Coroner Rules Dingo Took Away Australian Baby

Jonathan Samuels, Australia correspondent
Coroner Rules Dingo Took Away Australian Baby

After a 32-year legal fight a coroner in Australia has ruled that a dingo stole a baby from a campsite in 1980, finally removing any lasting doubt about the mother's involvement in the notorious case.

When nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain disappeared on a family camping holiday, Australia was split over whether a wild Australian dog or her mother Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was to blame.

The child's death certificate left the cause of death open but a coroner in Darwin has now ruled it must be attributed to a dingo.

The eyes of Mrs Chamberlain and her ex-husband Michael Chamberlain welled with tears as the findings of the fourth inquest into the baby's disappearance were announced in court.

"We're relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga," Mrs Chamberlain said outside the court in the northern city of Darwin.

She spent three years in prison in the 1980's for Azaria's murder, accused of slashing her throat with scissors even though a body was never found.

Her then-husband was charged with being an accessory after the fact. The murder conviction was later overturned and Mrs Chamberlain has always maintained a wild dog took her daughter.

Azaria disappeared from a campsite near Ayers Rock, the red monolith in the Australian desert now known by its Aboriginal name Uluru.

The case became famous internationally through the 1988 movie "A Cry in the Dark."

Many Australians initially did not believe that a dingo was strong enough to take away the baby. Some even spat on Mrs Chamberlain and howled like dingoes outside her house.

She was three years into her sentence when evidence was found that backed up her version of events: the baby's jacket, found near a dingo den, helped explain the condition of the rest of the baby's clothing.

A Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, debunked much of the forensic evidence used at trial and her conviction was overturned.

The couple gave new evidence to the coroner about more than 200 recorded dingo attacks on humans since Azaria disappeared. Three children died as a result of the attacks.

"No longer will Australia be able to say that dingoes are not dangerous and only attack if provoked," Mrs Chamberlain said before leaving the court with her ex-husband and their three surviving children.

They then went to collect Azaria's death certificate, which states the newly confirmed cause of death.

"We live in a beautiful country, but it is dangerous and we would ask all Australians to beware of this and take appropriate precautions," she said.

Coroner Elizabeth Morris ruled that on August 17, 1980, shortly after Mrs Chamberlain placed Azaria in the tent, a dingo, or dingoes, entered and carried the baby away.

Ms Morris detailed how the mother was alerted to a baby's cry, and on returning to the tent saw a dingo nearby. She raised the alarm but despite an extensive search, the body was never found.

The coroner noted that dingo experts disagree on whether a dingo could have removed the clothing so neatly and without causing more damage.

"It would have been very difficult for a dingo to have removed Azaria from her clothing without causing more damage than what was observed on it, however it would have been possible for it to have done so," she said.

"I think it is likely that a dingo would have left the clothing more scattered, but it might not have done so.

She then spoke directly to the family: "Please accept my sincere sympathy on the death of your special loved daughter and sister Azaria. I am so sorry for your loss.

"Time does not remove the pain and sadness of the death of a child."