Inquest Reopens Infamous 1980s Australian Dingo-Baby Case
By Mike Fleeman
Friday February 24, 2012 03:15 PM EST
Lindy Chamberlain with Azaria in 1980
It's a movie line that inspired countless parodies.
In the 1988 true-crime thriller A Cry in the Dark, Meryl Streep finds her daughter missing from a tent and cries in an Australian accent: "The dingo's got my baby!"
Though mocked over the decades on everything from Family Guy to Seinfeld, at the heart of this moment lies a very real criminal case, one that gripped a nation in 1980s – and one that finally may be coming to an end.
Lindy Chamberlain, an Australian woman who was convicted – and then cleared – of murder in her 9-week-old baby's 1980 disappearance is counting on a coroner's inquest to prove once-and-for-all that wild dogs snatched her daughter Azaria.
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton today
"I ... hope that this will give a final finding which closes the inquest into my daughter's death, which so far has been standing open and unfinished," Lindy, who since remarried and is now known as Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, said after the hearing Friday, according to The Australian newspaper.
The inquest had been requested by Chamberlain-Creighton and has focused on testimony about the dangers of dingoes. Her ex-husband Michael Chamberlain, the father of Azaria, testified that at least three children have since been killed by the dogs.
Fighting tears, he said, "Since the loss of Azaria I have had an abiding fear and paranoia about safety around dingoes. ... It is a hell I have to endure."
When news of the baby's disappearance first broke, the case riveted and divided Australians.
Lindy said that the family was camping near the popular tourist attraction Ayer's Rock in the Australian outback when she saw a dingo scamper from the tent clutching the baby in its mouth.
In a trial generating enormous publicity, Lindy was accused of cutting the baby's throat and hiding the body in a large camera case before going into the tent in front of the other campers and loudly exclaiming the dingo took the baby.
Lindy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor. Her husband was convicted of being an accessory but got an 18-month suspended sentence.
But three years later, the case took a dramatic turn when a matinee jacket that belonged to Azaria was found nearby in a dingo lair. The convictions were overruled in 1987 and Lindy was released from prison, asserting her innocence ever since.
Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain
The story spawned several books, a TV movie and miniseries and the feature film A Cry in the Dark, with Streep's portrayal of Lindy earning the actress nominations for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
At Friday's hearing, Rex Wild, a lawyer acting for the coroner, told the court that although "doubts remain" about Lindy's innocence, it was time for closure in the case.
"With the additional evidence in my submission, your honor should accept on the balance of probabilities that the dingo theory is the correct one,'' he said, according to Australian.
A decision in the latest case is expected within days.