LAW and FORENSIC SCIENCE in the Criminal Trial Process
The Lindy Chamberlain Case
Chester Porter QC
I was Counsel assisting the Chamberlain Royal Commission in 1986-7. Tony Raymond was the scientist from the Victorian Forensic Science Laboratory who assisted me in a search for the truth. What emerged was the revelation of a dreadful injustice to Lindy Chamberlain and her husband, and the greatest fiasco in the history of Australian forensic science. I shall leave it to Tony to deal with the technical forensic science and I shall outline the human story.
Michael was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor and Lindy was his wife. Seventh Day Adventists are members of a Protestant Church similar to other churches. They observe Saturday as the Lord’s day, not Sunday, and in Australia they are vegetarians, and total abstainers, the latter characteristic making them very unusual in the Northern Territory.
On Sunday 17 August 1980 the Chamberlains went around Ayers Rock (now Uluru), and at one place near Maggie’s Springs, saw a dingo. Later they parked their car 20-25 metres from a barbeque, in a camping area, much closer to the Rock than is now permitted. All the structures and motels which were there then have been removed since and the settlement has been rebuilt much further from the Rock.
They were chatting with Greg and Sally Lowe, two other tourists, a little before 7.50pm. Then within 5 to 10 minutes Lindy went to the car with baby Azaria, aged 9 weeks to put her to bed. With her was her son Aiden aged nearly seven. They other child Reagan aged 4 was already asleep in the tent. She put Azaria to bed and then went to the car to get a can of beans for Aiden. Together they came back to the camp quite normally, without any blood-stains noticed by anyone on her floral dress.
The last picture of Azaria and her mother at the bottom of the Ayers Rock climb shows her a normal loving mother, and so she was described by every witness who saw her that day. These witnesses from the camp have never swerved in their support of Lindy Chamberlain. They have addressed many meetings maintaining her innocence. They were in the best position to judge her. Lindy was not suffering from post-natal depression. Her doctor so certified, but this was obvious to everyone.
Sally Lowe said she heard the baby cry. This was about 8pm. Lindy went to the tent and called out that a dingo had taken her baby. Searchers went out immediately but the baby was never found.
The Crown case, the case which the jury accepted and which put Lindy in gaol, and gave her husband a suspended sentence for aiding and abetting the murder of Azaria, was as follows:
In the 5-10 minutes before 8pm Lindy went to the tent, changed into a tracksuit, left Aiden there, took Azaria to the car, cut the baby’s throat leaving an arterial blood spray stain under the dashboard, cleaned the blood from the car, washed her hands, got a tin of beans for Aiden, returned to the tent, changed from her tracksuit back into her floral dress, and then returned with Aiden to the barbeque.
No motive was suggested for this remarkable conduct.
Of course if Sally Lowe did hear the baby cry the Crown case failed completely, because the baby could not have been dead at that point and Lindy had no other opportunity to commit the alleged murder. The Crown case was that Sally Lowe was mistaken. Police and lawyers tried in vain to make Sally Lowe change her story. She remained firm as to what she had heard.
The Crown case went on to say that Michael was informed of the murder during the search and co-operated in hiding the body (probably in his camera bag) and later disposing of it in a manner unknown, probably by burial somewhere in the sand.
There were Aborigines at the Rock, and one Nui Minyintiri found tracks of a dingo carrying a heavy load which it rested in the sand, leaving tracks leading from near the tent. Next day Nipper Winarti and his wife Barbara Tjikadu traced the same tracks from the tent out into the sand hills. The tracks were verified by Derek Roff, the head ranger, who himself had learned tracking in Kenya and from the Aborigines. Another tourist also found the place where the dingo rested an object which left a cloth imprint in the sand. It is a pity that Nipper Winmarti had weak eyes and wore glasses, and also loved the cup that cheers. Not unnaturally the defence did not call him as a witness. They were not informed about Nui and Barbara whose evidence at the Royal Commission was impressive.
In the soft sand which was ideal for tracking, the trackers could hardly be mistaken and they said that a dingo had taken the baby. Of course, Lindy would be innocent on that scenario. She herself would not countenance the idea that a camp dog had taken the baby. She maintained that it was a fine look dingo, like the one she saw at Maggie Springs.
