On 17 August 1980, two-month old Azaria Chamberlain disappeared while on a camping trip with her parents Lindy Chamberlain and Michael Chamberlain. The parents initially claimed that their daughter was taken by a dingo while sleeping in their tent. Officials later arrested, tried and conviced of Azaria's murder in 1982.
The sensational trial marked the first Australian trial to be televised live. Several appeals were files after the initial convision, however they were unsuccessful. Some time after the initial round of appeals, some of Arazaria's clothing was discovered in an area concentrated dingo lairs. Upon this discovery, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were released and acquitted of murder. Officially, no legal decision was made in the case, and it is considered unsolved.
Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain Born (June 11, 1980 - August 17, 1980) at the Mount Isa Maternity Hospital in Australia to Lindy and Michael Chamberlain. She weighed approximately 3 kg and was 47 cm long.
Disappearance of Azaria
Michael and Lindy Chamberlain, along with their three children, drove from Mount Isa, Queensland during August 1980 to Uluru for a family camping trip. They arrived on Saturday August 16 in the evening.
The next night, August 17 1980, Lindy Chamberlain told officals that a wild dog, a dingo carried Azaria from the bassinette in which she was sleeping. Azaria was never found, despite the efforts of three hundred people who formed a human chain and searched the sand dunes near the camp site throughout the night.
One week later Wallace Goodwin, a tourist visiting from Victorian discovered some of Azaria's clothing, a blood-stained singlet, a jumpsuit and a nappy.
Two seperate Coroner's inquests were held in response to the disappearance. The first opened December 15, 1980 before Denis Barritt, SM. On February 20, 1981, the first court hearing was held at Uluru, Mr. Barritt reported the cause of death most likely was a dingo attack. Mr. Barritt concluded also that after the attack, the body was removed and disposed of in an unknown method by an unknown individual. This marked the first live telecast of an Australian court proceeding. Police and prosecutors were skeptical of the conclusion of the inquest, and they immediately requested further inquest.
September 1980 - Futher inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain was held. Dr. James Cameron of the London College Hospital Medical College testified that as a result of ultraviolet investigations of the jumpsuit that Azaria had been wearing on the night she disappeared, it seemed that Azaria was actually killed with a pair of scissors and then held by a small adult hand until the bleeding ceased.
Case against Lindy Chamberlain
Lindy Chamberlain had allegedly had slit Azaria's throat in the family's 1977 Torana hatchback. The supporting evidence this claim were results of the tests on the jumpsuit and the finding from the second inquest, as well as a controversial forensic report alleging that evidence of fetal haemoglobin was isolated in blood stains found in the front seat of the Chamberlains' car . Fetal haemoglobin is only found in infants six months of age or younger; Azaria Chamberlain was nine weeks old at the time of her death.
In defense, eyewitness evidence detailing the presence of dingoes in the area near the campsite on 17 August 1980. All interviewed witnesses supported the Chamberlains' story. One witness reported hearing the cry of a baby after the time when the prosecution alleged Lindy had murdered Azaria. Additional defense evidence included tests that came back positive for fetal haemoglobin, but had been performed on samples of adult blood.
Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder by a jury on 29 October 1982. She was then sentenced to life imprisonment. Michael Chamberlain was found guilty as an accessory. He received an 18-month, suspended sentence.
In November 1983, an appeal was issued to the High Court on the ground that the verdicts were unsafe and unsatisfactory. By majority, the High Court denied the appeal in February 1984. Mixed opinions on the part of the judges gave encouragement to Lindy Chamberlain's supporters.
Release and acquittal
Although still technically unsolved, resolution came in the case as a result of a tourist's chance discovery.
In early 1986, an English tourist named David Brett fell to his death from Uluru during an evening climb. As a result of the terrain, Brett's remains were not located for eight days. Brett's body was discovered among vast rocks and brush directly below the place where Brett lost his footing. The area where the body was located was full of dingo lairs. It was in this area that police, searching for Brett's remains discovered a small jacket, which was later identified as the matinee jacket worn by Azaria on the evening of her death.
