WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The family of a Tennessee pharmacist who died on her honeymoon in Fiji decided to cremate her in the South Pacific nation rather than bring her home because her body was badly damaged, a lawyer representing the family said Thursday.
Christe Chen, 36, died earlier this month at the exclusive Turtle Island resort. Her husband Bradley Robert Dawson, 38, has been charged with her murder and made his first appearance Wednesday at Fiji’s Lautoka High Court.
The case has been adjourned until next month and Dawson, who remains in jail, has not yet entered a plea. If found guilty, he could face a sentence of life imprisonment.
Lawyer Ronald Gordon, who is representing Chen’s family, said Chen’s parents traveled to Fiji after their daughter’s death but didn’t embalm her body and take her to the U.S. as they’d hoped. Instead, they took home her ashes.
Gordon said the newlyweds, who were based in Memphis, had arrived in Fiji on July 7 for their honeymoon at the resort, which is on a 500-acre island and limited to 14 couples at a time.
Gordon said the couple were heard arguing over dinner on July 8, and following an incident in their room, Dawson fled on a kayak to another island, taking his wallet but not his phone or GPS watch.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon, after the couple had missed breakfast and lunch, that staff discovered Chen’s body, Gordon said. He said she had multiple blunt trauma wounds to her head.
Dawson was found by police about 36 hours later, Gordon said. He said Dawson may have trying to get to Fiji’s main island but stuck out on the remote island inhabited only by Indigenous people who had alerted others to Dawson’s presence.
Dawson’s lawyer Iqbal Khan said that from what he knows so far, he doesn’t see the elements of murder. He said investigators haven’t yet released to him all the information in the case, including the post-mortem report, but that what happened could have been an accident.
Khan said Dawson left the resort because “he panicked, he was shocked.” He said Dawson was distressed at losing his wife and had been slowly recovering.
Dawson worked in the information technology department at Youth Villages, a nonprofit child welfare and support organization based in Memphis, said Connie Mills, the organization’s assistant director of communications. He has been fired, Mills said Thursday.
An online records search showed no criminal arrests for Dawson in Shelby County, which includes Memphis.
Chen worked as a pastry chef before returning to school to become a pharmacist, and had worked in that capacity at a Kroger supermarket in Memphis.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy last year congratulated Chen on Facebook for winning an award, the Wolters Kluwer Clinical Drug Information Award of Excellence in Clinical Communication.
Associated Press reporter Adrian Sainz contributed from Memphis, Tennessee.