Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Cry In The Night Part 1 Of 3

Police Build Their Case

While the Chamberlains were desperately trying to put the pieces of their life back together, police in Alice Springs were working overtime to put the pieces of this very strange case together.

Instead of solving the mystery for them, finding the baby's clothes only seemed to raise more questions to those police who were sure that the dingo story was a fabrication. Why was there so little blood on the jumpsuit? Why were the clothes not ripped to shreds? Where was the matinee jacket? Did it exist at all? How could a dingo possibly carry a ten-pound baby without dragging it? Why were there no remains found?

In an attempt to find proof to substantiate the Chamberlains' claims, police in the area were ordered to begin shooting dingoes. The contents of their intestines were to be examined for human remains.

Upon hearing of the shootings, Les Harris, president of the Dingo Foundation and expert in the habits of dingoes, both in the wild and in captivity, was dismayed. From his office in Melbourne, he called Inspector Gilroy to inform him of the futility of such action.

During the course of their thirty-minute conversation, Harris explained that within 24 hours, everything would have passed through the dingo's system. A week after the event would show them nothing. When Gilroy questioned Harris on the likelihood of finding remains, Harris was emphatic that they would have been completely gone within the hour. A dingo in the wild cannot afford to leave the food it has until later. It would have consumed everything, perhaps sharing it with a litter. With small mammals, they eat everything including the fur; with birds, they even eat the feathers.

Harris also explained to Inspector Gilroy that, the state the clothes were found in, did fit with a dingo attack, as they were known to unwrap meat pilfered from a campsite leaving very little damage. As for the baby's weight, it would have been no deterrent to any dingo, as they had been known to easily carry a twenty-five pound wallaby. A dingo could run carrying a ten-pound baby.

Before closing his conversation with Gilroy, Harris attempted to convince him that killing dingoes was actually destroying the only real chance of getting evidence. He suggested that instead, they would be better served to observe the behavior of the dingoes in the area. Dingoes are territorial so, in a very short time, it would be possible to determine which dingoes inhabited which areas, and narrow the search down considerably. With the dingoes shot, they would have nothing. This conversation was not officially recorded in Gilroy's preliminary report. What he did not know at the time was that the powers that be had decided that Graeme Charlwood, a Detective-Sergeant in Criminal Investigations would now head the Azaria Chamberlain investigation.

Det. Graeme Charlwood
Det. Graeme

While not officially taking up his new position until Sunday, 31st August 1980, on Saturday 30th August, Charlwood was responsible for the transmission of a message to the motor registration departments of every Australian State requesting the names and addresses of a list, numbering in the hundreds, of registration numbers of vehicles recorded at the Ayers Rock camping-ground overnight on 17th August 1980. Two days prior to this, he had sent a subordinate to Ayers Rock to collect this list.

The Chamberlains were never informed of this change. The first they heard of it was on September 29, 1980, when Charlwood and a second police officer arrived on the Chamberlains' doorstep. He informed Lindy that he would like to take statements from both her and Michael and both of the boys. Lindy expressed her surprise that another statement was required as they had already made an official statement before they left Ayers Rock. She was told that because that statement was only an audio recording, it was necessary for the records to have a written statement.

At this time, the Chamberlains were packing to move to Cooranbong, several miles north of Newcastle, New South Wales. Michael had applied to attend Avondale College, a Seventh Day Adventist educational facility, several months before Azaria's death. He would be studying for a Masters Degree while having his own church part-time.

As the police officers and Lindy walked through the garage on their way to Michael's office downstairs, Charlwood commented on a small (1.4m / 4 feet 6 inches) wooden pauper's coffin. Lindy explained that it was one of many visual aids that Michael used in his 'quit smoking' programs to scare people into giving up smoking. Coincidentally, within days the newspapers were reporting the fact that a small, child- sized coffin was found hidden in the Chamberlains' home!

After being introduced to Michael, Charlwood explained that he would like to interview Lindy at the police station first, and would interview Michael and Aidan the next day after school. While at the house, he attempted several times to question the young Reagan but without success. Unbeknown to the Chamberlains, Charlwood was carrying a concealed tape recorder. Everything that was said by them was being recorded.

