On August 17, 1980 something happened that would shake the country of Australia to its core. Pastor Michael Chamberlain and his wife Lindy were on vacation at Ayers Rock in Australia along with their almost 10-week old baby, Azaria, and two boys (Aidan, 6 and Reagan, 4). Azaria was bundled up taking a nap in the tent while the others were outside the tent talking with some other campers. Lindy heard a noise from inside the tent and went to investigate, seeing a dingo (an Australian wild dog) running from the tent. She looked inside and her baby was gone. The dingo had taken it.
It was a horrible tragedy that would become worse when accusations were made that the baby had not been taken by a dingo, but was rather murdered by Lindy Chamberlain. It was theorized that blood was found in the car of the Chamberlains (later to be dis-proven), that no one else saw the dingo take the baby, that dingoes do not attack humans, and that the Chamberlains weren’t “acting right” during media interviews.
While campers at Ayers Rock that night didn’t see the dingo take the baby, some did hear a baby’s short cry, followed by a “low growl”, then silence. But the focus wasn’t on what others heard that night. Authorities didn’t believe a dingo capable of such an act, therefore the mother must have done it.
Until this time, Australians had always prided themselves on having a fair legal system. But this one case would divide a country and bring new questions about the real fairness of the legal system in Australia.
While an initial inquiry supported the story of the Chamberlains, prosecutors had their own theory instead. They claim that Lindy went to the tent, took the baby to the car, killed it in the car with scissors, then hid the body and invented the story of a dingo taking her baby. To support their case, they presented evidence of “blood” in the car based on positive readings of evidence from the car. In reality (as later proven), the samples taken had been a mixture of copper dust (the Chamberlains lived in a copper mining town), milkshake spills, and sound deadener. It was later discovered that the copper dust, in particular, shows initial positive readings as “blood” when tested with the reagent used in the case. But that’s hindsight.
During the prosecution, the Australian public became enthralled with the case. It became the most publicized murder trial in the history of Australia (and remains such today). On October 29, 1982, Lindy Chamberlain was found “guilty” of killing her daughter and sentenced to life in prison. Her minister-husband Michael was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact. It was thought that justice had been served…
until February 2, 1986.
On February 2, 1986, some baby clothing remains were found partially buried near a dingo lair. The clothing belonged to baby Azaria. Her conviction was overturned. But to this date, Lindy has sought to have her name 100% cleared. We’ll get to that in a moment…
The story of Lindy Chamberlain and baby Azaria has been the focus of many books, TV shows (even a mini-series), and movies since the original incident. The most famous was the 1988 movie A Cry in the Dark starring Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain. She would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Lindy.
In 1989 I met Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. I had invited them to the college I was attending to talk about their experience and they accepted. It was a moving story and one that shows that being quick to hyper-focus on one’s guilt can sometimes keep the truth at bay.
The moral is that we need to be careful in rushing to judgement about others. In the case of Michael and Lindy Chamberlain, many believed that Lindy Chamberlain was not “grieving” in the right way. The result was a rush to judgement that she must have had something to do in the death of her child. In truth, she suffered two major tragedies. The death of her baby and going to prison for something she didn’t do.