Did a dingo take the baby? We may never know.

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Bloodstain Pattern Analysis in Action: The Chamberlain Case

In August 1980, the Chamberlain family was camping near a rock formation called Ayers Rock in Central Australia. Lindy Chamberlain put two of her children, 4-year-old Reagan and 10-week-old Azaria, to bed in their tent. When she returned, she cried "The dingo took my baby!"

According to Lindy, when she got to the tent she saw a dingo dragging something out of it. She wasn't close enough to see what it was, but when she checked on the children she saw that Azaria was missing. As the cry went out, she and her husband Michael, along with other campers, began searching for Azaria. A nearby camper, Sally Lowe, went into the tent to check on the still-sleeping Reagan. Seeing a small pool of wet blood on the floor of the tent, she realized that Azaria was probably already dead.

When the head park ranger arrived, she showed him the blood as well as a torn and bloody blanket and bloodstained items in the tent. Police offers took the blanket and found bloodstains on the tent, but didn't take the bloodied clothes of the Chamberlains until long afterwards.

When a tourist found the baby's jumpsuit near a dingo lair, it was only slightly torn and bloody, but the snaps were still mostly closed. It was pleated down as if it had been pulled off. The baby had been wearing other clothes that weren't found. A police officer arrived on the scene, and as one tourist looked on in amazement, he picked up the bloody jumpsuit and folded it. After a TV station crew showed up, a reporter kept stating that the jumpsuit was found that way.

This continued to create more suspicion about the Chamberlains' involvement in Azaria's death. The police claimed to have found bloodstains matching Lindy Chamberlain's blood group in a cave near Ayers Rock. Initially, the small amount of blood found in the tent was suspicious as well; only later testing of the bassinet mattress showed that it had been saturated with enough blood to have resulted in the death of a baby. Fluorescent examination of the jumpsuit showed that a bloody mark consistent with the action of slitting a throat was present.

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain outside the court in Sydney

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Throughout the case, the local police improperly handled blood spatter and other evidence. They didn't photograph the scene or attempt to preserve materials found there, which essentially rendered many of the conclusions that they reached invalid. However, expert testimony proved to be enough to convict Lindy Chamberlain of murder and her husband of being an accessory to murder. Three years later, after another piece of Azaria's clothing was found, Lindy was released. The case officially remains unsolved.

The Azaria Chamberlain case shows what can happen when law enforcement isn't trained in blood spatter analysis. Once the scene is changed and clothing is washed, there's no way of getting back that evidence. If the police had properly conducted their investigation, the Chamberlains may have remained incarcerated, or they may have been able to definitively prove that a dingo ate their baby.

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