At one o'clock, as arranged, Lindy was picked up by the police and taken to the Mt. Isa police station. She was taken to an interview room and interviewed by Charlwood in the presence of Sergeant Morris, a local officer who did the typing, and Detective Constable John Scott, from Alice Springs, as a witness.

Charlwood opened the interview casually by asking Lindy to tell him everything that happened once, so that he could familiarize himself with the details, then they would go over it again for the official typed statement. At no time did Charlwood notify Lindy of the fact that he had a tape recorder in the drawer of the desk, and would be taping the entire interview, even the first supposedly unofficial discussion. Lindy was to learn about this for the first time when it was somehow passed as admissible evidence during her trial.

Charlwood's opening questions puzzled Lindy. Why was it necessary to recall all of the details of their trip from the time they left home? Surely that was not relevant to the disappearance of Azaria from the tent. He allayed her concerns with the explanation that he needed to get a complete overview in order to get a clear picture of what had happened.

Painstakingly, Charlwood led Lindy through every detail of their journey to Ayers Rock, where they stayed, who they saw along the way, times and places. His questioning became more rigorous when she described their activities once arriving at Ayers Rock. He was particularly concerned about her movements at the Fertility Cave and Maggie Springs — the area close to where Azaria's clothes were found. Over and over, he asked her to clarify who was with her, whether there were any other tourists.

Lindy's recollection of Azaria's disappearance progressed rapidly. Charlwood's questioning dwelt mainly on the list of Azaria's clothing; the description of the dingo where and when Lindy saw it; and whether Lindy and Michael were alone when they searched. Was the dingo in the tent or coming out of the tent? Was there something in the dingo's mouth? Lindy, mistaking the repeated questions for lack of understanding, actually drew a quick diagram of the tent and the car, pointing where she was in relation to the dingo at each point.

Once the nights events had been clearly established in Charlwood's mind, the questioning moved to the events of the next two days until the Chamberlains left Ayers Rock for their homeward journey. He was particularly interested in Michael and Lindy's movements on the Monday. Where did they go and how did they go there, who was with them at the time? All questions that, to Lindy, seemed irrelevant to Azaria's disappearance.

To conclude the preliminary interview, Charlwood needed an in-depth description of all of the items on which Lindy had discovered blood stains. Lindy quickly described how she found blood on Aidan's parka and the baby's blankets, which she had reported to Frank Morris in the Uluru motel that first morning. She told them of how her mother had organized the washing of all of the clothes on the Friday, separating the dry-cleaning, including her tracksuit, to take to the cleaners later that day. Lindy was about to continue her recollections when Sergeant Morris interjected "What about the tracksuit pants?" bringing her back to what seemed a trivial point to her, but of great interest to both Morris and Charlwood. Quickly, she recounted that she had taken them out of the tent after Azaria's disappearance and put them on under her dress.

As she listed off other items, her running shoes, Reagan's parka and her own sleeping bag, Lindy reminded Charlwood of those items that the police had told her they didn't want. A point which Charlwood was reluctant to pursue. Then there was the "space blanket" with the tears and paw prints and finally, how she had found a number of marks on the mattress that had been on the floor of the tent, and was then lying against Azaria's bassinette in the room with them.

Lindy's recounting of the story took two hours with only a small break. Including the time spent back at her house, it totaled three hours.

The next stage of the interview was to begin. Morris prepared the pages in his typewriter, ready for the official interview. At this point, if Charlwood had strong reason to believe that Lindy Chamberlain was somehow criminally involved in the death of her daughter, rules of police interrogation would have required him to caution her of this fact and inform her that she was not obliged to answer any questions without legal representation. No such caution was given or recorded in the 'official' written record or the 'unofficial' recording.

Two and a half hours, and seventy-one recorded questions and answers later, they had only covered the events up to the point where the Chamberlain family were preparing their dinner at the barbecue. At that point, Charlwood halted the interview for the day, and Lindy was driven home.

They recommenced at ten-fifteen the next morning. It was past midday before they had covered, in minute detail, Lindy's recounting of her daughter being taken from the tent by a dingo, the long and hopeless search and the family's sorrowful return to Mt. Iza. Still, Charlwood had no reliable clue to suggest where the infant's body may have been hidden or when Lindy may have laid the clothing out in the gully where they were found. Clues that were necessary to corroborate his suspicions.