The Chamberlains left the Rock on Tuesday 19 August. Five days later on Sunday 24 August, the baby’s clothes were found near Maggie’s Springs 30 metres from two dingo dens, 40 metres from the walking track and 200 metres from the road, at least 4 kilometres from the camp site and the motel, to which the Chamberlains went near midnight after Azaria disappeared.
The clothes were in rough billy-goat country near the foot of the Rock, had indeed to traverse in the dark, but the Crown case assumed that one of the Chamberlains put the clothes there cutting them to simulate dingo damage.
When the clothes were found they were surprisingly close together, whereas one would expect a dingo to scatter them wildly. One would also expect wild predators to scatter blood-stained clothing. The clothes were dry when found in the afternoon although it had rained that morning at Ayers Rock. Neither the Chief Ranger Roff nor his deputy Cawood knew the dingo dens were there. The Crown case assumed, but hardly proved that the Chamberlains put the clothes there.
It might be noted that in her police statement, made the day after the baby disappeared, Lindy described a matinee jacket on the child. She gave a minute, detailed description of this jacket, but it was not found with the other clothes.
Although there was a lot of damage to the clothes, the singlet, bootees and jumpsuit etc. the Crown case concentrated on severances in the jumpsuit, which is said were cuts made with a knife or scissors. This it said meant the cuts were made by a human and only the Chamberlains could have made them.
There was foetal (baby’s) blood in the tent, obviously from Azaria, which the Crown said had been transferred from Lindy’s blood-stained hands and clothes. There was not a great deal of blood. My study cases where big cat predators took human victims revealed that this often occurred with little or even next to no blood at the killing site. The predators’ teeth occluded the wounds until the jaws opened to release the body. However the blood in the tent was hardly explicable as transferred blood. There were numerous small marks, comprising 2-3 millimetres in volume. Some marks were at least 1-2 centimetres across.
There were animal hairs on the clothes and in the tent which the Crown’s expert said were probably cat hairs, so the jury was told there were no dingo hairs. The Chamberlains did not have a dog so the Royal Commission evidence that the hairs were certainly dog hairs had considerable significance. The jumpsuit did not react to a test for dingo saliva, which could be explained if the baby wore a matinee jacket. The Crown case was that Lindy was lying about the matinee jacket, that there was n such garment.
How did a tragedy become a crime? What caused the targeting of Lindy Chamberlain?
Firstly most Australians believed that a dingo was too cowardly to attack a man. Thus Ned Kelly said at Glenrowan, “a man would be a dingo to desert his mates”.
Secondly the Chamberlains behaved strangely. She did not cry enough to suit the media, and Michael’s obsession for photography had him photographing their tent the day after Azaria’s apparent death, and sending the pictures to the media. They agreed to be interviewed by de Luca from the “Adelaide Advertiser” in the early afternoon of 18 August (the day after the baby died), and after they gave him the interview de Luca told Inspector Gilroy that their conduct was highly suspicious – perhaps because they were too calm. Later that day Inspector Gilroy took statements from the Chamberlains.
Some time after they returned to Mt Isa, the medical brother of Mrs Chamberlain’s doctor confidentially informed the Mt Isa police that Azaria meant “sacrifice in the desert”. This was an absurd confusion with Azaziel (Leviticus ch.16 verse 22) where the scapegoat bearing the sins of the people is (in some translations) sent to Azaziel a devil or else named Azaziel. Azaria actually comes from the story of the fiery furnace, the subject of a spiritual song “Shadrach Meshach and Abednego”, recorded in the book of Daniel. These three Hebrews endured the fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols and a fourth figure was seen walking with them. (They “weren’t going to worship no gods neither”, says the song.) Abednego is the Chaldeean name of the Hebrew Azaria “he whom God has loved”.
“Sacrifice in the desert” really set the rumours going, Michael had a miniature coffin – he did as a prop for anti-smoking lectures. The baby was dressed in black – at the Royal Commission, a charming black nightdress, trimmed with pink ribbons, was produced – and admired. There was a bible marked at the place where a Hebrew heroine killed an enemy. The bible was produced at the Royal Commission. The marks were original printer’s defects occurring in other places of the book as well.
