‘The dingo’s got my baby!’
Carl Wieland chats with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton
Most of us could not imagine what it would be like; not only to lose your precious infant daughter to a wild animal, but then be jailed for her murder, with millions of people thinking you killed her. That came to mind when I first met the renowned Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton at Phillip Island, in Australia’s far south. She was one of the 800+ people who attended CMI-Australia’s five-day Creation Supercamp in January 2013.
The famous case even triggered a Hollywood movie, in which Meryl Streep played Lindy.1 The nightmare started on that fateful evening of 17 August 1980, when a horrified Lindy screamed out the awful realization. A dingo, Australia’s wild dog,2 had taken her nine-week-and-four-day-old daughter, Azaria, from the tent in which she had been laid to sleep. There were paw prints leading from the tent, and blood on bedding.
Gross miscarriage of justice
The case, with its associated media frenzy, is etched in the memories of most Australians of that era. I recall shock, but not surprise as such; just three weeks before it happened, I had camped only metres from where Azaria was taken, near Australia’s landmark Ayers Rock (now Uluru). Wild dingoes were coming uncomfortably close to people. At night, they would prowl around, brazenly rummaging through campers’ foodstocks.
The first inquest found that a dingo had indeed taken Azaria. Later, Lindy was put on trial for her daughter’s murder, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The case rested heavily on scientific forensic evidence. The Crown3 claimed that the holes in the baby’s jumpsuit (found later) were not made by dingo teeth, but by scissors, and that tests in the family car showed evidence of ‘obvious blood’ (specifically fetal blood, still present in young babies) in ‘arterial spray patterns’.
Sadly, an irresponsible ‘trial by media’ meant that much of the Australian public was convinced of her guilt as well. They baselessly reported a rumour that the name Azaria means ‘sacrifice in the wilderness’ (when in fact it means ‘Blessed of God’ or ‘God helped’). So the public, ignorant of what the Chamberlains really believed, formed the bizarre opinion that the loving parents murdered their baby with scissors as part of a weird religious rite. This sort of thing made it almost impossible to get a fair-minded jury outcome. Then in 1984, the High Court rejected their appeal by majority decision.
However, the serendipitous finding of a matinee jacket Lindy had described Azaria as wearing, and which the prosecution had doubted existed, focused attention on the many problems in the Crown case. A subsequent Royal Commission exonerated the Chamberlains, and on 15 September 1988, the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously overturned all convictions. It was only much later, in 2012, after an exhausting series of legal attempts, that a dingo was officially recorded as the cause on Azaria’s death certificate. As a 2012 US law school article commented, “The Australian public confronted the reality that its justice system had failed … the trial of Lindy Chamberlain … is a cautionary tale that everyone who practices forensic science should carefully consider.”4
‘Why doesn’t she crumble?’
At the time, many said they thought Lindy was likely guilty because of her perceived strength and coolness under fire; surely an innocent mother would ‘fall apart’ in such circumstances? I asked if that was a factor in the waves of public hysteria she had to endure (people were even wearing T-shirts proclaiming, “The dingo is innocent”). Lindy said that at first, it seemed the opposite. “The media portrayed me as a sheltered, ‘religious’ wife who didn’t understand the real world. It was as if I would buckle, if they put enough pressure on me. It was only later, in the witness box in court, that the media was very surprised with my responses. They asked me if I had ever done law, or science … how could someone without a degree say such things? But they seemed logical to me.” A British forensic expert testified that, having examined the baby’s clothes, no dingo was involved in her disappearance. Asked about this in court, Lindy coolly responded, “I didn’t know there were any dingo experts in London.”
Many Christians attributed her strength under pressure to her faith. Lindy, who says she has been subscribing to Creation magazine for nearly 20 years, can’t remember a time when she wasn’t a believer in God. “I was one of those PK’s [pastor’s kids]”, she quipped. “So talk of God and Jesus was a ‘constant’ in our home.” Of course, a lot of that was abstract ‘knowledge of’ God, says Lindy. Even after she became more aware of God as real and personal, thanks to an amazingly answered prayer in later childhood, it only went so far. She says, “I still thought that if God touched my children, I would reject Him.” Then the Azaria tragedy happened. “I had no choice other than to lean on God completely; it was either that or suicide, and I had kids that needed me. Some people find it very easy, others have a major struggle with it, but it was only then that God became totally solid and real to me, beyond any doubt.”
