Azaria Chamberlain: The Baby Taken By A Dingo, Lessons In Evidence?

Uluru, credit to Wikipedia user Huntster

42 years ago a family went camping in the Australian countryside. Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain was only nine weeks old. Her parents Lindy and Michael had chosen the windswept beauty of Uluru in the Northern Territory as the destination. Formerly known as Ayers Rock this is a sandstone hill of outstanding beauty in Australia.

17th August 1980.

They were not wild camping. They settled and set up in a camp ground amongst other people. The couple had other young children and the infant was placed in the tent. While the parents were busy a Dingo ( Australian wild dog) entered the tent and carried the child off. Lindy raised the alarm and a search began. Eventually the baby grow ( jump suit)  Azaria was wearing was found cut and bloodstained. A big issue is it was reported the garment was still fastened. Azaria’s remains have never been located.

I want to pause and explain the word ‘cut’ in this context. It was later explained, after much debate, that Dingoes can leave incised cuts that look like a human hand has been involved. This is an important point that caused much confusion at the time. Also it is reported that Dingoes can remove ‘food’ from wrappings, or in this case clothing, with great care.

Uluru, credit to Wikipedia user Huntster

Lindy Chamberlain had been walking back to the tent when she saw the Dingo come out. She said she thought it had something in in it’s mouth, however, her view was obscured by a log rail. So she thinks something is in the dog’s mouth, she walks to the tent and discovers her child missing. She then puts two and two together and raises the alarm.

Later witnesses believed they heard an infant crying out in the bush after the hunt was on for Azaria.

The police attended and trackers were used. At that point things went very wrong for the family.

A Hell Storm Of Mistakes

The prosecution said blood was found in the car and that blood belonged to the infant. The scenario they came up with had Lindy Chamberlain sneaking her daughter into the vehicle, killing her and then sneaking her back into the tent. All this was done in a short space of time with other people milling about. She then staged the Dingo sighting.

The baby clothes, which included a singlet, were found in scrub 4 km (3.5 mile) away. The prosecution claimed that once all were asleep the baby was disposed of in the wilds. The idea was that the alarm and search was a distraction and the infant was all the while in the tent hidden in a camera bag. None of this was true.

The defence produced experts that backed up Lindy Chamberlain’s story. They believed it was entirely possible for a baby to have been taken in the way described. It was rare and there were very few accounts of similar incidents, but it could happen. People gave evidence that Dingoes had been sighted that evening out and about.  This was all to no avail. Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder in 1982. Michael received a short suspended sentence for being an accessory after the fact.

a lady hold a baby as it stands on its own feet
Lindy Chamberlain and her daughter

Then appeals happened and the various reviews. All found against Lindy Chamberlain. It must have been hell for the woman and the family. It was resolved in 1986. A Dingo lair was discovered and there was the only piece of the poor infant’s clothing that was outstanding. It was a matinee jacket, this is often a knitted outer layer. Lindy Chamberlain had said Azaria had been wearing a matinee jacket, the police had said she wasn’t. So for six years it had survived the coming and going of the dogs. It had weathered the winds and sand and rain. Lindy Chamberlain remained in prison and the clue that turned the prosecution over was in the sand.

There was no denying at that point the convictions were at least unsafe. Lindy Chamberlain was released. Between that time and 2012 her conviction was overturned and a fourth coroner’s court hearing took place. Only then was the official cause of death given as a Dingo attack.

It is easy for anyone to sit here and second guess the situation everyone faced that night. I am not going to do that. However, trackers were used and evidence was gathered. Much of this showed Dingo activity close to the camp site. Some sources have even stated tracks were in the tent.

What tipped the scales seems to have been the ‘blood’ that was found in the Chamberlain’s car.  The tests originally used in this case to find traces of blood have since been shown to be unreliable. A positive trace indicating Foetal Haemoglobin ( blood of a infant until about the age of 2-4 months) could be triggered by other substances.