The questions continued. Once the recapping of minor details of location and time were completed, Charlwood took from his folder a copy of the latest edition of a magazine 'Woman's Day' which showed a photograph of Azaria at Ayers Rock, taken on the day of her death. Charlwood had heard that Azaria's hair was quite dark. Yet this photo showed a golden-haired baby being held upright by Lindy, creating the illusion that it was standing. Perhaps it had not been Azaria at all, Charlwood wondered. He asked Lindy to look at the photo and tell him whether it was "a true representation of the hair colour at the time the photo was taken?"

Lindy, looking at the photo, expressed that she felt it looked ginger. She then went on to explain that Azaria's hair, while still being dark at the back had begun to lighten, looking quite gingery in the sunlight. Although, she felt that it did appear lighter in the photo than it actually was.

Charlwood then moved away from the desk, picking up a pile of paper and plastic bags, camping gear and clothing, which he moved closer to the desk. Still standing, Charlwood proceeded to hold up each item individually, asking Lindy to identify each one.

First was Lindy's sleeping bag, then Aidan's parka. The next item was laid on the desk. It was Azaria's singlet. Next to it, Charlwood placed the bloodied jumpsuit. Lindy slowly picked it up, holding it limply in her hands. It was the first time that Lindy had seen the clothes since Azaria wore them. On the television they had seemed remote and unreal, not connected with Azaria. But like this was different. She sat looking down at her hands in her lap, silent tears falling.

Morris suggested that they break for a while, but Charlwood, aware that there was only half an hour before Michael would arrive at four o'clock, pressed on.

He replaced the clothes on the desk with a pile of reports. He explained to her that a number of forensic tests had been undertaken on the clothes. After he described the findings of these tests, he asked her opinion of their implications; of course she was unable to offer any explanation.

The first finding was that there had been no dingo saliva found on the garments. What he didn't tell her at the time was that, up until these tests were taken, there had been no testing method designed to determine the presence of animal saliva. Dr Andrew Scott, a biologist with the South Australian Forensic Centre had made it up solely for this situation.

The second test results, conducted by Dr Kenneth Brown and Sergeant Cocks in Adelaide, which Charlwood brought to Lindy's attention, brought forward the conclusion that the holes in Azaria's jumpsuit were not made by either a dog's or dingo's teeth. Lindy questioned what the tests revealed had made the holes, but Charlwood could not answer that. This was the first time that it began to dawn on Lindy that the police suspected that Azaria had been murdered. Charlwood's revelation of further test results (namely that blood stains closely matching her blood group had been found in the Fertility Cave and that the hairs found on the blankets were those of a cat, not a dingo) brought this home to her more clearly. Still, it had not occurred to her that they actually suspected her. Instead she wondered at the possibility that someone had deliberately set it up to look that way and asked about the results of tests on the "space blanket". Charlwood then told her that the "space blanket" was in Adelaide undergoing testing.

The interview finally over at four thirty, Charlwood had only one more task for Lindy to complete before she was free to leave. Using the blankets and a baby-doll, he asked Lindy to reconstruct how Azaria had been wrapped and placed in the bassinette. Lindy quickly turned away from the picture that she had created as the officer photographed it.

When they left the interview room, Michael was waiting in an anteroom. Commencing the interview, Michael was asked whether an officer could inspect the car. Michael happily surrendered the car keys

Unlike in Lindy's case Charlwood did caution Michael that he did not have to answer any questions and that any answers he did give may be used in court. Once it was established that Michael understood the full implications of this caution, the interview proceeded following much the same course as that taken with Lindy, concluding nearly six hours later.

While Michael was being interviewed, Aidan was in another room with his mother, also making his statement. It was just dark by the time they had finished and Michael was still a long way from being finished. Lindy asked if it would be possible for her to drive them both home in the family car, and have one of the officers drop Michael home later. Senior Constable Graham left the room to check whether the car was ready for them to take. Five minutes later, Graham returned to tell them that the car had been checked and was fine. They followed another policeman through to the back of the police station into an indoor parking area that was heavily lit with fluorescent lights.

By as early as the next morning, headlines on newspapers around the country declared that a dingo was not responsible for Azaria's disappearance, all of them quoting the results of the forensic tests Lindy and Michael had heard about for the first time only the night before.



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