Lindy Chamberlain – aka Alice Lynne “Lindy” Chamberlain-Creighton, was at the center of one of Australia’s most publicized murder trials in which she was accused, and convicted, of killing her 2-month old daughter, Azaria while camping at Uluru. In her defense, she always maintained that she saw a dingo leave the tent where Azaria slept on the night she disappeared.
Eight years later her conviction was overturned in the discovery of new evidence and both she and Michael Chamberlain were acquitted of all charges. She was adjudged wrongly convicted only after having spent three years in prison for murdering her baby, and having given birth to her fourth child while a prisoner. In 1992 Lindy Chamberlain received $1.3 million compensation from the Australian government for wrongful imprisonment.
Alice Lynne Murchison was born in Whakatane, New Zealand where she was known as “Lindy” from a young age. She moved to Australia with her family in 1949. She and her family were members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and she married fellow Adventist and pastor Michael Chamberlain on 18 November 1969.
In the 1970’s the Chamberlains had two sons; Aidan, born in 1973, and Reagan, born in 1976. Chamberlain’s first daughter, Azaria, was born June 11th in 1980, her second daughter and fourth child, Kahlia, was born in November 1982. For the first five years after their marriage the couple lived in Tasmania, after which they moved to Mount Isa in northern Queensland. At the time their daughter Azaria went missing, Lindy’s husband Michael served as minister of Mount Isa’s Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Azaria Chamberlain’s Disappearance
When Azaria was two months old, the family went on a camping trip to Uluru, arriving on August 16, 1980. On the night of August 17th, Lindy Chamberlain reported that the child had been taken from her tent by a dingo.
A massive search was organised. Azaria was not found but the jump suit she had been wearing was discovered about a week later about 4000 m from the tent, bloodstained about the neck, indicating the probable death of the missing child. A matinee jacket the child had been wearing was not found at the time.
From the day Azaria went missing, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain have maintained a dingo took their child, and early on in the case, the facts showed that for the two years before Azaria went missing, Uluru / Ayers Rock chief ranger Derek Roff had been writing to the government urging a dingo cull and warning of imminent human tragedy, that dingoes were becoming increasingly cheeky, approaching and sometimes biting people.
Conviction, Imprisonment and Release
The initial inquiry, held in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, by Alice Springs magistrate and coroner Dennis Barritt in December 1980 and January 1981, supported the Chamberlains’ account of Azaria’s disappearance, finding a dingo took the child.
The Supreme Court quashed the findings of the initial inquest and ordered a second inquest in December 1981, with the taking of evidence concluded in February 1982. By an indictment presented to the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in September 1982, Lindy Chamberlain was charged with the murder of Azaria Chamberlain and Michael Chamberlain was charged with being an accessory after the fact. On October 29th 1982 the Chamberlains were both found guilty as charged.
In committing the Chamberlains for trial, the coroner who performed the second inquest and recorded findings as to the cause and manner of Azaria’s death, stated that although the evidence was, to a large degree, circumstantial, a jury properly instructed could arrive at a verdict; with regard to the clothing evidence, he surmised that the Chamberlains knew dingo’s were in the area, attempted to simulate a dingo attack, recovered Azaria’s buried body, removed her clothing, damaged it by cutting, rubbed it in vegetation and deposited the clothes for later recovery.
On this basis and that of blood evidence of unknown origin found in the Chamberlains’ car, the Chamberlains were prosecuted and convicted for the murder of their 2-month old baby, with Lindy sentenced to life imprisonment and Michael Chamberlain convicted as an accessory to murder.
The prosecution’s theory was that, in a ten minute absence from the camp fire, Lindy returned to her tent, changed into track suit pants, took Azaria to her car, used scissors to cut Azaria’s throat, waited for Azaria to die, hid the body in a camera case in the car, cleaned up blood on everything including the outside of the camera case, removed the tracksuit pants, obtained baked beans for her son from the car, returned to the tent, did something to leave blood splashes there and brought her son Aidan back to the campfire without ever attracting the attention of other campers.
