Another inquest to probe Azaria Chamberlain disappearance in Australia



A Dingo stands in an enclosure at the Dingo Discovery and Research Center at the Toolern Vale in rural Victoria, near Melbourne, where she is breeding dingoes for export to zoos around the world, on May 25, 2009.


William West

"A dingo took my baby!"

As familiar phrases go, it's right up there with "Throw another shrimp on the barbee," Paul Hogan's immortalized — and Americanized (Australians call them prawns) travel ad jingle.

They were the words — more or less — uttered by Lindy Chamberlain to raise the alarm after she said she saw her 9-week-old girl, Azaria, dragged by a dingo from their tent during a family camping holiday at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in 1980.

Now, it seems the case — and the famous phrase — may get one last go around, after the Northern Territory coroner's office announced it was preparing to hold a final inquest into Azaria Chamberlain's disappearance, starting Feb. 24, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Azaria's body as never found, but her bloodied damaged jumpsuit was, in an area reportedly surrounded by dingo lairs. The first coroner's inquest found in February 1981 that a dingo — a wild dog native to Australia — had taken the baby.

However, it seemed Northern Territory police were not convinced by Lindy Chamberlain's claim that she had seen an animal near the family's tent with something in its mouth, and they kept the investigation open.

According to the SMH, "a second inquest in February 1982 concluded that the baby had not been taken by a dingo but that Lindy Chamberlain should go on trial for murder and then-husband Michael [a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor] as an accessory after the fact."

Lindy Chamberlain was ultimately convicted of murdering Azaria and sentenced to life in prison. Michael Chamberlain was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact and given a suspended sentence.

However, Chamberlain was released from prison after a royal commission in 1987 exonerated the couple.

Then, to further confuse things, yet another coroner's inquest in 1995 delivered an open verdict, leaving an open question in many minds — did she or didn't she? Or did the dingo?

In a report last year, based on previously unseen jury notes, the Herald Sun wrote that police had "built an entirely circumstantial case that Lindy slashed her baby's throat with a pair of scissors in the front seat of the family car and then, somehow, made the body disappear."

Police also believed her husband "helped her get rid of the baby, probably by burying her in a sand dune at the base of the Rock."

Lindy Chamberlain's claims of innocence were also greeted skepticism by many Australians, who saw her as an unsympathetic figure, to put it mildly. Asked to decide between a woman who became something of a media celebrity in the months after her daughter's disappearance — and turned up newly pregnant to an inquest into her death — and an iconic animal that had roamed the Australian continent for more than 5,000 years, many chose the dingo.

However, Coroner Elizabeth Morris was reopening the case mainly because of information regarding dingo attacks since Azaria's disappearance, the SMH reported.

The information is understood to include an account of attacks by dingoes on children at Fraser Island in Queensland, which included a fatal attack by two dingoes on a nine-year-old boy in 2001

Michael Chamberlain told Australia's ABC radio over the weekend that he and Lindy, from whom he has since been divorced, hoped to establish forever that Azaria was taken by a dingo.

"I am incredibly gratified," he said. "It's been 31 years now and I just hope this time it will be the ultimate verdict which we've been looking for, for this length of time."