The media lapped up all of the worst of this case from the start. Of course the media is a reflection of us. Lindy Chamberlain was the focus of this. She was not acting like a stereotypical mother according to the razor sharp, collective wisdom, vocal people.

Their religion, Seventh Day Adventist, was mis represented and the circus rolled on. Just as we have seen so many times before.

I wonder how much humble pie was eventually eaten by those busy lighting torches and demanding the highest punishment for Lindy Chamberlain?

In the end the Chamberlains were awarded 1.3 million Aus dollars compensation. I have read it did not touch the sides of the amount they had spent on the years of constant legal action.

One startling thing for me was that at the trial much was made of the lack of documented Dingo attacks. However, the chief ranger, Mr Roff, at Uluru had gone on record asking for a cull of Dingoes.

In an ABC News article Mr Roff is quoted as saying of Dingo attacks in the area:

Yes, there was quite a number of them and we’d had a few problems with them attacking kids. Although no kids were badly ( word missing), there was blood drawn. So there was a problem. I’d written to them about the problem that we’d had before the Azaria occurrence and, well, in that time I didn’t get much feedback.

Pre Azaria being killed, ‘kids’ had been a target of Dingoes and that was documented as a problem. Then you have the people who saw the family. There was only really a matter of minutes in which the ‘murder’ could have been committed.

Without the flawed blood indications from the original testing was there any evidence that the Chamberlains had anything to do with ‘a murder?’

Even the presence of blood was disputed by the defence. It was claimed they had at one point picked up a hitchhiker who was nursing a cut for example.

A camera bag was said, as I mentioned above, to have been used to hid Azaria’s body. In there were found loops of material from the jump suit or rather that type of jump suit. The family said they had occasionally used it to hold soiled clothes from the infant. The to and fro of the rest of the evidence was done in a similar way.

The allegation was that Lindy had cut her child’s throat in the car. As a result the blood evidence was crucial sure but there was a lot of circumstantial evidence. What appeared to be absent was any mention of motive. Lindy and Michael weathered all this without anyone saying they had been resentful or abusive to Azaria or any other child.

The closest I could find was another flawed theory. It had to do with sacrificing the child as part of a cult. To back that up was someone who looked up the meaning of the name Azaria. They said it meant something along the lines of sacrifice to god. It actually means, helped by god. That seems to have been the sort of environment the Chamberlains and their legal team were operating in.

I have a link below to a site called Famous Trials. I cannot attest to the accuracy of it all. I can say it seems well researched and written.

Reasonable Doubt

These are my random thoughts. The couple were in view of many people. The car was parked in the camp ground. The camp ground area was known to have a Dingo problem, one that saw children specifically targeted. There was no DNA style evidence available in 1980. The fact there were traces of blood in a family car is not at all unusual. The group consisted of two adults and three children. So unless a huge amount of blood was present that is not significant.

Witnesses reported hearing and seeing Dingoes around the camp.

Lindy Chamberlain went to the tent and saw a Dingo leaving but her view was obscured. She then sees that her child is missing.

The point is without a body and without huge amounts of blood that can be tied to the child, how was the beyond reasonable doubt threshold reached?

The clothing that was found within a week had cuts to it and blood stains around the neck. The issue was it seemed to have mostly been fastened up. That is suspicious for sure. Yet how did that tie into Lindy specifically? Why not Michael or the neighbours in the next tent?

When you take the totality of the circumstances and you are told that Lindy was the killer you can then follow the circumstantial evidence and get beyond reasonable doubt. It would be an illogical path however.

When you take the elements separately and begin from a position of ‘ Who did this?’ You cannot get specifically to Lindy Chamberlain.

I believe a case that should have had more to it than the blood trace indications became all about that. The rest was attached to that one, as it turned out, flawed analysis.

What do you think?

I think it is another good example of broken reasoning. I think early on Lindy Chamberlain was thought to be guilty and the rest, all those bits, followed through miserable years until 2012.



This article is specific to evidence of Dingo involvement.