by AT News Team
Updated June 17
The national Channel 7 television network called it “Australia’s most notorious murder trial” Tuesday morning (June 12) during coverage of the coroner’s ruling in the fourth inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain, the two-month-old daughter of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and his wife, in August 1980. Coroner Elizabeth Morris has officially found that a wild dog called a Dingo killed the baby as the parents had reported within minutes and have maintained for three decades.
The coroner’s ruling was carried live on national television: “In considering now all of the evidence, I am satisfied that the evidence is sufficiently adequate, clear, cogent and exact; and that the evidence excludes all other reasonable possibilities; to find that what occurred on the 17th of August 1980 was that shortly after Mrs. Chamberlain placed Azaria in the tent a Dingo or Dingoes entered the tent, took Azaria, and carried or dragged her from the immediate area.”
The couple divorced in 1991 and he is no longer a minister. Lindy Chamberlain married Rick Creighton the next year and lived in the United States for six years. Michael Chamberlain also remarried, worked for a number of years at Avondale College, earned a PhD from the University of Newcastle and taught at Gosford High Schoo. He is retired and writing a book. They have three surviving children and a grandchild. Azaria would have turned 32 earlier this year if she had survived.
Lindy may be the most widely known Adventist in the world, because of the movie made about this case, A Cry in the Dark starring Meryl Streep who won an Oscar nomination for the role in 1988. The opera Lindy premiered at the famous Sydney Opera House in 2002. A television miniseries starring Miranda Otto was broadcast in November 2004 in Australia.
The case has taken many twists and turns, often unexpected. “It polarized the nation,” wrote Nigel Adams in a retrospective in the Northern Territory News in February when the fourth inquest began. The first inquest came soon after the original events and found that the child had been killed by an animal. Rumors circulated that were based in prejudice against the couple’s Adventist faith, “that Azaria means sacrifice in the wilderness and that Azaria was dressed in black.” The following year the Northern Territory Supreme Court quashed the coroner’s finding and order a new inquest.
On February 2, 1982, at the end of the second inquest, a different coroner ordered the couple to stand trial for murdering the baby. Lindy was found guilty of murder and Michael guilty of helping to cover up the murder. She was given a life sentence and served several years in prison. A petition with 131,000 signatures on her behalf led to a judicial inquiry that found problems with her trial. Additional evidence surfaced, some of it suppressed for a time by the prosecutors, and on June 2, 1987, a Royal Commission cleared the Chamberlains. In 1992 they were awarded $1.3 million in compensation.
A third inquest changed the baby’s death certificate to state that the cause of death was unknown. Since that time the two parents have pursued getting a final judgment which resulted in the fourth inquest being announced on December 18, 2011. All commentators in the Australian media are saying that today’s announcement is the final word in this case.
Coroner Elizabeth Morris apologized to Lindy and Michael this morning announcing the official ruling. “She fought back tears as she extended her sympathies,” reported the Daily Mail. Lindy gave Michael a friendly hug as the event came to an end, noted Richard Shears, a reporter for the Daily Mail. The extended family was present.
Adventist Today has not been able to obtain definite information about the current status of either Lindy or Michael’s relationship to the Adventist Church. In December, Bill Hitchings wrote for the Herald Sun that Lindy, “the daughter of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and then the wife of one, is devoutly religious, and fastidious to a fault; Michael even more so.”
When they met with journalists immediately following the ruling this morning, Michael said, “I am here to tell you that you can get justice, even when you think that all is lost. But, truth must be on your side. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how sacred human life is [and] how important it is to pursue a just cause even it seems to be a mission impossible. If you know you are right, never give up on getting it right.”
The denomination’s South Pacific Division released a statement welcoming the finding, calling the decades-long ordeal “one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Australia in the modern era," said the Adventist News Network (ANN). “We hope and pray that the finding today is just one more step in the healing process for the Chamberlains and for our nation. We hope the experience of the Chamberlains will inspire all of us to act justly and to stand up for those who are mistreated."
Evil Angels by Melbourne attorney John Bryson is the most widely referenced book on this case. It was originally published in 1985 and updated editions have come out more recently. In 2004 Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton published her autobiography, Through My Eyes. Both titles are available on Amazon. ANN has reported that Lindy "is writing a book for children and a book on grief and forgiveness."
An article about this story appeared in the Friday, June 15, issue of The New York Times which states that "the Seventh-day Adventist Church … was wrongly portrayed as an infant-slaying cult." This was widely believable because of "the way white Europeans viewed aboriginal land; as a remote place where sinister things would happen, a place of dark magic where a young mother would slit her baby's throat as a sacrifice to God." It quotes Australian historian Michelle Arrow as stating that "we still bear a 'psychic scar' from it."