Case of Lindy Chamberlain: Media, Courts, and Public On Trial

One of the most tragic cases of miscarriage of justice is the one in the early 1980s where a family was recreational camping in Australia had lost an infant daughter to a wild dog of Australia – the Dingo.

This week the Northern Territorycoroner has opened a fourth inquest concerning the death of Azaria Chamberlain that occurred in the Outback in 1980. Her mother, Lindy Chamberlain, was convicted of murdering her daughter and was later cleared suffering public degradation, false imprisonment (along with her husband, Michael Chamberlain, who was convicted as a conspirator in the murder).  

Lindy Chamberlain became the most hated person in Australia in the 1980s and became a part of a twisted pop culture. Several books were published about it, T-shirtswith the words “A Dingo Ate My Baby” (utterly distasteful of CafePress) and other distasteful commercialization of the tragic case of miscarriage of justice, public cruelty, and a defense attorney who should be ashamed.
Meryl Streep starred in the film A Cry in the Dark, playing the part of Lindy Chamberlain, and an opera was featured and a Seinfeld spoof/sitcom mockingly saying: “Maybe the dingo ate your baby!”. And worst of all, her conviction was based on faulty pathological testimony and no benefit of the doubt. Only one woman on the jury that convicted her, who ended up giving in to other jurors to decide a guilty verdict, couldn’t settle with the verdict given and worked afterward to free her from prison – spending many nights with nightmares due to personal guilt.
The treatment of Lindy, by the Australian public – and elsewhere, in the media, is probably just as, if not more, damning than her imprisonment. As the Associated Pressstated, Sunday, February 19th, 2012 by Kristen Gelineau:
…to Australians, the case is about much more than the guilt or innocence of a woman. It is about the guilt or innocence of a nation – a nation that prides itself on the concept of a “fair go” an equal change, for all. Did Lindy Chamberlain get a fair go? Or had Australians misjudged this woman? With doubts growing about just how fair and tolerant they truly were, many wondered if they had misjudged themselves.And so Australia will once again try to get to the bottom of one of the most painful chapters in its history.
If anything good can come of this would be that Australian society might make sure that someone is absolutely guilty, and even if they are, crass and inappropriate publicity only makes a culture look badly. It is not joke in the death of an infant, whether by a mother’s hand or the fangs of a wild Dingo dog.
Imagine the suffering of this woman, who had two other children – the frantic worry trying to recover her baby, fearing and knowing that she couldn’t possibly be alive, and find out that the law enforcement authorities who were supposed to find the infant, dead or alive, quickly surmised that the mother had murdered her infant. And, in the sense of logic, if a mother had two boys and one girl child, with one on the way – why on Earth would she kill just the one child? There is no motive, even if one thinks of ways a mentally unbalanced person would think.

Lindyand MichaelChamberlain‘s nightmare began on August 17th, 1980 while they were on a family vacation camping near the sacred Outback monolith known as Uluruby the Aborigine people. Their camp being set up, Lindy and Michael were making dinner, Azaria sleeping in the tent (9-weeks-old), when the baby began to cry. Lindy immediately went to check on her and as she entered the tent, she saw a dingo slinking away into the darkness – the child’s bassinet was empty. A frantic search began, but Azaria was never found. Outside the tent were dingo tracks and inside the tent were blood spots. Other campers told law enforcement officers that they heard a low growl, then a baby’s cry. Then suddenly the crying stopped. Azaria’s jumpsuit, covered in blood, was found in the desert – but no body.

Police, as well as the public (thanks to the nonobjective media), doubted that a dingo could be strong enough to carry a 4.5 kilogram (10-pound) baby – never thinking that it could certainly drag a small child. Nobody had ever heard of or documented a Dingo killing a child before. Erroneously, the public believed that Dingos are shy and try to stay away from people. But rural folks and those savvy about wildlife in Australia know better. Wild dogs, predators in general, who lost their fear of humans or just from hunger, will perform bold acts.
According to the report, the baby’s blood was on the dashboard and allegedly a bloody hand print on the jumpsuit – which later it was found to be just marks caused by the red desert dust and no “hand print” at all. And the “blood on the dashboard”? It turned out to be spilled milk combined with a chemical spray. Linda was guilty before proven innocent by the police, the media, and then the public. According to the forensic “experts” there wasn’t any Dingo saliva on the jumpsuit and the jacket was never recovered.
The public, thanks to the media, soon became judgmental towards the Chamberlains because she had acted too calm during the process, and besides, the were “different” or “weird” because they were Seventh-Day Adventists. According to the AP:
She began receiving death threats. People spat at her, howled like a dingo outside her house, called her a bitch, a witch and worse.
Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder after a jury deliberation, pregnant with her fourth child, accused of slashing her daughter’s throat with a pair of nail scissors – how they came to this conclusion without a body or blood on the scissors is beyond me.
Lindy Chamberlain was born as Alice Lynne Murchisonin Whatkatane, New Zealand. She was nicknamed Lindy by her parents. She moved to Australia with her family in 1949. Her family were members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Churchand she married a pastor and Adventist, Michael Chamberlain on November 18th, 1969. In the 1970s they had two sons, Aidan(1973) and Reagan(1976).
Another thought of logic – why would the public be so quick to condemn a pastor of a church and his wife? Maybe the Australian public think differently than Americans? Don’t know, at least for that time period in history.
The best link I could find concerning the actual trial proceedings is at FullWiki.
According to another AParticle, dated February 18th, 2012:

Ten years ago, there was a series of dingo attacks on Australia’s Frazer Island, including the fatal mauling of a 9-year-old boy. That was a turning point for some Australians who had, until then, maintained Lindy killed Azaria. … Despite the increased public support, Azaria’s death certificate remains incomplete. Three coroner’s inquests held to determine a cause of death have returned conflicting results. … in an open letter on the 30th anniversary of Azaria’s disappearance, she wrote that she was fighting for her daughter. “Our family will always remember today as the day truth was dragged in the dirt and trampled upon, but more than that it is the day our family was torn apart forever because we lost our beautiful Azaria,” Lindy wrote. “She deserves justice”.