The prosecution’s expert testimony for forensic evidence included that of James Cameron, a scientist who had also given crucial evidence in a case in England which was later overturned when his expert evidence was proved wrong. With regard to the timing of the baby’s cry and Mrs. Chamberlain’s whereabouts, the prosecution also claimed that the Chamberlains convinced fellow camper and witness Sally Lowe to say that she heard Azaria cry after Mrs. Chamberlain returned to the camp fire. Witness Judith West, who was camped 30 m away, testified to hearing a dog’s low, throaty growl coming from that direction, a sound that she associated with growls her husband’s dogs made when he was slaughtering sheep.
Shortly after her conviction, Chamberlain was escorted from Berrimah Prison under guard to give birth to her fourth child, Kahlia, on November 17th 1982, in Darwin Hospital, and was returned thereafter to prison. An appeal to the Federal Court against conviction was subsequently dismissed. Another appeal against her conviction was rejected by the High Court in February 1984.
Release of New Evidence
New evidence emerged on February 2nd 1986 when a remaining item of clothing was found partially buried near Uluru in an isolated location adjacent to a dingo lair: Azaria’s missing matinee jacket, which the police had maintained for years did not exist. Five days later, on February 7th 1986, with Azaria’s missing jacket found and supporting the Chamberlain’s defense case, Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison, and her life sentence was remitted by the Northern Territory Government. A Royal Commission began investigating the matter further in 1987.
Morling Royal Commission
The purpose of the Royal Commission was to inquire into and report on the correctness of the Chamberlain convictions. In reaching the conclusion that there was a reasonable doubt as to the Chamberlains’ guilt, Commissioner Morling concluded that the hypothesis that Mrs. Chamberlain murdered Azaria had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Although the Commission was of the opinion that the evidence afforded considerable support for the dingo hypothesis, the Commission did not examine the evidence to see whether it had been proved that a dingo took the baby. To do so would, in the words of Commissioner Morling, involve “… (a) fundamental error of reversing the onus of proof and requiring Mrs Chamberlain to prove her innocence.”
In acquitting the Chamberlains in 1988, the Supreme Court found that the alleged “baby blood” found in the Chamberlain’s car, upon which the prosecution so heavily relied, could have been any substance, but was likely that of a sound deadening compound from a manufacturing over spray.
This finding underscored inconsistencies in the earlier blood testing, which, along with the later-recovered matinee jacket from a dingo lair area, had given rise to the Morling Royal Commission’s doubts about the propriety of her conviction. The court also noted that as DNA testing was not advanced in the early 1980’s, the expert testimony given by the prosecution at trial and relied on by the jurors was reasonable evidence at the time, even though it was ultimately found to be faulty.
After the Chamberlains were acquitted by the Supreme Court in September 1988 and their convictions overturned, a third inquest in 1995 took place, with the coroner’s report stating that it was a “paper inquest” rather than a full inquest since there was little new evidence and the second inquest was never fully completed.
The coroner considered the Morling Royal Commission’s report inquiring into the correctness of the convictions against Lindy Chamberlain along with submissions made on behalf of the Chamberlains, and returned an open verdict in Azaria’s cause of death, or, insufficient evidence by the prosecution that failed to meet the required standard of proof for conviction. Specifically, he wrote “After examining all the evidence I am unable to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Azaria Chamberlain died at the hands of Lindy Chamberlain. It automatically follows that I am also unable to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Michael Leigh Chamberlain had any involvement in the death.” He also wrote that because the evidence for the death-by-dingo hypothesis was never developed “I am unable to be reasonably satisfied that Azaria Chamberlain died accidentally as a result of being taken by a dingo”.
Lindy Chamberlain and Michael Chamberlain have continued to push for a fuller investigation of Azaria’s death as caused by a dingo. A new inquest began in February 2012 and new figures on dingo attacks on Fraser Island have been collated by the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). They will reportedly be provided as evidence at the Azaria Chamberlain inquest. Coroner Elizabeth Morris said new evidence in relation to dingo attacks on infants and young children had helped convince her to reopen the investigation.
After 32 years of intense media interest and public excoriation, the Chamberlains have stated they are yet unsatisfied with bare acquittal and presumed innocence, they are keen to finally, and definitively, determine how their daughter died.