During the investigations before the first inquest on 1 October 1980, Senior Constable Graham examined the car in the evening with a massive Big Him torch for two hours. He found no blood. At the trial the defence were not aware of this, although the Crown case was that the car when examined in September-October 1981 was awash with foetal blood.
On 20 February 1981 Coroner Barritt exonerated the Chamberlains and criticised the police and the Northern Territory Park authorities. This intensified the targeting of the Chamberlains. Professor Cameron from England purported to find a woman’s bloody fingerprints on the jumpsuit. At the Royal Commission these turned out to be mainly red desert sand. He claimed that the jumpsuit blood-staining revealed that the baby’s throat had been cut and he and other experts identified the famous underdash arterial blood spray, which at the Royal Commission turned out to be sound deadener.
Most significant of all was the evidence of Joy Kuhl who purported to find foetal blood al over the front of the car giving rise to one expert’s statement that the car was awash with blood. Joy Kuhl’s work was very much discredited at the Royal Commission, but at the trial she was strongly supported by her superior at the Sydney biological laboratory, Professor Baxter, and by Mr Culliford, the expert in this field at Scotland Yard.
Against all this prejudice and evidence John Phillips QC and his junior Andrew Kirkham had to find experts ready to help a woman already condemned by the public, and someone had to pay these experts to go to remote Darwin. Of course the Crown had unlimited resources.
Outside the court people wore tee-shirts showing Lindy murdering her baby. The pictures varied but usually the theme was bloody scissors held in Lindy’s hand.
A second inquest committing Lindy and Michael for trial had widely publicised the evidence against them. Yet a jury would have to be selected from Northern Territorians who permitted the tee-shirts in the streets, and who had been media indoctrinated to believe that the Chamberlains were guilty. There is an aspect of law which is never discussed in academic circles. However a criminal lawyer wills trike it some day, sometimes from the bench, sometimes from the facts. I call it the irrebuttable presumption of guilt. I think defence counsel at the trial were in that situation, despite a fair impartial judge presiding. There was just too much to rebut and the Chamberlains were not good witnesses.
It was obvious that if there was foetal blood in the car Lindy must have murdered Azaria. If it was ordinary blood it could be explained by the fact that the Chamberlains had picked up a wounded person named Lenehan who bled substantially in the car. Against the odds the defence succeeded in countering the foetal blood evidence so that the High Court eventually discounted it. But did the jury? The defence did so well that eventually two out of five High Court judges held that a reasonable jury could not find the Chamberlains guilty on that evidence.
This kept the Chamberlains’ cause alive. It was taken up all over Australia by committees presided over by a main Committee chaired by Sir Reginald Sholl, a retired Victorian judge. The campaign to free the Chamberlains was well describe din the book “Innocence Regained” by Dr Norman Young. Yet the Northern Territory government refused petitions to release Lindy until an English tourist fell off the top of Ayers Rock. His body was found near Maggie’s Springs, missing a limb or two, apparently removed by dingoes. The search for the lost limbs revealed on 2 February 1986 the missing matinee jacket about 50 metres from where the clothes had been found on 24 August 1980. It was soon clear that the garment was genuine. I should guess that a hawk picked it up back in 1980. One may discount the story that Seventh Day Adventists threw the unfortunate tourist off Ayers Rock, and that tattooed on his buttocks was the word “Azaria”.
The Northern Territory government only five days later released Lindy Chamberlain and there was a Royal Commission which sat first on 8 May 1986 and reported on 22 May 1987. The Chamberlains were exonerated and on 25 May 1992, compensation for them was awarded $900,000 to Lindy and $400,000 to Michael.
I draw a couple of important lessons from the case.
Firstly, it is dangerous indeed to convict someone of murder without proving a motive. A conviction for murder without a motive is a doubtful conviction. The law says that there is no need to prove a motive, but common sense says otherwise.
Secondly, forensic evidence should not be merely theoretical. There should be a practical test to justify an assertion.
This it was said that if the baby’s jumpsuit was cut, this must have been done by human hands. At the Commission it was demonstrated that the carnassial teeth of dogs cut like scissors, neatly and effectively. No one tried this out until Les Smith, a Chamberlain supporter, tried it out with a Kelpie dog.
