Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Cry In The Night Part 1 Of 3

A Logical Conclusion

The Chamberlains moved to their new home in Cooranbong, close to Avondale College, only days before the inquest was to begin in Alice Springs. After they had been interviewed by the police, they sought legal advice from a friend of Michael's in Innisfail. He advised them that the inquest would be a simple affair with no need for a solicitor to represent them.

Dr. Magnusson from Avondale College, who had helped them with the arrangements for their move, was shocked when they told him of the advice they had been given. With their permission, he rang a lawyer friend who was adamant that, because of the tone of the police inquiry, they should get someone to represent them immediately.

Dr. Magnusson called the Seventh Day Adventist Church administration in New South Wales, insisting that they take the responsibility of providing legal assistance to the Chamberlains at the inquest and pay for it as well. Through contacts in the Northern Territory, they were able to appoint local Alice Springs lawyer, Peter Dean. The Chamberlains and Dean met for the first time on the Sunday afternoon, prior to the commencement of the inquest on Monday December 15, 1980.


The courtroom was crowded and the seating limited — so much so, that the only seats available for media reporters were in the jury box. Considering their role in the case up until this point, it seemed fitting.

Coroner Denis Barritt (The Advertiser)
Coroner Denis Barritt
(The Advertiser)

The presiding coroner was Denis Barritt, a local magistrate. Counsel assisting the coroner was Ashley Macknay, with Michael O'Loughlan as his assisting solicitor. The Chamberlains had Peter Dean.

In order to open proceedings, Barritt as coroner was required to establish that he had jurisdiction in this case. He said

"I agree that because of the nature of the damage to the clothing and the manner in which the clothing was found, it would indicate that there has, at some stage, been human intervention in the disposal of the body, and that the body cannot now be found. I find that the body is in a place from which it presently cannot be recovered. On those grounds I find that I have jurisdiction."

The next morning's papers reported that the coroner believed that Azaria had been murdered. Barritt made a point of referring to these reports as a misrepresentation of the previous day's proceedings as no evidence had been given to support such a conclusion.

The coroner is empowered to determine the sequence of the appearance of witnesses. In order to ensure a fair hearing, the coroner would not compel a witness to the stand if he believed that the weight of evidence to be presented during the inquest would be strong enough to justify sending the individual to trial. Barritt believed that this was not the case with the Chamberlains and so granted Macknay's request that Lindy and Michael Chamberlain be the first witnesses.

Lindy was called first. Macknay's questioning led her through the events leading up to Azaria's disappearance from the tent and the search that followed. Her accounting of the details became more difficult as she neared its conclusion, as her words were lost in tears. This was in stark contrast to the descriptions of her by the press and police reports as being emotionless and hard.

As Lindy listened from the witness stand, Macknay read through the many scientific reports. All of them suggested that a dingo did not cause the damage done to Azaria's clothing. As he read from the report by the dentist, Dr. Brown, referring to the holes in the singlet being made while it was inside out, Lindy expressed her surprise. She was absolutely certain that she did not put Azaria's singlet on inside out.

Macknay's line of questioning was diverted for some time on this point as he attempted to clarify how certain Lindy was that she had not in fact put the singlet on inside out. It was an important point as the forensic reports clearly stated that the singlet had been found inside out among the clothing when it was first discovered. It now left open the question of how the singlet had come to be inside out. Lindy was not able to answer this question, nor was she willing to guess at a possible explanation.

Male Dingo
Male Dingo

After briefly explaining to Lindy an experiment conducted at the Adelaide zoo, in which a parcel of meat wrapped in a baby's jumpsuit was thrown into the dingo enclosure, Macknay told her that it was found that the clothing located at Ayers Rock did not have any features consistent with those taken from the zoo. When asked whether, from the results found in this experiment, she would agree that the damage to Azaria's clothing was not caused by a dingo, Lindy questioned the validity of such experiments if they were not conducted on wild dingoes. Macknay was not able to answer her argument as there had, at this point, been no tests using wild dingoes.

Once again, when Macknay attempted to get Lindy to either deny or accept Brown's conclusion that while there were small cuts in the blankets and there was no evidence of tooth marks, she was not forthcoming. It concerned her that the report was able to clearly state that the cuts were not caused by a dingo's teeth, but was not able to tell what did cause them.

