Obituary: Michael Chamberlain
Father who waged a decades-long battle to prove his baby daughter was killed by a dingo
Michael Chamberlain, who died last Monday aged 72, was the father involved in what became known as the Dingo Baby case, the murder trial that polarised opinion in Australia and whose twists and turns inspired the Hollywood film A Cry In The Dark (1988) starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill.
The story began in August 1980 when Chamberlain, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and his wife Lindy, took their two young sons and nine-week-old baby daughter Azaria on a camping trip to Ayers Rock. The night after their arrival Lindy reported that Azaria had been taken from her tent by a dingo. A massive search was launched but the baby's body was never found, only the bloodstained jumpsuit she had been wearing. An inquest in 1981 accepted that Azaria had been killed by a dingo but added her body was disposed of with human involvement.
From the start many Australians took against the Chamberlains. Lindy seemed too cold and self-contained for a grieving mother, while their religious affiliation was regarded as weird. It was claimed, moreover, that a dingo would not have been strong enough to drag away a 10lb baby. Rumours began to circulate that Lindy had killed her daughter as part of some bizarre religious ritual.
Within months new evidence emerged which seemed to confirm public suspicions and a second inquest in 1982 charged Lindy Chamberlain with murder. Traces of "blood" had been found in the family car, and a bloody "hand print" was found on Azaria's jumpsuit. (Years later, DNA tests determined the "blood" was a chemical sprayed during manufacture; the "hand print" was red desert dust).
The prosecution claimed there was no dingo saliva on Azaria's jumpsuit, which Lindy Chamberlain put down to the jacket the baby had been wearing over it. But the jacket was missing, and police claimed she was lying. Lindy Chamberlain - heavily pregnant with her fourth child - was convicted of murder, accused of slashing her daughter's throat with nail scissors and making it look like a dingo attack. She was sentenced to life imprisonment; her husband was convicted as an accessory but released. Three years into Lindy Chamberlain's sentence, however, the search for a British tourist who had gone missing near Ayers Rock turned up Azaria's missing jacket in a dingo lair. Days later, Lindy Chamberlain was released and in 1987 a Royal Commission debunked much of the trial's forensic evidence .
The turnaround shook Australians's faith in their police and judicial system, but there were many who still questioned the dingo theory. A third inquest in 1995 left the cause of death open. In 2012, however, a fourth inquest was given a dossier of 14 serious dingo attacks since 1986 on humans, three of them fatal. The coroner finally ruled that a dingo had taken and killed Azaria. Michael Leigh Chamberlain was born on February 27, 1944 in Christchurch, New Zealand, but after converting to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1965 he migrated to Australia, where he took a degree in theology. In 1969 he married Lindy Murchison. Chamberlain worked as a Seventh-day Adventist minister in Tasmania, where Lindy gave birth to two sons. In 1977 the family moved to Queensland, where Azaria was born in June 1980.
Lindy Chamberlain gave birth to another daughter in prison, but the case had taken a toll on their marriage and they divorced in 1991. He went on to become an author and teacher and later married Ingrid Bergner, who survives him with their daughter and the two sons and surviving daughter of his first marriage.