling, diving, sunset cruise excursions and personal massages.

Guests also become immersed in the culture with meke, lovo and kava ceremonies.

Some hosts accompany guests on various off-site excursions giving couples the ability to immerse themselves in island life and indulge in breathtaking panoramas.

Room interiors feature vaulted ceilings woven from palms and knotted with coconut husk cordage known as magi magi, according to the resort’s website.

The spacious rooms are decorated with rich mahogany and artisan furnishings, and Fijian art and treasures found on the island, giving guests the feel that they have just stepped into a world of paradise.

In December 2021, the resort reopened after being closed for two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The resort has been named in Trip Advisor’s 2020 Traveler’s Choice Awards, Travel and Leisure World’s Best Awards 2020 and Traveler’s Choice Awards, and is described as one of the sought after destinations in the world. 

The dreamy tropical get-away has been frequented by celebrities including Julia Roberts.

Ms Dawson shows her fun side as she poses while dressed in a cow costume with her udders hanging out

Ms Dawson shows her fun side as she poses while dressed in a cow costume with her udders hanging out

Ms Dawson was described by a friend as 'super-sweet, kind, would do anything for anybody, outgoing, generous, and so fun ... She was so excited to get married and to have babies'

Ms Dawson was described by a friend as ‘super-sweet, kind, would do anything for anybody, outgoing, generous, and so fun … She was so excited to get married and to have babies’ 

Before their ill-fated honeymoon, Chen and Dawson shared a new  $250,000 home on Elzey Avenue in the Cooper-Young area of Memphis. 

Chen worked as a pharmacist at Kroger while Dawson worked as an IT professional for Youth Villages, a non-profit which helps children. She had previously worked as a baker in Colorado before moving to Tennessee to pursue studying pharmacy, and then settle down.

The nonprofit where Dawson worked said he has been suspended pending further information.

‘It is our understanding Ms. Chen was his wife, and our condolences go out to her family,’ Youth Villages said in a statement to FOX13. 

A friend of Chen’s, Rena Schomburg, told DailyMail.com that Chen was an only child and used to travel with her mom on extravagant trips and post them pictures of them to social media.

She described her friend as ‘super-sweet, kind, would do anything for anybody, outgoing, generous, and so fun’.

Schomburg said she never met Dawson, but suggested that Chen might have met him through marathon running. 

‘She didn’t have a bad bone in her body,’ Schomburg said.

Another friend, Matt Koenig, told DailyMail.com he was shocked about her murder. 

‘Christe was caring, funny, generous, the kind of person who can make friends with anyone,’ he said. ‘It’s a hard day.’

Before traveling to Fiji, Chen eerily told a neighbor how excited she was to be spending her honeymoon in paradise. 

The couple shared a new home on Elzey Avenue in the Cooper-Young area of Memphis

The couple shared a new home on Elzey Avenue in the Cooper-Young area of Memphis

Last Wednesday, Dawson appeared before Magistrate Sekonaia Vodokisolomone at the Magistrates Court in Lautoka.

Magistrate Vodokisolomone told the court Dawson had committed an ‘indictable offence’ and the case would be transferred to the High Court in Lautoka, Fiji Sun reported. 

The magistrate said Dawson’s bail application would have to be made in the High Court.

Police Prosecutor, Inspector Arvind Kumar, sought the court’s order for Dawson to provide his DNA sample because he refused when Kumar initially requested one.

Vodokisolomone said the request needed to be made in the High Court.

Dawson is set to reappear in court on July 27.   

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



Find local lawyers and law firms at USAttorneys.com