When Macknay brought the "space blanket" forward, Lindy attempted to show the paw prints that her mother had found only to discover that they were missing. When the police were questioned about this, Charlwood stated that he recalled Lindy mentioning the prints but had not seen them himself, nor had the blanket undergone any testing. This was a direct contradiction of what he had told Lindy during her Record of Interview.

Well into the second day of the inquest, Lindy stood down from the witness stand. Michael, who was asked to recount his version of the events and to comment on the findings of the reports, immediately followed her. Like Lindy, he was unable to offer any feasible explanation for them.

As Macknay listed for the record a series of photographs, a police officer walked quietly toward Peter Dean who was seated at the bar. He handed him a note. Dean, in turn, handed it to Macknay. Dean got to his feet and asked Barritt to grant a short adjournment. Five minutes was granted. The crowd in the courtroom was intrigued by the disturbance as it watched Dean, Macknay and Barritt leave the courtroom. By the time they reached the magistrate's chambers, Barritt had been told of the news that there had been a threat made against Lindy Chamberlain's life.

The calls had come through to the courthouse switchboard during breaks in the proceedings, suggesting that it may have been someone in the courtroom. Barritt made arrangements for a bodyguard to be appointed for the Chamberlains, to be with them at all times. Frank Gibson, a police officer from Alice Springs, was given the double task of guarding the Chamberlains, and finding out any information he could for his superiors. His belief that the Chamberlains were innocent was to cause him a great deal of strife with his fellow police officers, who were angered by his open support of them.

Before the end of the third day, initial police reports of the events had been completely refuted by the testimonies of the eyewitnesses in the case. Florence Wilkin had held Azaria during the afternoon at the base of Ayers Rock, showing that she was definitely alive and well, contradicting the police theory that Lindy had murdered the baby early in the day, and merely carried a 'white bundle' around with her. It also dispelled the notion that the photo taken of Azaria at the Rock was in fact a different baby. Sally and Greg Lowe were able to further confirm that Azaria had been alive up until the time Lindy laid her down in the tent, as they had seen her squirming in her mother's arms as she put her off to sleep, then heard her last cry before she disappeared. Bill and Judy West were able to confirm Lindy's claim that there had been a dingo at the tent, as they both heard its growl from their tent next to the Chamberlains, just prior to Lindy's cry that a dingo had her baby. Every witness who had seen Lindy with Azaria had commented on the tender and loving way in which she had dealt with her baby daughter and her sons, a direct contradiction to the police reports, which had said that Lindy had been described as an uncaring mother.

The third day closed with the testimony of Wally Goodwin and Derek Roff. Goodwin's story confirmed the Chamberlain's testimony, as did Roff's, until he was asked to look at photographs of Azaria's clothes, supposedly as they were found. The appearance of the clothes in the photograph in no way resembled Goodwin's earlier description. Roff stated that the manner in which the clothes were arranged did not fit with Roff's experience of dingoes. What the court did not know was that these photographs were taken of the clothes as arranged by Frank Morris in an attempt to recreate what he had found, not how they were actually found.

During the final days before the court recessed for the Christmas break, expert testimony continued to create confusion about the likelihood of a dingo's involvement in Azaria's death. Winmatti, the Aborigine, was brought to the stand. Beside him stood an interpreter, Pamela Harmer, relaying Macknay's questions in Winmatti's native tongue, Luritja, and his answers in English to the court. All went smoothly as Winmatti described the dingo tracks that were found and how he followed them as far as Maggie Springs. Unfortunately, Barritt had not been aware of Aboriginal tribal taboos, and had caused offence by asking about Aboriginal stories relating to the taking of children by dingoes in the past. Winmatti's inability to answer such questions led to confusion about his testimony regarding the likelihood of a dingo attacking and killing a baby.

By the end of the first session, it was obvious to both the Chamberlains and Peter Dean that the case was too big for Dean to handle on his own. The decision was made to assign another lawyer to the case. Lindy and Michael contacted their church headquarters, known as the Division, who said they would organize it straight away.