Lindy's immediate release was ordered by the NT Chief Minister, and simultaneously the case was reopened. The NT Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously overturned all convictions against Lindy Chamberlain and Michael Chamberlain on September 15 1988. The courts decision was based on a rejection of the alleged fetal haemoglobin evidence and also bias and invalid assumptions made during the Chamberlains' trial.
This verict led to serious concerns regarding the use of procedures such as fetal haemoglobin testing, and the role of and credence given to expert testimony during criminal cases. Further investigation into the testing for fetal haemoglobin resulted in the discovery that a rust proofing substance commonly used on automobiles would yield similar results to those achieved by investigators in the case against Lindy Chamberlain.
The Chamberlains were awarded AU$1.3 million in compensation for wrongful imprisonment two years after their aquittal.
Media involvement and bias
The Chamberlain trial was not only the first to be televised live, but also the most publicised court action in Australian history. Because it was discovered that a majority of the evidence presented in the case was eventually later rejected, the case is a clear demonstration of how the media and bias adversely affect court proceedings.
The availability of evidence to the public during the trial led to much speculation on the part of those watching. Rumors abounded that Azaria meant sacrafice in the desert. (the name actually means helped by God) Public and media opinion significantly exploited the fact that the Chamberlains were Seventh-day Adventists and that the family took a newborn baby to a remote desert location. It was apparent to all viewers that Mrs. Chamberlain showed little emotion during the proceedings, and it was supposed that because she frequently wore black, that she was a witch. Another rumour of great popularity was that Aidan Chamberlain, brother of Azaria had actually killed his sister , and that his parents were taking the blame.
The book Evil Angels, written by John Bryson and published in 1985 is perhaps the best known of the many accounts of the story of Azaria's death and her parents trial. Director Fred Schepisi adapted the book into a feature movie in 1987. (The movie was retitled A Cry in the Dark in the United States). Meryl Streep and Sam Neill starred as Lindy and Michael Chamberlain. Streep's excellent performance quieted criticism over the casting of an American as Lindy Chamberlain. Lindy herself, actually commended the movie and praised Streep highly for her portrayal in such an accurate depiction of the events.
In 1995, pen finding as a result of a third inquest into the death by Coroner John Lowndes, the case remained officially unsolved.
Most Australians greeted the Chamberlains' claim with skepticism. Reasons included a limited knowledge of and exposure to dingoes and their behaviour, and the fact that these animals generally live in remote areas. Dingoes were not perceived as a dangerous species, for the reasons above and because humans generally like dogs.
After the Chamberlain case, a string of attacks by dingoes on Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast in the late 1990s, the last refuge in Australia for pure-breed wild dingoes helped to modify public opinion on the safety of the dingoes. All of these events have persuaded the Australian public to generally accept the idea that baby Azaria was killed by a dingo, and that her body could easily have been removed and eaten by a dingo, leaving little or no evidence.
There have now been reported at least 400 dingo attacks on Fraser Island. Most victims were , but there were at least two documented attacks on adults.
In a case similar to the story presented by Lindy Chamberlain, a 13-month old girl was taken by a dingo, being dragged from a picnic blanket at the Waddy Point camping area in April 1998. Fortunately, the child was rescued after being dropped by the dingo.
The concept of a dingo stealing a baby earned a place in pop-culture as a result of the publicity surrounding the Chamberlain case and most prominently as a result of the movie. Morbid jokes were common immediately after Azaria's disappearance in Australia and elsewhere.
Most of the common pop-culture references derive from quotations (or mis-quotations) of Lindy Chamberlain immediately after her daughter's disappearance -- "A dingo took my baby!" -- and from the subsequent quotation of this line in Evil Angels.
- Elaine, a character in the Seinfeld television show, once said, in a heavy Australian accent, "Maybe the dingo ate your baby."
(This occurred in the 27th Seinfeld episode, named "The Stranded".)
- Many references have also been made in The Simpsons. In the episode 'Bart Vs. Australia,' Bart says "Hey, I think I hear a dingo eatin'
your baby." In the episode 'Lisa Gets An "A"', Lisa becomes addicted to a game called Dash Dingo (itself a parody of Crash Bandicoot) which makes reference to a dingo devouring a baby.
