Azaria Chamberlain was the nearly-ten-week-old daughter of Seventh Day Adventist pastor Michael Chamberlain and his wife Lindy Chamberlain who was taken and killed by a dingo at Ayers Rock in central Australia.
Azaria Chamberlain was asleep in the family tent at the Ayers Rock camping ground on 17th August 1980, with her older brother Reagan, 4, when a dingo entered the tent and took Azaria. Her parents and other brother, Aiden, 6, were around a campfire nearby, with other campers.
Lindy Chamberlain, hearing a cry from her baby, returned to the tent just in time to see what appeared in the dark to be a dingo leaving the tent, and, investigating, found her baby gone.
A search proved fruitless, and police became suspicious of the circumstances. Public opinions on the case were strong, and there was a widespread rumour that the name Azaria meant "Sacrifice in the wilderness". The name actually means "whom Jehovah helps". However, a coronial inquest found that a dingo had, in fact, taken Azaria, and that her body had been disposed of by a person or persons unknown. The coroner also pointed out that the name does not mean and has never meant "Sacrifice in the wilderness".
Parents charged and convicted
However, the Northern Territory government had the findings of the coronial inquest quashed, and a second inquest ordered. Whereas the first inquest had concentrated on the dingo, the second concentrated on allegations of blood in the Chamberlain car. As a result of the second inquest, Lindy Chamberlain was charged with the murder of Azaria, and Michael Chamberlain with being an accessory after the fact. The subsequent court case in front of a jury found both parents guilty as charged. Whilst Michael Chamberlain was given a suspended sentence to allow him to raise his remaining children, Lindy Chamberlain was sentenced to life with hard labour.
Five and a half years after her disappearance, a matinee jacket matching the description of the one that Lindy Chamberlain said her daughter was wearing when she disappeared, was found at the base of Ayers rock. This evidence showed that Lindy had been telling the truth, and she was released from prison pending further investigation. A further trial quashed all convictions against Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. Lindy Chamberlain subsequently received AU$1.3 million compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
The case has been put to film a number of times, including the following:
- Who Killed Baby Azaria? was made for TV in 1983, when Lindy Chamberlain was still in jail, and reportedly presumes that she was guilty.
- Evil Angels, known as A Cry in the Dark outside Australia, was made in 1988, directed by Fred Schepisi, and starred Meryl Streep and Sam Neill as Lindy and Michael Chamberlain.
- Through My Eyes is a two-part TV mini series made in 2004.
- Linder, Douglas, The Lindy Chamberlain Trial, 2005.
- Steel, Fiona, A Cry in the Night
- Hogg, Russell, Chamberlain Case (1984)