The only juror (Yvonne Cain) who wept when Lindy received her sentence:

I’ll never forget the judge saying that Lindy would be put into jail for life with hard labor,” says Cain, now 63 and living in the southern city of Adelaide. “I imagined her smashing rocks, like in the old days.” After the trial, Cain was shattered. Had she gotten it wrong? Her sleep was riddled with nightmares. She daydreamed about smuggling Lindy out of jail. She grew convinced she had made a horrible mistake. … Soon after Lindy’s release, the two women met, in a moment captured on video. Cain couldn’t stop crying as she hugged Lindy. “Are you all right, now that it’s all finished?” she asked. “It’s not finished yet,” Lindy replied. “We’ve got a fight to go.” The two are now friends. But Cain still struggles with her conscience. … She believes it should plague all Australians who condemned Lindy. Because if the dingo is guilty, then so is Australia.

After three years in prison, baby Azaria’s jacket was found by accident near a Dingo den. In a matter of days, Lindy was released from prison; yet she was still shackled with the horror of serving time in prison when innocent, undergoing social chastisement, courtroom prejudice and inadequate forensics, and her happy family life ruined. 
The Australian public was stunned when they the media released the news.. An innocent pregnant woman, grieving over the loss of one of her children, subjected to humiliation, injustice and prejudice in the courts as well as the people of Australia.
One would think that the Australian court system, as well as the general public, would be sensitive about fair trials. Australia was once Britain’s penal colony, where convicts were sent because of the overcrowding prisons in England in the 1700s. They were social outcasts, who, for some, the only crime they were guilty of was poverty. Australia, when it became a nation of free people were proud of calling their nation “the land of the fair go”.
Sam Neill and Meryl Streep portray Chamberlains

It appears that this attitude didn’t apply to the Chamberlains because they belonged to a Christian religious sect that was little known about. Michael Chamberlain was a pastor with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which is actually, in denomination, Protestant Christians. Thus, ridiculous rumors about the Christians were they committed atrocities, like child sacrifice, witchcraft and even Satanism – accusations made by ignorant fools. Apparently when it came to religion, there wasn’t any tolerance.

The family suffered. Michael Chamberlain divorced Lindy in 1991, no longer a pastor, but an author living in a small town near Sydney.
According to the Winnipeg Free Press:
The church got so smashed up, erroneously, and all through, really, a nasty does of prejudice,” Chamberlain says. “I can say I think our religion definitely impacted quite strongly on the attitude that many Australians developed.” That growing evidence that they had unfairly judged the Chamberlains was a bitter pill for Australians to swallow, says John Bryson, author of “Evil Angels”… The National Institute of Forensic Science was later established to ensure better scrutiny of evidence. Still, many Australians now cast a more skeptical eye on judicial proceedings.
In a video interview of those present, the National Museum of Australia invited the public to stand near the Chamberlain case exhibit to record messages in 2007. Lindy Chamberlain agreed to be interviewed by Sophie Jensen, of the National Museum staff and 180 people were present filling the seats, many crying as Lindy spoke. One woman saidto Lindy:

I’m one of the many mothers who had kids at the same time,” one woman told Lindy, and began to cry. “I identified with you. I felt the injustices with you, and the powerlessness and the joys when you were released … I’m so ashamed to be Australian at that period of time. I think if anyone deserves an apology from the government, it’s you.”

A Dingo couldn’t pick up or drag this little infant?
Despite such public support – the death certificate of Azaria Chamberlain remains incomplete. Maybe by next week, the death certificate will state cause of death (no body was ever found) “presumed death caused by wild dog, Dingo”. This seems to be important to Lindy, and the public and the government of Australia owes that small favor, indeed.
Other nations have had miscarriage of justice cases – indeed, the long history of humanity reveals that. In America there were questionable cases where possible murderers were set free because of lack of evidence or the investigative team didn’t perform correctly or ineptly; like Lizzie Bordenand OJ Simpson. While many authors have written about the 19thmurders of Lizzie’s parents, most believe in other suspects, rather than her; however, in the case of Simpson, many believe with little doubt that the ex-football player killed his wife (Nicole Brown) and her male friend out of jealousy and suspicion – well planned and executed. This was believed especially by her parents and now there is a non-profit organization called The Nicole Brown Foundationthat helps and informs women who are abused.
The Lindy Chamberlain chapter of Australian judiciary history is a sad thing and points to the reason why many are hesitant in granting a death sentence in a capital case; and seek a more conclusive way, through science and investigative practice, to determine the guilt of an individual accused of a crime. 
As far as society’s blame, it is reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in the 17thcentury.
If a lesson has been learned here, at the expense of a family, it should be that a person should not be determined guilty just because of the media or what people say – but by substantial evidence or a confession.
Unfortunately, even if Australia is apologizing to Lindy, it won’t bring back all the hurt or heal the scars caused. We’ll see what happens as the fourth reopening of this case occurs this week and see Azaria Chamberlain finally put to rest.
Shame be upon them all.

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