Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Cry In The Night Part 1 Of 3

The Mystery Deepens

Exactly a week after Azaria's disappearance, on Sunday 24 August, a tourist from Victoria found her clothing. The first the Chamberlains heard of the discovery was from a friend who had heard the report on the radio.

The Chamberlains rang the police in Alice Springs to confirm the story. The police informed them that the police at Ayers Rock had just told them of the find, and that they wanted their permission for a media crew to film the clothes. As there was no other way for the Chamberlains to see whether the clothes found had belonged to their daughter, they agreed.

Rock where Azaria's clothes found (L.N. Smith)
Rock where Azaria's clothes found
(L.N. Smith)

When the footage of the clothes was telecast, the Chamberlains watched in surprise as a policeman picked up the clothing in his bare hands. With total disregard for, what was obviously important evidence, the police officer turned the clothing towards the cameras to show the blood stains around the neckline of the jumpsuit and singlet that Azaria had been wearing on that tragic night. Surely, that was not the normal procedure for dealing with evidence needed for an upcoming inquest?

Over and over again, the reporter stated that the clothes had been found "neatly folded" at the base of Ayers Rock, near Maggie Springs, 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the campsite where Azaria was taken. It was not until much later that the Chamberlains would learn the true facts of the matter when they met Wally Goodwin, who had found the clothes.

Azaria's jumpsuit (K. Chapman)
Azaria's jumpsuit
(K. Chapman)

Wally, a tourist from Victoria in southern Australia, was a keen bird photographer who had gone with his family to Ayers Rock to take some photos. They had pulled up at the side of the road and walked toward the base of the Rock. His daughter, who was ahead of them, suddenly screamed. When Wally reached her, he immediately recognized what had frightened her was a baby's jumpsuit.

Margo, Wally's wife, took the children back to the car as Wally investigated the clothing further. The reason his daughter had been startled by the clothing was because the jumpsuit was sitting up on its back, slightly concertinaed, with the feet rounded, pointing upwards as if the lower part of the baby's legs were still inside. All but the top three press studs were still done up. As Wally looked around the area, he could not see any signs of human footprints apart from his, but did note that the vegetation surrounding the area looked as if it had been rolled on. Wally considered taking a photograph of the garment, but concern that his film would be confiscated caused him to think twice.

Constable Morris was summoned to the scene. He noted that there was a dingo lair close by with dingo tracks clearly visible. Wally quickly regretted not taking those photos when Morris picked up the jumpsuit, undid the press studs and reached inside to check whether the booties were inside, as Lindy had reported they would be. Wally and his family left the scene without making an official statement. Once again, the area was not cordoned off, but left unprotected until late the next morning, when Winmatti and other Aboriginal trackers were brought in.

Perhaps if the evidence had been handled correctly, this find would have helped to solve the mystery of Azaria's disappearance. Instead, with the help of sensationalised media coverage, which omitted many of the facts, it served only to further fuel the controversy that had surrounded the case from the start.

The division between those who believed the Chamberlains' story and those who did not, grew stronger. Not a day went by without some discussion of Azaria's disappearance in the media. Emotions ran hot as people argued the case for or against the defence.

The "Azaria Chamberlain case" was big news. Journalists from every TV network, newspaper and magazine vied to be the first with the next scoop in the case, to create the next big headline before the others. The Australian public wanted blood and the media was more than happy to supply it.

The Chamberlains' phone rang ceaselessly with reporters wanting interviews. Photographers and camera crews kept vigil outside their front door. They could not leave their house without being bombarded by news crews and reporters, often being forced to run through neighbours' backyards in order to carry out their daily business, or take refuge in the homes of friends until the media gave up for the day.

Police received an anonymous tip from a man, claiming to be Azaria's doctor in Mt. Isa, that the name Azaria meant 'sacrifice in the desert'. The caller declined to give his name. Soon the fact that the Chamberlains were Seventh Day Adventists, and Michael was a minister, became the basis of media reports that they were members of a strange cult who had killed their baby as part of a bizarre religious ceremony.

Another paper claimed that Azaria had been injured in an accident a couple of weeks before her disappearance and suffered brain damage. Lindy and Michael had then killed her at Ayers Rock because she was imperfect. Along similar lines was the story that Azaria had been born a "Downs Syndrome" baby, so her parents murdered her.

Initially, Lindy and Michael attempted to defend themselves against the rumours and accusations, but quickly learned that few journalists could be trusted to record their interviews with accuracy. Every media appearance they made seemed to fuel the rumours even more, especially when they spoke openly about their faith and their beliefs as Seventh Day Adventists. Lindy was considered to be strange, too hard, too unmotherly. Why didn't she cry?

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