During her ordeal, Lindy was put under a lot of pressure to admit guilt; she was told this would let her go home from prison. “To have me lie, and say that I did it, would have saved a lot of face for some in the system.” She says, “A lot of people would have taken that offer. But I was taught that some things are cultural—unimportant, like the colour of your socks—but some other things are important, and basic, like God’s Commandments. Which means telling the truth no matter how it affects you, not taking the easy way out. Dad always said to me, ‘Honey, face the music good or bad, and then you have a clear conscience and can get on with your life, and have no regrets.’ And he practised what he preached.”
Origins and the ‘dingo trial’
CMI has written more than once on a major lesson of the case vis-à-vis creation/evolution.5 Today, the eyewitness testimony of the Bible to the world’s origins is rejected in favour of scientific interpretations of evidence. Similarly with the Azaria case; the prosecution ignored the testimony of witnesses who heard the baby crying after the time she had to have been dead already in the prosecution scenario. The opinions of the experts who testified turned out to be deeply flawed and fallible. The ‘fetal blood in the car’ was in fact sound deadener.
A government pathologist in the case said later, “The trouble is, we’re all so human. I’ve never seen a case more governed by human frailties.”6 Indeed. Facts never speak for themselves, they have to be interpreted, by fallible humans full of inevitable prejudices. Romans 1 has a lot to say about the flawed nature of fallen humanity—those who “did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (v. 28). And the past cannot be repeated or observed, so the normal experimental approach of science does not directly apply.
A father’s creation evangelism
Lindy was involuntarily involved in the creation/evolution debate from infancy. An early developer, she had learned to walk and talk fluently at 12 months. At the age of only 2½ , some adults were talking ‘baby talk’ to her, and she recalls thinking how foolish that seemed: “You don’t really have to do that, you know.” Around that time, her father had been confronted by “a German scientist, one of the world’s top two acoustic scientists, who said that he didn’t believe in God. But if my Dad could show him there was a Creator God who made the world, and not this ‘beautiful logical thing’ as he called evolution, he would believe in Christianity.”
They agreed to joint studies on the subject once a week. “My Dad studied everything on creation/evolution he could get his hands on. My parents discussed these issues at the dinner table. After five months the scientist said, ‘Well, you’ve convinced me; I have to believe that there is a God and He created this world and He loves us.’ I was about three, but remember it well.”
Teenage creation evangelist
On her first day in a new secondary school, during private study period, one student was holding forth on evolution. After some time, Lindy blurted out, “What a lot of rubbish!”. The whole room was shocked to hear the new girl in class challenging, as it turned out, the school debating champion.
A vigorous discussion ensued. The young man challenged Lindy to prove her case and she accepted. That night she got a quick ‘refresh’ from her Dad and the next day, again in front of other students, she held her own against the challenges of her opponent, who conceded defeat. But his interest was piqued, and the discussion continued in free time over several days. When questions became too technical for her, she told him (in that pre-internet era) he would have to take those up with her Dad.
To her surprise he did, meeting with Lindy’s father for several months. Finally, he yielded his life to Christ and abandoned his evolutionary beliefs—and went on to become a Christian minister.
“Creation always made sense to me”, said Lindy. “It takes blind faith to believe that you came from a patch of sludge, a blob, a frog, or whatever, rather than believing there is someone out there, God, who is far more intelligent than us.”
References and notes
- Called Evil Angels in Australia and New Zealand, the film was released elsewhere as Cry in the Dark (1988). Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., The Australian dingo: a wolf in dog s clothing How the dingo confirms Genesis, Creation 27(2):10–15, 2005, creation.com/dingo. Return to text.
- Since Australia is a constitutional monarchy, public prosecutions are officially by ‘the Crown’ (vs the defendant), as opposed to ‘the People’ in e.g. the US system. Return to text.
- Commentary on the trial by Douglas O. Linder, 2012, University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law website, law2.umkc.edu, accessed 5 February 2013. Return to text.
- E.g. Wieland, C., Dingo days down under (again), Creation 23(4):6, 2001; creation.com/dingo-days. Return to text.
