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Coroner rules dingo to blame for Australian baby's death

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
updated 7:37 PM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Azaria Chamberlain disappeared from a tent more than 30 years ago
  • Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton claimed her baby had been taken by a dingo
  • Prosecutors convinced a jury she was guilty of murder; conviction later quashed
  • Mom's reaction: "Relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga"

(CNN) -- A coroner ruled Tuesday that a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, caused the death of a baby more than 30 years ago.

Azaria Chamberlain was just 2 months old when she disappeared from a tent during a family holiday to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, sparking one of the country's most sensational and enduring murder mysteries.

"The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo," Elizabeth Morris, coroner for Northern Territory, announced to Darwin Magistrates court early Tuesday. "Dingos can and do cause harm to humans."

The girl's mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, long maintained that a dingo took her baby, even as she was sentenced to life in jail for her daughter's murder, a conviction that was later quashed.

During the trial, a witness recounted the then 32-year-old mother's cries of a "dingo's got my baby," which was immortalized in the 1988 film "A Cry in the Dark" starring Meryl Streep, who earned an Oscar nomination for the role.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton shows reporters Azaria's death certificate outside a Darwin court Tuesday after coroner Elizabeth Morris rules that a dingo caused her baby's death 32 years ago. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton shows reporters Azaria's death certificate outside a Darwin court Tuesday after coroner Elizabeth Morris rules that a dingo caused her baby's death 32 years ago.
Court rules dingo took baby
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Photos: Court rules dingo took baby Photos: Court rules dingo took baby
It is clear that there is evidence that in particular circumstances, a dingo is capable of attacking, taking and causing the death of young children
Elizabeth Morris, coroner
Azaria's mom: Some doubt my innocence
Coroner rules a dingo did take her baby

Outside the court Tuesday, Chamberlain-Creighton said she and her family were "relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga."

2004 on CNN.com: Child staves off stalking dingo

"No longer will Australia be able to say that dingoes are not dangerous and will only attack if provoked," she said.

Evidence produced at the fourth inquest into Azaria's death in February included reports of attacks by dingoes and dogs assumed to be part-dingo or crossbreeds. The coroner heard that in 2001 a 9-year-old boy died as a result of a dingo attack on Fraser Island in the Australian state of Queensland.

Years later, two girls, each around two-years-old, died in separate attacks by dogs believed to be part-dingo in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.

In her findings, Morris said no other disappearance exactly like that of Azaria had been recorded.

However, she said, "it is clear that there is evidence that in particular circumstances, a dingo is capable of attacking, taking and causing the death of young children."

It is a scenario that was unthinkable in 1980 when mother-of-three Lindy Chamberlain, then married to Michael Chamberlain, sparked a frantic search of a remote campsite in central Australia after claiming that a dingo took her baby.

So unbelievable was the idea that dingo would enter a tent to snatch a two-month-old that suspicion soon turned to the couple. The mystery was compounded by the lack of a body. Azaria's was never found, although her heavily blood-stained singlet, jumpsuit and nappy were discovered near the campsite one week after she disappeared.

Overheard on CNN.com: 'Shame it took so long' for dingo ruling to be reached

The first inquest into Azaria's death in 1981 found that the baby died as a result of being taken by a dingo. However, the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory quashed the finding later that year and ordered a second inquest into Azaria's death.

At the second inquest Lindy Chamberlain was committed to trial for murder. Her husband Michael was charged with being an accessory after the fact.

No longer will Australia be able to say that dingoes are not dangerous and will only attack if provoked
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton

The prosecution alleged that Chamberlain slit her daughter's throat with a pair of scissors before hiding her body, possibly in a camera bag, before she and her husband Michael buried her somewhere in the vicinity of the campsite.

The 35-day trial created a media frenzy in Australia as commentators picked apart the intricacies of the case, while a fascinated public speculated wildly as to how and why Azaria had died.

The jury returned its verdict in 1982; Lindy Chamberlain was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in jail. Her husband Michael was given a suspended sentence.

Chamberlain served four years of her sentence before the Northern Territory government ordered her release in 1986 after the discovery of new evidence; a baby's jacket, believed to be Azaria's, found half-buried near a dingo lair at Uluru. In 1988, a Royal Commission set up to review the evidence formally quashed convictions for both husband and wife.

Despite the finding that the couple was not to blame, a third inquest into their daughter's death returned an open verdict in 1995. It was that verdict that the couple sought to overturn with a fourth inquest this year.

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