Michael Chamberlain, who waged a decades-long battle to prove his baby daughter was killed by a dingo in Australia’s most notorious case of injustice, has died.
Mr Chamberlain, 72, died on Monday of complications from leukaemia, his friend and former lawyer Stuart Tipple said. His ex-wife, Lindy – pictured with him in 1990 –said he died suddenly.
Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were wrongly convicted of the death of nine-week-old daughter Azaria after the baby vanished from their tent during a 1980 camping trip to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, the sacred monolith in Australia’s Outback.
The “dingo baby” mystery surrounding Azaria’s disappearance was the most divisive and sensational legal drama in Australian history. Meryl Streep portrayed Lindy Chamberlain in the film A Cry In The Dark (1988).
The Chamberlains insisted a dingo snatched their daughter from the tent but officials doubted the wild dogs were capable of carrying an infant.
Instead, prosecutors argued that Lindy had slit her daughter’s throat and buried her in the desert. There were no witnesses, motive or body – Azaria’s remains were never found.
But in 1982 Lindy Chamberlain was nonetheless convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Michael Chamberlain was convicted of being an accessory after the fact and given a suspended sentence.
But three years later Azaria’s jacket was found in the desert near a dingo den and Lindy Chamberlain was quickly released from prison.
A Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, later debunked much of the forensic evidence used at the couple’s trial and the Chamberlains’ convictions were overturned.
In 2012, more than three decades after Azaria vanished, a coroner finally ruled that the baby had died as a result of a dingo attack.
The trial remains a source of shame for the many Australians who initially doubted the Chamberlains and cast Lindy as a villain largely due to her religious beliefs.Michael Chamberlain was a pastor with the Seventh-day Adventist church, a Protestant denomination that few Australians understood, and rumours abounded that Lindy had killed her daughter as part of a grisly religious ritual.
Shortly before the coroner’s ruling in 2012, Michael Chamberlain said religious bigotry played a large role in the injustice he and his former wife suffered. “The church got so smashed up, erroneously, and all through, really, a nasty dose of prejudice,” he said.
“I can say that I think our religion definitely impacted quite strongly on the attitude that many Australians developed.”
The Chamberlains divorced in 1991 and Michael later married Ingrid Bergner and went on to be an author and teacher.
Actor Sam Neill, who portrayed Michael in A Cry In The Dark, said on Monday that the Chamberlains had been “terribly, cruelly wronged”.
“Throughout their cruel ordeal and the years of injustice, [Michael] Chamberlain maintained that quiet unassuming dignity – an impressive man,” Neill tweeted. “RIP.”
Mr Chamberlain is survived by his wife and four children.