- Dr Tony Jones, as cited in Ref. 4, main text. Return to text.
i remember this - even Seinfeld exploited it..
so good to hear this epilogue -- and with a Christian reality check to boot...GOD bless Creation Ministries....†
I am a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, and through the Seventh-day Adventist grapevine, I heard about the Chamberlain/dingo saga when it happened. I did not believe that Lindy was guilty, as as a Seventh-day Adventist she could not have done that. This story by Creation magazine, I read by chance surfing the web with references to creation. I saw the movie of Meryl Streep also. Good article, and a good commentary on the "dingo case". Brilliant. God bless your ministry.
I still recall where I was when my dad came out looking for me to tell me that Lindy had been cleared, and how thrilled we were for her. I don't know that we knew enough to have been praying for her at that time, but our whole family knew that an injustice had been done when she was convicted.
Where did the blood that they claimed was in the car come from?
You may have missed the box accompanying in which it states: "The ‘fetal blood in the car’ was in fact sound deadener."
Thank you for great insight into this saga. 1980 was memorable in my life too, but I remember seeing the front pages of the Sydney paper full of dingo speculation. But on page 6 of that same newspaper, was a 2" paragraph Court report of a western suburbs mother who had starved and mistreated her baby to death! That woman's plea of post natal depression was accepted and that was the end of the matter. So why would Lindy not claim the same? Azaria was even younger than that poor little baby who only rated 2" on page 6. I thought then that it would be impossible to use that plea if the only thing you had left of your lost baby was the love you had for her. The media really has a problem with recognising integrity. Especially of Christians.
That kind of awesome strength can only come from God. This is a real inspiration and comfort, as I consider the possibility that we will have to go through persecution soon. Humanly, I feel weak, but I know God strengthens us. I am also reminded of how He strengthened Richard Wurmbrand. She isn't the only person who has been falsely accused and convicted of harming her own child, unfortunately.
Thanks for giving Lindy a fair hearing.
A lot of great gems, and having seen the powerful movie, I enjoyed the article. Something impacted me and stuck out, and that was what her Dad always said to her, "Honey, face the music good or bad, and then you have a clear conscience and can get on with your life, and have no regrets."
I remember when this sad event occured, but was only peripherally interested in the affair. However, when I discovered that a Christian was being attacked by the press. I woke up. As the press reported what was happening, my university statistics training raised questions in my mind: what were the confidence intervals of the 'certainty' that was stated by experts? What were the false positive rate of the tests being run? What alternative explanations were entertained, and what was the confidence interval for those being true, etc.
As with any science, all these questions are always on the table...which is why science is so challenging, and why I read evolutionist 'certainty' with more than a degree of scepticism.
This is an incredible case of how the media can sway the population. However in a sense the media is an extension of popular views. I remember in 1982 when I first heard of Lindy Chamberlain and the dingo incident. I had never heard of the Seventh Day Adventists and believed the media slant that they were a cult group and that Lindy may have practiced witch craft. I did not necessarily want to believe it but naively trusted the authority of the media. Incredibly the courts held the same prejudice. I had just become a Christian and was surprised that one of the ladies in the Bible study group, I was attending, believed Lindy was innocent and wanted to send her a supportive letter. It is an incredibly similar scenario to the media and publics prejudice against creation, favouring evolution, and the “experts” blindness to the truth of the data.
It must have been overwhelming, lonely and agonising for Lindy when the system was against her and there was no one that could help her. Job went through similar situation in term of over whelming and agony and no help from any of his neighbours. Lindy leaned on God because she knew her Creator. No other worldview will provide such an inner strength in such situation.
No doubt what the legal system did will come up on the judgement day when the whole humanity, right from the first Adam, is gathered before Jesus the Lord. On that day, the master scientist and technologist Jesus will not be relying on DNA tests and dating methods to determine the history. On that day no single soul can accuse of Jesus being negligent or uncaring. On that day the whole of humanity will know how loving, merciful and compassionate He is.
What a testimony to faith, great article, thanks
I spoke to Lindy at the (CMI-Australia 2009] Supercamp, but was a little too much in awe to ask the questions that would have helped me to know her better. I wish I had been able to read this article before meeting her.
I didn't realise we had PK childhood in common. I must look for again her next time.
Congratulations Carl & Lindy on a gem of an article. Kudos to you both for standing for what you know to be right. The article clearly demonstrates the fallibility of human judgement and its tendency to be corrupted by irrational biases. Bias mixed with scientific expertise is still biased.
Bravo! What a powerful and wonderful article.
Sensational. There are no words to really describe this ueber-excellent article.