In memory: Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain

Azaria Chantel Loren ChamberlainShe only lived for two months but the little girl is etched in our memories: Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain (June 11, 1980 – Aug 17, 1980)

After she disappeared her mother, Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder on October 29, 1982 and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. Her father, Michael Chamberlain was found guilty as an accessory after the fact and was given an 18-month suspended sentence. Their marriage did not survive this tragedy and they divorced in 1991. They were both exonerated of their daughter’s death by a 1987 royal commission.

The National Museum of Australia has more than 250 items in its collection related to this case. Lindy Chamberlain helped them document everything.

When the Chamberlains said that a dingo had taken their young daughter they were immediately suspected of infanticide. Everything was odd about this couple ranging from their choice of religion to how they dressed Azaria. Above all, they took a newborn camping. Their chances for a fair trial were doomed from the start.

The case was examined several times with a series of inquests. The center piece was always a part of Azaria’s jacket that was found near a critical spot.

Azaria's matinee jacketIn early 1986, David Brett fell from Uluru during an evening climb. The search for this UK tourist took about eight days due to the vast size of the rocks and the scrubby nature of the surrounding terrain. Right below the bluff where he lost his balance was an area known to be full of dingo lairs. While searching for Brett, police found a small part of Azaria’s missing matinée jacket. Lindy Chamberlain had always said that Azaria was wearing a jacket over the jumpsuit, but the jacket was not present where pieces of the jumpsuit were found.

Northern Territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris found evidence from the case proved a dingo or dingoes were responsible for 9-week-old Azaria’s death and ruled that her death certificate should read “attacked and taken by a dingo”. What occurred on 17th August, 1980, was that shortly after Mrs Chamberlain placed Azaria in the tent, a dingo or dingoes entered the tent, took Azaria and carried and dragged her from the immediate area,” Morris said. 

In an emotional finding, Morris then offered her condolences to the Chamberlains and one of their sons, who were in the Darwin court room. “Please accept my sincere sympathy on the death of your special loved daughter and sister Azaria. I am so sorry for your loss,” she said to the family. “Time does not remove the pain and sadness of the death of a child.”

However, some still insisted that humans were to blame for Azaria’s death. From the Mail Online: “David Brett was 31 when he fell to his death from the rock. He was on his second visit to Australia, and planning to stay for three years. But in May 1985 he wrote to his mother and told her that “something strange” was happening to him. Within a month, he was begging a church leader by the name of Pastor Michael Gabrielson to exorcise him because he claimed there was a demon in his stomach. Pastor Gabrielson was convinced David was in the grip of an evil power, but was unable to “cleanse” him.

David moved into a flat in Sydney, and when he moved out again in January 1986, he left behind newspaper cuttings about Azaria’s disappearance. He was next seen walking in a trance towards Ayers Rock in central Australia. An Aboriginal couple saw him climbing the rock in an area where tourists are forbidden. It was 8pm on Sunday January 26, 1986 – the same day of the week and time that Azaria vanished. His body was found the following Sunday.

The curious case of David Brett led to conspiracy theories. Had someone brainwashed a mentally disturbed man to commit suicide at that very place so that the baby’s jacket would be found close to where he landed? If that was the case, who was behind it? And why hadn’t the little jacket been found when the baby disappeared, despite intensive searching around Ayers Rock?”

Also, not all the cops are happy with Coroner Morris’ findings. “Despite the finding, a policeman at Uluru the night Azaria Chamberlain disappeared in 1980 says he still believes there was some human intervention in the event. Retired policeman Frank Morris said while he was not trying to blame anyone for the death of Azaria, he still believed clothes the baby had been wearing were moved by a person or people. “We don’t know who. That is the $64,000 question,” he told AAP.”

Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain We do know that there was never a motive given why the parents would want Azaria dead. Also, there never was one forensic piece of evidence that tied Lindy to the crime scene.

The only test authorities used with the blood samples they found in the Chamberlain’s car was a presumptive orthotolidine test. A presumptive test is a qualitative analysis that allows to identify or confirm the presence of a substance in a sample. However, just because you find blood does not mean you found Azaria’s blood. Even if you find Azaria’s blood that doesn’t mean you confirmed that she was murdered. Orthotolidine is not exclusively used to detect blood. It is also used to detect chlorine. Moreover, it sometimes gives a false positives to a number of other substances. Most samples from the Chamberlain car showed signs of copper, dust, and sound deadener insulation.

From the Coroner’s report: “Before August 1980 dingoes in the Ayers Rock area frequented the camping area. At that time there were many dingoes in the area, some 18-25 of which were known to visit the camping area. A number of attacks were made by dingoes on children in the months preceding Azaria’s disappearance. In none of these did any child suffer serious injury.

About twenty minutes before Azaria disappeared Mr Haby saw and photographed a dingo which walked towards the Chamberlains’ tent. A few minutes before the alarm was raised the West’s heard a dog growl.

On the night of 17 August dog tracks were observed on the southern side of and very close to the Chamberlains’ tent. The same night Mr Roff and Mr Minyintiri, both experienced trackers and familiar with dingo behaviour, saw tracks of a dog carrying a load which they believed to be Azaria. It was within the bounds of reasonable possibility that a dingo might have attacked a baby and carried it away for consumption as food. A dingo would have been capable of carrying Azaria’s body to the place where the clothing was found. If a dingo had taken Azaria it is likely that, on occasions, it would have
put the load down and dragged it. Hairs, which were either dog or dingo hairs, were found in the tent and on Azaria’s jumpsuit. The Chamberlains had not owned a dog for some years prior to August 1980.”

Azaria died in a very cruel and tragic manner. Her death certificate now finally lists a dingo attack as cause of death.

If you are interested in this case check here for a timeline, here for news reporting and photography, and here for the last coroner’s inquest.

Hat tip to Julie for alerting me to Coroner Morris’ statement.