If cat hairs are compared with dog hairs under the microscope there is a clear difference. A statement by the Crown expert that the hairs were probably cat hairs incriminated the Chamberlains and concealed powerful evidence in their favour, since they did not own a dog. Dingo and dog hairs were then indistinguishable.
It was quite important to the defence that a dingo’s gape could encompass the baby’s skull, estimated to be 10 centimetres. This was the way a defence expert said the dingo would take the baby, carried by its head. But the Crown experts at the trial said this was impossible. I remember at the Commission how with the aid of a dingo skull, geometry, trigonometry, mechanics, and lots of science the experts proved quite conclusively that a dingo’s gape was at the most 8-9 centimetres. I did not attempt to argue with the theory. We produced a video of a normal sized dingo carrying a frozen chicken in its jaws. The chicken measured 13 centimetres.
There never was a case with so much forensic evidence which was just plain wrong. Tony Raymond will demonstrate this in detail showing a car “awash with blood” probably had no blood at all.
Justice Trevor Morling in his report recommended that there should be a National Institute of Forensic Science. As a result this long sought institute at last became a reality. Tony Raymond recently became the Director.
If the Institute succeeds in improving forensic science throughout Australia, Lindy may not have suffered in vain. I believe that it has already made great progress.
23/6/80 “Ding”, a well-known dingo, attacked Amanda Cromwell aged 3 years and removed her from the front seat of a car.
13/8/80 Michael aged 38, Lindy 34, Aiden 6 years 10 months, Reagan 4 years 4 months, and Azaria aged 9 weeks set out for Ayers Rock.
16/8/80 Chamberlains arrive at Ayers Rock, set up car and tent 20-25 metres from barbecue. There were numerous witnesses as to her motherhood.
17/8/80 Azaria disappears.
(about 8pm) Lindy went to the car 5-10 minutes before returning. She says she put Azaria to bed and got a tin of beans from the car for Aiden.
Crown says she killed Azaria in the car having changed into tracksuit and pants in the tent. She then cleaned her hands and the car and changed back into a floral dress. On all accounts she came back to the barbecue compound with Aiden and a tin of beans.
She went back when the baby cried. (Sally Lowe)
17/8/80 Lindy puts on tracksuit pants.
17/8/80 Chamberlains leave for Uluru Motel.
(near midnight) Lindy and the children in a police car. Michael and Mrs Elston in the Chamberlain’s car.
18/8/80 Searching ceases, but continues next day.
18/8/80 De Luca from Adelaide Advertiser meets Chamberlains.
18/8/80 Statements taken by Inspector Gilroy.
19/8/80 Chamberlains leave Ayers Rock for Alice Springs, then
(late morning) Mt Isa.
21/8/80 Chamberlains home at Mt Isa.
24/8/80 Wally Goodwin finds the clothes. They were dry although it rained that morning.
30 metres from 2 dingo dens
40 metres from the walking track
200 metres from the road
4 kilometres from the camp site
Neither Roff nor Cawood knew about these dens.
1/10/80 Snr Constable Graham finds no blood in car. Examination for 2 hours with Big Jim torch.
20/2/81 Coroner Barritt finds death by dingo.
19/9./81 Search warrant on Chamberlain house.
18/11/81 In-camera session of Supreme Court quashes Barritt’s findings.
2/2/82 Chamberlains committed fro trial.
13/9/82 Trial. Chamberlains found guilty.
30/4/83 Federal Court dismisses appeal. Lindy goes into custody.
22/2/84 High court dismisses appeal.
2/2/86 Matinee jacket found.
7/2/86 Lindy released.
2/4/86 Royal Commission appointed by Federal Government.
8/5/86 First sitting of Commission.
22/5/87 Report of Commission.
25/5/92 Compensation announced.
$900,000 to Lindy,
$400,000 to Michael.
30/4/01 9 year-old Clinton Gage killed by a dingo on Fraser Island.
Copyright 2005. Greek/Australian International Legal and Medical Conference.
For more information contact Jenny Crofts at firstname.lastname@example.org