A coroner ruled Tuesday that a dingo did take baby Azaria Chamberlain from her tent in the central Australian desert in 1980, ending a saga that saw the baby’s mother jailed for murder and later exonerated.
Northern Territory coroner Elizabeth Morris told a courtroom in Darwin there was sufficient evidence to conclude that a wild dog took the baby and pulled it from its clothes, which were later found. The child’s body was never located.
“The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo,” Morris ruled.
The coroner offered her sympathy to the Chamberlain family in the courtroom. She said they could immediately obtain a death certificate for Azaria stating a dingo was the cause of her death.
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, who spent three years in jail wrongly convicted of killing her baby, tearfully hugged relatives and supporters after the decision.
“We are relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga,” she said outside the courtroom.
“No longer will Australians be able to say dingoes are not dangerous and only attack if provoked. We live in a beautiful country, but it is dangerous and we would ask all Australians to take appropriate precautions.” The baby’s father Michael Chamberlain said it had been a terrifying battle to get the legal truth on Azaria’s death and it had taken too long. He thanked a “courageous and independent coroner” for finally delivering justice.
“But you can get justice even when you think all is lost,” he said.
Author John Bryson, who wrote the bestselling book Evil Angels about the case that was turned into a movie, said “Justice was done today.” It was the fourth coroner’s inquiry into the disappearance of the 9-week-old child.
The case divided Australian public opinion and provoked doubts about the accuracy of forensic evidence which was used to convict the mother.
Below is an outline of what happened in the case in the 32 years since 9-week-old Azaria Chamberlain disappeared.
The three-decade saga started on the night of August 17, 1980 at the foot of Ayers Rock in the centre of Australia, or Uluru as it is now known.
Lindy Chamberlain and her husband Michael were gathered around a fire with other campers. Their two sons Aidan, 6, and Reagan, 4, were with them, looking at the stars, while Azaria slept in their tent.
The mother heard a growl and looked up. She later told investigators she saw a dingo running away and it appeared to be dragging something in its jaws.
“A dingo’s got my baby!” she cried and ran to the tent followed by Michael and the others.
The baby was gone, and there were paw prints in and around the tent. Despite an intensive search the baby was never found.
A week later Azaria’s torn jumpsuit, tank top and diaper were found near the rock. People questioned whether a dingo could pull the baby out of its clothes like that.
The first coroner ruled that a dingo did take the baby, but there had been human interference with her clothes.
Suspicions grew and public opinion was divided. The Chamberlains were Seventh Day Adventists, a little known religious group in Australia, and rumors spread that they were a cult that sacrificed babies.
In 1982, Lindy Chamberlain was charged with murder and her husband with being an accessary after the fact. The trial was a sensation.
People paraded outside the court in T-shirts saying “The dingo is innocent.” The prosecution relied heavily on forensic evidence to say that the baby’s blood was found in the family car and that a dingo could not cut clothing to remove a baby.
In October 1982, the mother was found guilty of cutting the baby’s throat in the car, and Michael was convicted of covering it up. No motive was suggested, but a pregnant Lindy was sent to jail for life.
Her husband was given a suspended 18-month sentence to look after their children including the baby girl that was born in prison.
Three years later, Azaria’s jacket was found at a dingo lair. The mother was released and the convictions overturned.
An inquiry found the forensic evidence was faulty. The blood turned out to be anti-rust spray. In 1995, a new coroner’s inquiry delivered an open verdict, listing the cause of death as unknown.
Over the last 10 years there have been 11 cases of dingoes attacking children. Three children have been killed and one dingo tried to drag a baby from a tent.
The Chamberlains, who have since divorced, pressed for a new inquiry arguing there was now sufficient evidence to show a dingo could have taken their baby.