The Dingo Really Did Eat The Baby

“Maybe the dingo ate your baby!” —Elaine Benes, Seinfeld

In A Nutshell

The line from Seinfeld has become pretty infamous over the years, quoted over and over again. It was based on the real case of Azaria Chamberlain, who disappeared from her family’s campsite in 1980. In spite of the fact that her parents remained steadfast in their insistence that it was a dingo that stole into the campsite and ran off with their two-month-old daughter, Azaria’s mother was found guilty in 1982, with her husband guilty of being an accessory. It was only 32 years after the little girl’s disappearance that the case was reopened, the evidence reexamined, and the death certificate was changed to indicate that she really, truly had been taken and killed by a dingo, and her parents were innocent.

The Whole Bushel

There’s absolutely no way to say it without doing Elaine’s horrible, over-the-top Australian accent (or, at the very least, hearing it in your head). It’s become one of the most iconic lines from Seinfeld, but the story behind it is nothing short of a tragedy.

On August 17, 1980, the Chamberlain family was on holiday near Uluru, Australia. The holiday ended in one of the most horrible ways possible when their two-month-old daughter, Azaria, disappeared from their tent in the middle of the night. Azaria’s mother, Lindy, claimed that she had seen a dingo stealing away with the baby. The entire nation was up in arms on one side of the case or the other, with some swearing that she was telling the truth and others convinced that it was a poor cover story for the murder of her little girl.

Two years after Azaria disappeared, Lindy was convicted of murder and given the mandatory sentence—life in prison. Her husband, Michael, was convicted of being an accessory but was given a suspended sentence. According to the prosecution, they had killed their daughter, hidden the body in a camera bag, and then disposed of it somewhere in the Outback. Forensic evidence of this was sketchy from the beginning, and was never enough to satisfy the courts (or those that maintained her innocence).

Azaria’s body was never found, only pieces of the clothes that she had been wearing when she disappeared. The lack of a body was cited when the sentences of her parents were overturned in 1986 and Lindy was released from prison after traces of the little girl’s clothing was found near a dingo’s den.

The fight to find out just what happened to Azaria and to fully exonerate her mother has been three decades in the making. On the 30th anniversary of her disappearance, her parents issued a request for an updated death certificate.

In June 2012, the Northern Territory coroner’s office released their new conclusions about the case. According to the evidence, they said, there was enough to prove that Lindy was telling the truth, and it was, in fact, an intruding dingo that had taken the baby. Evidence was ultimately supported by other dingo attacks that were confirmed, including the deaths of a nine-year-old boy and, in two separate incidents, two two-year-old girls.

The family blames a combination of poor police work and the media for the case being dragged out for three decades before their statements were officially supported by law enforcement. Part of the problem with the case, they’ve said, is that it was made into a joke.

So how dangerous are dingoes? The problems usually start when people forget that they’re wild animals and should be treated as such. They look like domestic dogs—some of the breeds we have in our homes today are descended from dingoes—but they’re still wild animals with all the drives and personalities of them. With people traveling and living farther and farther into the dingoes’ native territory, conflict increases. The Australian government has issued warnings to residents and tourists that while the first choice of a dingo will be to avoid human contact, repeatedly feeding the wild dogs can encourage them to lose their sense of fear of people and lead to tragedies like this one.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: katjung
Discovery News: ‘Dingo Ate My Baby’ Case Reopened
CNN: Coroner rules dingo to blame for Australian baby’s death
Queensland Government: People-dingo interactions