Confident that the Chamberlains would be looked after when the inquest resumed in February, Dean began the process of preparing all of the documents and court transcripts for the new lawyer's briefing. As his staff had already finished work and would not return until Monday, Lindy and Michael offered to assist him. For five hours they photocopied, sorted and stapled the documents they needed. It was towards the end of this time that Michael discovered some important evidence that had not been heard during the inquest. While reading Crown scientist, Dr. Andrew Scott's evidence, he had found a list of test results. Included in this list was the fact that a large pool of blood had been found on a mattress in the tent. The blood had tested and grouped foetal positive and identified as Azaria's blood. This now confirmed Sally Lowe's description of the pool of blood she had seen in the tent on the night of Azaria's death. It also answered the skeptics' question as to why there were no large amounts of blood in the tent, which would be expected in such an attack.

Over the Christmas break, the Chamberlains returned to their new home in Cooranbong and began preparations for the next stage of the inquest. Although the Seventh Day Adventist Division had agreed to cover the Chamberlains' legal expenses and had appointed Phil Rice QC, a conflict of interests between them and the Chamberlains arose. The church saw the proceedings as a church issue and were concerned about protecting their interests, and so insisted on maintaining control over all legal matters, to the point of not giving the Chamberlains any contact details for their newly-appointed lawyer. Both Lindy and Michael tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to convince them that it was vital that they be in direct contact with Rice, but still the information was withheld. With only a few weeks before court resumed, Lindy had become quite frantic. It was only the intervention of Lindy's father and a number of other friends that the situation changed. Finally, the Chamberlains were able to arrange to meet with Rice in Adelaide to fill him in on the details of the case.

On February 9, 1981 the inquest re-opened. The scientific evidence was to be the main focus of the second stage of the inquest. Dr Brown, the forensic dentist, told the court that he had hung a singlet, spring loaded with a scale of 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) across the tooth of a dingo skull, provided by a museum, and left it hanging there overnight. From tests such as this he concluded that a dingo had not made the cuts in the jumpsuit. Lindy's comment that it was " bad as hanging a slice of bread on your false teeth overnight and expecting them to bite it." Caused the courtroom to explode in laughter.

For two days, the court moved to Ayers Rock, an unprecedented event, in order to hear some of the technical evidence and that of the Aboriginal trackers. The court was walked through the scene at the campsite, where Haby had found the dingo tracks, and the site where the clothes had been found. This was when Lindy had first learned that the clothes had not been found near Maggie Springs behind the Fertility Cave where the blood was, as the police had reported, but nearly half a kilometre away. It was also discovered that Lindy had not been at the Fertility cave on the day that Azaria had disappeared, but had, in fact, been in an area known as the Maternity cave.

An aspect of Lindy's evidence which had raised doubts about the truth of her testimony was that she had had no trouble seeing clearly into the tent. In order to judge for himself, Barritt ordered that the court would convene in the camping ground after dark. All lights were turned off for half an hour to allow peoples eyes to adjust to the new conditions. The only light left on was the one at the barbecue area, just as it had been on the night of August 17. Within a short time it had become apparent that Lindy's claims were true. Once everyone's eyes had made the initial adjustment it was quite easy to see. This was further highlighted by the fact that journalists and reporters were taking notes on the proceedings. Barritt asked one journalist to read from the page he had been writing. He was able to do so easily.

Back in Alice Springs, during the course of the so-called "forensic" evidence, it was revealed to the court that the clothing had not only been handled extensively with bare hands before any photographs had been taken, but had been transported in a box to the Darwin laboratories.

When Myra Fogarty, the young policewoman assigned the task of completing the initial forensic work, took the stand, the full extent of the ineptitude of the Northern Territory police scientific department became painfully apparent. Fogarty described how she had taken the clothing out of the box and shaken it onto the bench. Everything which fell off, including that which fell on the floor, was swept away and discarded, along with any material in the box itself. She then laid the clothes out on the bench and vacuumed them. The contents of the vacuum cleaner were then placed in containers and placed in a cupboard.

When asked whether she had seen any hairs, Fogarty said that she had not. As she had not been told what type of hairs she should be looking for, she took a hair from her own head to use as a comparison. She claimed that she had not found any animal or natural material in the vacuumed evidence at all. The blankets and other material taken from the tent had been treated in much the same manner.

Her testimony further revealed that there had been some confusion about the testing of the soil taken from around the tent and the tent itself. The soil was supposed to be tested for saliva, but was, in fact, tested for blood. The area of the tent with the blood spatter, found by Inspector Gilroy and Sergeant Lincoln, was not tested at all. In fact, the tent had been placed in the back of a cupboard. Barritt ordered that the tent be found and examined by Scott. All that Scott was able to determine was that it was blood of some kind. Due to denaturisation, the natural aging of the sample, he was not able to draw any further conclusions.

