4 Years After A Mother Was Jailed For Killing Her Baby, A Tiny Jacket Was Found Near A Dingo’s Lair

Image: via ABC News

It’s August 1980, and the Chamberlain family are camping out in the shadow of Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territory. Then, after darkness has fallen, a terrible shout rings out through the night. Baby Azaria has disappeared, and her mother, Lindy, is pointing the finger at an unlikely suspect. Incredibly, it’s the start of a mystery that will captivate Australia for more than 30 years.

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Born Alison Lynne Murchison in March 1948, Lindy acquired her nickname when she was a young girl. In her early 20s, she then left her home in New Zealand and moved with her family to Australia, where she ultimately met and married pastor Michael Chamberlain. And after spending five years living in Tasmania, Lindy and Michael finally settled in Queensland.

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By that time, Lindy had given birth to her eldest son, Aidan; and in 1976 another boy, Reagan, arrived. Then, on June 11, 1980, she welcomed the daughter that a friend said she had always longed for: Azaria. However, when the Chamberlains’ baby girl was just a couple of months old, the family took a trip that would end in unthinkable tragedy.

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On August 16, 1980, the Chamberlains traveled some 770 miles from their home in Mount Isa to Uluru – the famous rock formation located in the Australian outback. Lindy and Michael had baby Azaria, six-year-old Aidan and four-year-old Regan in tow for what should have been a happy family adventure.

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The Chamberlains camped at a site near the rock, and their first evening there passed without incident. However, on the second night of the stay, the family’s neighbors reported hearing the baby cry. And soon, the area descended into chaos. According to Lindy, a dingo had broken into their campsite and made off with Azaria.

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Apparently, Lindy had entered the Chamberlains’ tent only to discover Azaria missing and the bedding covered in blood. Then as she rushed out to get assistance, she cried, “Help! A dingo’s got my baby!” Tragically, the bizarre phrase would go on to haunt her for the rest of her life; it would also lend an unfortunate air of humor to the upsetting chain of events.

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Soon, both the police and trackers from the local Aboriginal community had arrived at the campsite to hunt for the missing baby. They would go on to find a diaper and a vest that Azaria had been wearing – but that wasn’t all. The infant’s jumpsuit – ripped and marked with bloodstains – was also retrieved, and all of the pieces of clothing were discovered ominously close to a dingo’s den.

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Four months later, a coroner launched an inquest into Azaria’s death. Then, in February 1981, Denis Barritt, an Alice Springs magistrate, ruled that the baby had likely been killed in a rare attack by a dingo. And with the witnesses apparently supporting this version of events, it appeared to be an open-and-shut case.

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However, this official explanation did not satisfy the Northern Territory Police. And during a second inquest that same year, a forensic scientist from Britain claimed that damage to Azaria’s jumpsuit indicated that someone had cut her throat. Moreover, the specialist alleged that the impression of a human hand had been discovered on the baby’s clothes.

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In light of this evidence, prosecutors therefore proposed a different version of events. According to them, Lindy had murdered Azaria and concealed the body before telling the other campers that a dingo had taken her. And when the search for the missing girl had begun, Lindy had, purportedly, got rid of the evidence of her alleged crime.

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Additionally, the prosecution suggested that fetal hemoglobin had been discovered inside the Chamberlains’ vehicle – fetal hemoglobin being a substance that is generally found in babies aged no more than six months old. So, with these new claims on the table, police arrested both Lindy and Michael for Azaria’s murder.

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However, some experts were less than convinced of the Chamberlains’ supposed guilt. Apparently, it was possible that the hemoglobin could have come from an adult; it could even have been left behind by an innocuous substance such as chocolate-flavored milkshake or mucus. Meanwhile, a dingo researcher pointed to evidence that suggested one of the animals could easily have carried out such an attack.

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Despite this, however, Lindy found herself facing life in jail, with Michael sentenced to 18 months for acting as an accessory after the fact. And even though the couple launched an appeal in 1983, the court rejected it. Lindy also gave birth to another daughter, Kahlia, while behind bars.

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Then, in 1986, a chance discovery turned the case upside down. That year, David Brett, a tourist from England, suffered a fatal fall while scaling Uluru. And while police were searching for his body, they stumbled across something else: the jacket that Azaria had been wearing on the night that she had disappeared.

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That wasn’t all, either; apparently, the jacket had been found in an area renowned for its dingo dens. Immediately, then, Lindy was released, and a new investigation into Azaria’s death began. And finally, on September 15, 1988, the Northern Territory Court of Appeals exonerated the Chamberlains of all charges. In its decision, the court cited both a dismissal of two aspects of the case against the couple and a biased trial as being among its reasons.

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Then, a couple of years after the Chamberlains’ legal victory, the court awarded them compensation of $1.3 million. Unfortunately, though, the amount didn’t even cover their legal costs. And the inquiry continued. In 1995 a third inquest ruled that Azaria had died from unknown causes. A fourth inquest, meanwhile, was to announce its findings in 2012.

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So it was that over 30 years after Azaria’s death, the coroner acknowledged that the child’s passing had been caused “as a result of [her] being attacked and taken by a dingo.” This verdict did not convince everyone, though. In fact, documents released in 2017 indicated that some officials remained suspicious of the Chamberlains even after the court had cleared them.

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“We didn’t believe the dingo story, but we didn’t believe Lindy should be in jail for murder. We thought it was a harsh outcome,” former minister Steve Hatton said in a 2017 interview with ABC News. “There was a natural fairness about that decision, whether you thought her guilty or not.”

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In the years since Azaria’s disappearance, however, a number of other cases involving dingoes attacking humans have come to light. Indeed, as many as 400 such incidents have taken place on Fraser Island, off the coast of Queensland. Meanwhile, adding still further to the intrigue surrounding the case, in 2005 a woman came forward claiming that she was the Chamberlains’ missing daughter – although her allegations weren’t substantiated.

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Michael and Lindy have each since married other partners, but their tragic story lives on in a number of movies and television programs that dramatize the events of August 1980. And with references to the incident cropping up in everything from The Simpsons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it seems unlikely that people will forget Azaria’s sad fate anytime soon.

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