More than 30 years on, coroner will hear fourth inquest into 'Dingo Baby' death

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Australia's most baffling drama continues with reopening of the case in which a mother was condemned and then cleared

Sydney

The growl came first, low and throaty, piercing the darkness of the Australian desert. A baby's cry followed, then, abruptly, there was silence. Inside the tent, the infant girl had vanished. Outside, her mother was screaming: "The dingo's got my baby!" With those words of panic, the mystery of Azaria Chamberlain's disappearance in the Australian Outback in 1980 became the most notorious, divisive and baffling legal drama in the country's history. Had a wild dog really taken the baby? Or had Azaria's mother, Lindy, slit her daughter's throat and buried her in the desert?

Thirty-two years later, Australian officials hope, finally and definitively, to determine how Azaria died when the Northern Territory coroner opens a fourth inquest on Friday. Lindy Chamberlain, convicted of murdering her daughter and later cleared, is still waiting for the authorities to close the case that made her the most hated person in Australia.

The nightmare began on 17 August 1980, during a family vacation to Ayers Rock, the sacred Outback monolith. Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, their two sons and Azaria, nine weeks old, were settling in for the night at a campsite near the rock. Azaria was sleeping in a tent and Lindy and Michael were making dinner near by when a baby's cry rang out. Lindy went to check on her daughter and says she saw a dingo slink out of the tent and disappear into the darkness. Azaria's cradle was empty, the blankets still warm. There was an intense search, but Azaria was never found.

The Chamberlains insisted the dingo snatched their daughter. Outside the tent were dingo tracks; inside were spots of blood. Fellow campers told officials they had heard a low growl, then a baby's cry. Azaria's torn, bloodied jumpsuit was found in the desert near by. There was no motive, no witness, no body. But police and the public doubted a dingo was big or strong enough to drag away a 10lb baby. And without the DNA testing available today, the evidence looked damning. The dashboard in the Chamberlains' car was drenched in baby's blood, and a bloody hand print was found on Azaria's jumpsuit. Years later, more sophisticated tests determined the "blood" was a combination of spilled milk and a chemical sprayed during manufacture. The "hand print" was nothing of the kind; it was mostly red desert dust.

Australians didn't like the Chamberlains. Their religious affiliation – Seventh-day Adventist – was too weird, and Lindy was too calm. Her clothes, her nasal voice, her cool demeanour – it was all wrong for a grieving mother. Australians recoiled when she spoke of graphic evidence clinically and without tears. "They'll just peel it like an orange," she told one reporter, describing how a dingo slashes the skin of its prey. She began receiving death threats. People spat at her, howled like a dingo outside her house, called her a bitch, a witch and worse.

Lindy – heavily pregnant with her fourth child – was convicted of murder, accused of slashing her daughter's throat with nail scissors and making it look like a dingo attack. She was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour. Michael was convicted of being an accessory. Three years into Lindy's prison sentence, Azaria's jacket was found by chance – near a dingo den. Days later, Lindy was released from prison. A Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, debunked much of the evidence used at trial and her conviction was overturned.

The turnaround stunned Australians. And, as the evidence shifted in favour of the Chamberlains, public guilt grew. Ten years ago, there was a series of dingo attacks on Australia's Fraser Island, including the fatal mauling of a nine-year-old boy.

Despite the change in public opinion, Azaria's death certificate remains incomplete. Three inquests have returned conflicting results. On Friday, Elizabeth Morris, the coroner for Northern Territory, will examine fresh evidence of dingoattacks before issuing a finding on Azaria.

Mrs Chamberlain declined an interview request but, in an open letter on the 30th anniversary of Azaria's disappearance, she wrote that she was fighting for her daughter. "Our family will always remember today as the day truth was dragged in the dirt and trampled upon but, more than that, it is the day our family was torn apart for ever because we lost our beautiful little Azaria," she wrote. "She deserves justice."

Perhaps no one exemplifies the shifting opinions, uncertainty and nagging guilt of Australians more than Yvonne Cain, one of the jurors who voted to convict Mrs Chamberlain. At first, she empathised with the woman on trial: her own son was bitten by a dingo when he was a baby.

But the prosecution evidence looked strong and the defence looked weak. When the verdict was given, she couldn't look at Mrs Chamberlain, and wept as she was sentenced.

"I'll never forget the judge saying that Lindy would be put into jail for life with hard labour," says Ms Cain, now 63 and living in the southern city of Adelaide. "I imagined her smashing rocks, like in the old days."

After the trial, she was shattered. Was she wrong? She daydreamed about smuggling Mrs Chamberlain out of jail. She grew convinced she had made a horrible mistake. Soon after Mrs Chamberlain's release, the two women met, in a moment captured on video. Ms Cain couldn't stop crying as she hugged the freed woman.

"Are you all right, now that it's all finished?" she asked. "It's not finished yet," Mrs Chamberlain replied.

The two are now friends. But Ms Cain still struggles with her conscience. The guilt will probably always plague her, she says. She believes it should plague all Australians who condemned Mrs Chamberlain. Because if the dingo is guilty, then so is Australia. "I never, ever got over it," Ms Cain says, her voice shaking. "I'm guilty for calling her guilty... I keep thinking back to the time when we were deliberating. If only – if only – I'd have said, 'No, I don't think she's guilty'. That woman was as innocent as you and me."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Based Sales Surveyor - OTE £40,000

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI Designer/ User Interface Designer (UI, User Flow, Design)

£6000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI De...

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Recruitment Genius: CAD / CAM Ladies Cocktail & Eveningwear Gerber Grader

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?