These revelations caused the Crown's following witness, Dr Harding, to ask the court for time to review his testimony. Before reading the transcript of Fogarty's evidence, Harding had determined that the hairs found on the blankets and clothing were too old to have been deposited there on the night of Azaria's death.

Harris explained that normally in a situation such as this, hairs would have been gently removed with sticky tape so as not to damage the hair structure in any way. Under a microscope, a fresh hair that has come into superficial contact with a garment looks very different from one that is old and embedded. The vacuuming and handling of the clothes would have greatly influenced the test results and should not have occurred until after the hair and botany departments had seen them.

The significance of the vacuumings was not lost on Barritt, who called for the containers to be located immediately and brought to the court. It was found that there were hairs present. Harris believed they would have come from around the face or mouth of an animal. He could not say definitely whether it was from a dingo, cat or domestic dog.

During the period of recess, Barritt had received material from three dingo experts as to their opinions about normal dingo behaviour in relation to the Azaria case. They were Les Harris, Dr. Newsome and his colleague Lawrence Corbett. Barritt chose Dr. Newsome because of his long list of qualifications and his ten-year experience as team leader of a zoological study of dingoes throughout Central Australia and Victoria. During that time, they had placed radio transmitters on wild dingoes and tracked their movements.

His experience with dingoes led him to believe that the growl the Wests had heard indicated that there were probably two dingoes at the tent that night. The first would have been the one Lindy saw leaving the tent, and the second was probably the one she saw standing near the car as she exited the tent, which could explain why Lindy had not seen anything in its mouth. As for the expectation of the presence of hairs on the clothing, it would greatly depend on how the child was carried. If it had been held by the head or neck, there was a strong possibility that there would be few hairs present.

When questioned about the likelihood of a dingo having taken the child from its bassinette and leaving the clothing as described, Newsome explained that his personal experience did not confirm it, but he was also not able to discount it as impossible.

The final witness of this first inquest was Dr. Milne, the obstetrician who had attended at Azaria's birth and been the Chamberlain's family doctor during the time they had lived in Mt. Isa. Her testimony that Azaria was a normal, healthy baby, who had not sustained any brain damage since her birth, was enough to destroy the police claim of a motive for Lindy to murder Azaria.

With all of the evidence presented, Macknay and Rice made their summations. Macknay opened his summary by pointing out that he believed Lindy Chamberlain to be a reliable and honest witness whose testimony was verified by several people who were present at the time of Azaria's disappearance. These witnesses were able to verify, not only that Lindy had actually called out that a dingo had taken her baby, but also that she was sufficiently distressed to cause them to conclude that Lindy had fully believed that that was what had happened.

He criticised the Northern Territory police for allowing an inexperienced officer to handle such important evidence with no supervision and without proper instructions. Macknay also pointed out to the coroner that these criticisms had been made in previous cases but little had been done to improve the situation.

Macknay was also critical of the management of wildlife in the Ayers Rock area, suggesting that it should be a matter to be dealt with at a ministerial level, in order to better protect tourists from dingoes in the area, which are wild animals and a danger to people. It was Macknay's belief that a dingo had taken Azaria from the tent on the night of August 17, 1980 resulting in her death, and steps must be taken to ensure that such a tragedy did not occur again.

There was little that Rice could add to this and so the inquest into Azaria's death was finally over. All that was left was for Barritt to make his verdict. This would follow the next morning.

On Friday, 20th February 1981, the courtroom was full almost as soon as the doors were open to the public at 9:15 am. The day's proceedings were to be different from any other coroner's inquest in Australia. Barritt had agreed to televise the reading of his findings because of the intensity of the Australian public's reaction to the case. He wanted to dispel, once and for all, the rumours, which had so quickly spread about the Chamberlains' involvement in the death of their daughter. He felt he could not rely on the media to successfully do this. By televising the event, in its entirety, with no editorial license, he could be sure that the nation was given all of the facts.

With the whole of Australia watching, Denis Barritt began. Barritt had chosen his words very carefully, leaving no room for misinterpretation. He clearly stated that Lindy's movements, until the time she had raised the alarm of a dingo taking her baby, had been witnessed by her son Aidan, her husband Michael, and both Sally and Greg Lowe. Mr. and Mrs. West confirmed her testimony about the dingo by having heard the dingo growl.

