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Coroner Finds Dingo Killed Baby In 1980

Jun 13, 2012
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we can report this morning that a decade-long mystery over the death of a baby in Australia has been solved. Back in the 1980s, the case of an infant killed in the outback drew worldwide attention. Now a coroner has found that the killer was a dingo.

Stuart Cohen reports from Sydney.

STUART COHEN, BYLINE: The disappearance of nine week old Azaria Chamberlain during a family camping trip to Australia's outback in 1980 became one of the countries most infamous trials and a media spectacle.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The prosecution says that here, Lindy Chamberlain cut the throat of her baby, and husband Michael helped cover up the homicide.

COHEN: In many ways, it was Australia's version of the O.J. Simpson trial. The glaring media attention divided the nation. Wild theories made front page headlines. The Chamberlains were vilified by the press, leading many to believe it tainted the jury. Lindy Chamberlain served three years in prison for her daughter's murder before new evidence exonerated both her and her husband. The case became the subject of books, a TV series, an opera, and even a Hollywood movie, with Meryl Streep uttering the line that's become synonymous with Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CRY IN THE DARK")

MERYL STREEP: (as Lindy Chamberlain) The dingo took my baby.

COHEN: Three decades later, after three previous coroner's inquests, a criminal trial and a royal commission, the case remained, officially at least, unsolved. Lindy Chamberlain told Australian television it was still important to clear their name.

LINDY CHAMBERLAIN: It was always unfinished business. While you have an open finding it can always be opened at any stage. And there were so many misconceptions and rumors, and even today.

COHEN: But the findings of fourth coroner's inquest have finally delivered the ruling the Chamberlains have been fighting for.

ELISABETH MORRIS: I am satisfied that the evidence is sufficiently adequate to find that what occurred on the 17th of August, 1980, a dingo or dingoes entered the tent, took Azaria and carried and dragged her from the immediate area.

COHEN: Father Michael Chamberlain says the family feels vindicated, finally.

MICHAEL CHAMBERLAIN: This has been a terrifying battle. Bitter at times. But now, some healing and a chance to put our daughter's spirit to rest.

COHEN: The chamberlains had claimed that a dingo opened the tent and carried off their infant daughter. Since the last inquest in 1995, there've been hundreds of documented attacks on people by dingoes, resulting in at least three fatalities. Lindy Chamberlain says she still doesn't know how to feel about the ruling.

CHAMBERLAIN: I celebrate the final triumph of truth. But I don't celebrate her death. And the two are so intertwined.

COHEN: The public has come to view the treatment of the Chamberlains, both by the courts and the country's media, as one of Australia's greatest miscarriages of justice. The couple divorced as a result. Lindsey had to give birth to her second daughter while in prison. The Chamberlains were eventually given more than $1 million as compensation for the wrongful prosecution. But Lindy Chamberlain says that's just a fraction of what they've ultimately spent to clear their names.

For NPR news, I'm Stuart Cohen in Sydney.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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