Australian Coroner Agrees Dingo Took Baby in 1980 Case

PHOTO: Michael and Lindy Chamberlain leave Alice Springs courthouse, Feb. 2, 1982. The Northern Territory coroner is opening a fourth inquest, Feb. 24, 2012 into the case of Chamberlains 9-week-old daughter Azaria, who vanished from her tent in the AustPlayAP
WATCH Coroner Says Dingo Did Take the Baby

One of the most highly publicized missing-child cases in history, which led to a mother's wrongful imprisonment, has finally come to an end after an Australian coroner officially ruled that a dingo killed the woman's baby.

Lindy Chamberlain has been haunted for 32 years by public doubt of her version of events about how her 9-week-old daughter, Azaria, died. Chamberlain shocked the world when she reported that the infant had been snatched by a dingo, a wild dog that lives mostly in the Australian outback.

"We're relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga," Chamberlain said Monday. Her former husband, and Azaria's father, Michael, added, "this battle to get to the legal truth of what happened to Azaria has taken too long."

Coroner Elizabeth Morris said, "Please accept my sincere apology on the death of your special and loved daughter and sister Azaria. I am so sorry for your loss. Time does not remove the pain and sadness of death of a child."

There have been 27 dingo attacks on humans, three of them fatal, since Azaria's death in 1980.But such fatal attacks by the dogs who frequent the Uluru camp areas were unheard of before the 1980 case.

Plausibility is crucial for testimonial evidence in Australian courts, and because nothing like it had ever happened, the judge was hard pressed to accept the dingo story. Thanks to the awareness created by her case, the story of what happened to Azaria Chamberlain now fits that requirement, according to the coroners office.

On Aug. 17, 1980, Chamberlain and her now ex-husband took their three children camping to Uluru, then known as Ayers Rock, in the Australian desert. After Chamberlain put the newborn to sleep in a bassinet in the couple's tent, she returned to a nearby barbecue area with friends. Soon after, witnesses heard a "menacing growl" and a baby crying. The mother of three ran back to the tent, she says, and saw a dingo dragging her daughter away.

The initial coroner's inquiry found that the Chamberlain family had no responsibility in Azaria's death; but for many, their story was just too unbelievable.

In October of 1982, amid rumors the Chamberlains sacrificed their daughter in a religious ceremony, the case was re-opened; and Lindy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

It wasn't until four years later, when a child's jacket was found in a dingo den, that Chamberlain was re-tried and acquitted. Eventually, the family faded into obscurity while their story would become a joke and punch line in movies and TV shows.

Meryl Streep portrayed Lindy Chamberlain in the 1988 film "A Cry in the Dark," and was nominated for an Oscar for the role.

Now, after Monday's ruling, the Chamberlains can finally end their three-decade fight to have Azaria's cause of death officially recognized on her death certificate.