To quash the rumours that these witnesses were somehow conspiring with the Chamberlains, Barritt included details of their backgrounds. They all lived thousands of miles apart and had never known each other before the event. Except for the events that night, they would never had any further contact. He had complete confidence in their honesty and integrity and the truthfulness of their testimony.

In regard to the search, Barritt explained that there had been a search conducted on the night of August 17, 1980, around houses in the area which dispelled any claims that the baby's body had been found and disposed of by any persons living in those houses. The search was finally abandoned until Mr. Goodwin found the clothes the following Sunday afternoon. Barritt expressed the opinion that "commendable efforts" had been made by the police to preserve the scene and that it was the opinion of all who observed the scene that the clothes had been placed there.

Wally Goodwin, watching from his home in Victoria, disagreed strongly on this observation but knew that it was now a moot point, it was all over and justice would prevail.

Barritt stated that although the stains found on the tent had not been tested during the initial stages of the inquiry, later tests by Dr Scott had shown that they were indeed bloodstains. Although Scott's testing could not definitely confirm whether they were animal or human in nature, Barritt was "satisfied beyond reasonable doubt — to the highest degree of proof recognised in law — that the sprays of blood on the exterior of the tent were sprays of arterial blood coming from Azaria's head or neck."

In regard to the evidence given by Dr. Brown, an odontologist, Barritt acknowledged that while Brown was an expert on the bite-marks on humans, he had, by his own admission, been dealing with an unknown field in regard to the bite marks of dingoes in clothing. For this reason, he believed it would be dangerous to rely on his evidence in this instance. However, he did accept Brown's belief that Azaria had worn the singlet correct-side-out at the time of her death.

The absence of saliva on the jumpsuit led him to believe that Azaria had been held by the head or neck by the dingo at all times during the attack. The fact that there had been minimal damage done to the jumpsuit and singlet, along with Sergeant Cock's testimony that the cuts to the neck and sleeve of the jumpsuit had been done by scissors, led him to conclude "that the dingo's possession of Azaria was interrupted by human intervention on the night of 17 August 1980."

Barritt criticised the emphasis placed upon conservation in the area that did not take human safety into consideration, a situation which needed to be rectified immediately by the safe enclosure of any animals presenting a danger to man, or their elimination from national park areas frequented by man.

His final criticism was directed at the police force and its scientific investigators, emphasizing the need for complete objectivity in the investigative and scientific processes of the law. Only the highest standards would be acceptable. Such standards were not maintained in this case, leading to wrong conclusions being drawn and the waste of police resources and public money in pursuing them. Not to mention the unnecessary trauma caused to the Chamberlain family.

To the Chamberlains and their children, Barritt extended his deepest sympathy. "You have not only suffered the loss of your beloved child in the most tragic circumstances, but you have all been subjected to months of innuendoes, suspicion, and probably the most malicious gossip ever witnessed in this country." A much deserved chastising of the Australian public and the media.

Barritt's reading of his verdict ended the transmission.

"I doth find that Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain, a child of nine weeks of age and formerly of Mt. Isa, Queensland, met her death when attacked by a wild dingo whilst asleep in her family's tent at the top camping area, Ayers Rock, shortly after eight p.m. on 17 August 1980. I further find that, in attempting to remove this babe from the tent, the dingo would have caused severe crushing to the base of the skull and the neck and lacerations to the throat and neck. Such injuries would have resulted in swift death. I further find that neither the parents of the child, nor either of the remaining children, were in any degree whatsoever responsible for this death. I find that the name Azaria does not mean, and never has meant, sacrifice in the wilderness. I find that, after her death, the body of Azaria was taken from the possession of the dingo and disposed of by an unknown method, by a person or persons unknown."

Lindy and Michael show a photo of Azaria to reporters.
Lindy and Michael show a photo of
Azaria to reporters.
(The Advertiser)

On the steps of the courthouse, the tired and relieved couple stood smiling before the onslaught of microphones and cameras. When asked of their plans they answered "Well, to begin new lives, look after our children, and take a holiday. We hope the children can settle down and lead normal lives." Michael and Lindy then held up a poster-sized photograph of their baby daughter in the arms of her mother so the world could see Azaria as she really was — "the most beautiful baby."

A Cry In The Night Part 2 Of 3