Dawn Thurman was born on March 12, 1984, in Amory, Mississippi, to John Gilmore and Margaret Thurman. John was an attorney. Margaret was a divorcée living off the alimony from her doctor ex-husband. John and Margaret met at a country club function and dated for over a year. The town always expected them to get married, but John eventually broke up with Margaret and married a woman from his parents' church instead.
Shortly after their breakup, Margaret discovered she was pregnant. John took full responsibility for child but did not resume his relationship with Margaret. After Dawn was born, John took an interest in the young girl's life, attending her dance recitals and cheerleading competitions, and he provided for all her financial needs.
Dawn was a very attractive child, but it wasn't enough to just be pretty. Her mother drilled her to always look her very best whenever she left the house. Even for cheerleading practice, Dawn had to have her make-up done right and her hair styled correctly. "You just never know who you might meet," her mother would say, as she ordered Dawn back upstairs to change her outfit.
Throughout school, Dawn was a middle-of-the-road student. She usually received C's and was well-mannered. The main criticism from her teachers was that she spent too much time chasing boys.
In high school, Dawn dated the quarterback of the football team, and they were the star couple. However, the quarterback broke up with her when he was accepted to the University of Alabama and she was planning to attend Northeast Mississippi Community College.
In college, Dawn pursued an associate's degree and went through a string of boyfriends, all sons of successful fathers. She finally settled down with a young Tupelo banker named Dave Richmond. The couple married and moved into a big home purchased with a low-interest loan from his bank. Dawn socialized at the country club and taught aerobics at a local health club, building a loyal following of clients.
However, within a year of being married, Dawn began having an affair with a vice president at Dave's bank, who made Dave work extremely long hours so that he and Dawn could have time alone. The VP promised to divorce his wife, marry Dawn, and move the two of them to Colorado to start their life together. So Dawn asked Dave for a divorce. She got a healthy settlement, but the VP moved to Colorado without her.
Dawn took some of her divorce money and got a degree in massage therapy. She moved to Oxford, attracted by the relative affluence of the town. In Oxford, she rented an apartment and began building clients for her physical training and massage therapy services. She dated frequently and was a regular escort for doctors attending functions at Baptist Memorial Hospital. During this time, she began spending time with Philip Fontaine. She told friends that she was often frustrated at the clandestine nature of their relationship, but still thought it was something worth pursuing.