EXCLUSIVE: Newlywed pharmacist, 36, who was ‘beaten to death in luxury Fiji honeymoon bungalow was so badly injured her body had to be cremated’: Husband accused of murder claims it was an ‘accident’
- Memphis pharmacist Christe Chen, 36, was found dead on July 9 at the secluded $3,500-a-night Turtle Island Resort
- She and her husband, Bradley Robert Dawson, 38 – who she married in February – had only checked into the resort two days earlier
- After the attack, he fled on a kayak to an island 1.2 miles away
- Chen suffered multiple traumatic injuries to her body, and blunt force trauma to the head, according to a post-mortem exam report
- Dawson appeared in Lautoka High Cout on Tuesday evening (ET), carrying a suitcase. No bail was set, and he will only reappear on August 18
- Chen was so badly beaten her body could not be embalmed and her parents had her cremated before taking her ashes home to the US
- A lawyer for the Chen’s parents said they will take civil action against Dawson if he is not held criminally liable for their daughter’s murder
The body of a newlywed pharmacist who was found beaten to death in the bathroom of a luxury honeymoon bungalow in Fiji was so badly injured that it could not be embalmed and had to be cremated before her parents could take her home to the United States.
Memphis woman Christe Chen, 36, was found dead on July 9 at the secluded $3,500-a-night Turtle Island Resort. She and her husband, Bradley Robert Dawson, 38 – who she married in February – had only checked into the resort two days earlier.
The couple married after a whirlwind romance in February – three months after they first met – and her parents paid for their honeymoon.
DailyMail.com revealed that Chen was found bloodied on the bathroom floor of the couple’s luxury bungalow. She had suffered multiple traumatic injuries to her body, and blunt force trauma to the head, according to a post-mortem exam report.
Dawson appeared at the Lautoka High Court on Tuesday evening (ET), clutching a small blue suitcase in anticipation of a bail hearing. However, the date was rescheduled to August 18. He has maintained Chen’s death was an accident.
Ronald Gordon, a lawyer representing Chen’s estate and her parents, told DailyMail.com that they will take civil action against Dawson if he is not held criminally liable for her death and have not ruled out legal action against Turtle Island Resort. He added that he will also oppose any bail application.
‘The family will follow the proceedings to ensure justice is served for Christe given the horrific injuries she endured,’ he told DailyMail.com on Tuesday.
‘The deceased was unable to be taken back to her home because of the nature of her injuries … so she had to be cremated here in Fiji and her ashes were taken back.
Memphis woman Christe Chen, 36, was found dead on July 9 at the secluded $3,500-a-night Turtle Island Resort. She and her husband, Bradley Robert Dawson, 38 – who she married in February – had only checked into the resort two days earlier
Dawson appeared at the Lautoka High Court on Tuesday evening (ET). He has maintained Chen’s death was an accident
Dawson arrived at court on Tuesday evening (ET) clutching a small blue suitcase and a mask over his face
Gordon confirmed that Chen suffered major blows to her body.
Chen’s parents were told of her murder after receiving a midnight phone call from the State Department, two or three days after she was killed, he added.
They arrived in Fiji on July 13. ‘They thought it was a prank call,’ he said. He added that there was a suggestion that Chen and Dawson had argued.
‘She is the only child of her parents and obviously they are quite devastated and they want to ensure that justice at the end of the day is given to her.’
He added that Chen was Dawson’s second wife, and said that he had visited Fiji two years earlier on vacation with his first wife.
On the day he was discovered, Dawson had told a local man that he’d somehow left Turtle Island in the dead of the night after he and his wife got into a heated argument.
Gordon told DailyMail.com that police told the family that Dawson had had left his GPS watch and phone at the hotel.
On the day he was discovered, Dawson had told a local man that he’d left Turtle Island in the dead of the night on a kayak after he and his wife got into a heated argument.
Last week, Dawson’s lawyer, Iqbal Khan, told DailyMail.com that his client was too distraught to talk for days after he was charged with Chen’s murder.
‘Something surprising happened,’ Khan told DailyMail.com. ‘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.’
Memphis pharmacist Christe Chen, 39, was found dead on July 9 at the secluded $3,500-a-night Turtle Island Resort. She and her husband, Bradley Robert Dawson, 38 – who she married in February – had only checked into the resort two days earlier
Remote Turtle Island Resort is located on a private island off the coast of Fiji
The secluded resort charges up to $3,500-a-night and hosts just 14 couples at a 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
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 DailyMail.com 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.
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.
Last week, DailyMail.com 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 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.’
Dawson’s lawyer, Iqbal Kahn has previously told DailyMail.com that his client maintains Chen’s death is an accident
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.
Dawson shows her fun side as she poses while dressed in a cow costume with her udders hanging out
Dawson and Chen shared a new home on Elzey Avenue in the Cooper-Young area of Memphis
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.
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