- Oz, the werewolf and sometime beau of Willow in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in a band named Dingoes Ate My Baby.
- A mini-tour of Australia in 2001 by rock musician Ben Folds was titled "A dingo took my band", which jokingly referred to Folds' dissolution of his previous group, Ben Folds Five.
The cause of Azaria's disappearance (and presumably her death) is offically recorded as unknown. The Chamberlains were acquitted of her murder and cannot be retried in the event that new evidence is forthcoming.
In August 2005, a 25 year old woman Erin Horsburgh claimed that she believes she may be Azaria Chamberlain. She made the claim to both an Alice Springs newspaper and police who rejected the claim. She said she was rescued from the dingo by a Mutitjulu man and taken to live among a white family, members of a religious sect. Erin Horsburgh insisted that a sample of her DNA compared with DNA taken from the Azaria's clothing would solidify the proof. Authorities refused to do the tests, denying the possibility of her claim. Lindy Chamberlain declined to comment, despite Horsburgh's request to be reunited with her mother.
Investigations of Horsburgh's home town revealed that a history her dating much older men, and that she was adopted under strange circumstances. Her adopted parents also believe that she could be Azaria Chamberlain, and have encouraged Erin Horsburgh to find her biological parents.
Authorities continue to refuse an investigation, and have never compared the DNA samples. Public perception has generally been that this is a hoax, and only one newspaper, the Centralian Advocate from Alice Springs has conducted an interview. Although Horsburgh's claims were denied by popular media in 1980, Horsburgh's theory is 100% consistent with claims made by Australian Aboriginals who were in Mutitjulu at the time of the alleged offence.
- CONVICTIONS OF ALICE LYNNE CHAMBERLAIN AND MICHAEL LEIGH CHAMBERLAIN (1988)
- ALICE LYNNE CHAMBERLAIN and MICHAEL LEIGH CHAMBERLAIN And: THE QUEEN (1983)
- CHAMBERLAIN v. THE QUEEN (No.2) (1984)
- Chamberlain Case (High Court Project)
- Negotiating the Meaning of a Scientific Experiment During a Murder Trial and Some Limits to Legal Deconstruction for the Public Understanding of Law and Science by Gary Edmund
- A QUESTION OF INNOCENCE: FACILITATING DNA-BASED EXONERATIONS IN AUSTRALIA by Lynne Weathered
- Azaria's blood - Evaluating Forensic Evidence and the Azaria Chamberlain Case (Abstract)
- Ace lie / Tony Paynter (1984, ISBN 0949852155)
- Azaria / Richard Shears (1982, ISBN 0170061469)
- Azaria: the trial of the century / Steve Brien (1984, ISBN 0725514094)
- Azaria! What the jury were not told / Phil Ward (1984, ISBN 0959113304)
- Azaria, Wednesday's child / James Simmonds (1982, ISBN 0959269908)
- The Azaria Chamberlain case: reflections on Australian identity / by Paul Reynolds (1989, ISBN 1855070022)
- The Azaria evidence: fact or fiction? / Veronica M. Flanigan (1984)
- The Azaria mystery: a reason to kill / George W. Rollo (198?)
- Azaria newsletter / Chamberlain Information Service
- The Chamberlain case, was justice done? / Robert Lewis (1990, ISBN 0646030876)
- Le chien du desert rouge / John Bryson (1997, ISBN 2742712712)
- The crown versus Chamberlain, 1980-1987 / Ken Crispin (1987, ISBN 0867600888)
- Dingo innocent: the Azaria Chamberlain mystery / Buck Richardson (2002, ISBN 0957729006)
- Evil angels / John Bryson (2000, ISBN 0733613284)
- Justice in jeopardy: twelve witnesses speak out / edited by Guy Boyd (1984, ISBN 0959114203)
- The making of a modern myth: the Chamberlain case and the Australian media (M.A. thesis) / Belinda Wilson
- New forensic evidence in support of an inquiry into the convictions of M. and L. Chamberlain / Chamberlain Innocence Committee (1985)