The Dingo Did, in Fact, Take Her Baby

32 years after Lindy Chamblerlain's baby disappeared, a coroner ruled that her baby was killed by a dingo, just as she had famously claimed. 

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"A dingo's got my baby!"

It's a punchline you probably remember hearing before you knew exactly what a dingo was. But this is what actually happened: A nine-week-old Australian baby disappeared on a family camping trip in 1980. Her body was never found. Her mommy, Lindy Chamberlain, claimed to have seen a wild Australian dog, known as a "dingo," take her baby from her tent.

In 1982, Lindy Chamberlain sentenced to life in prison for murdering her baby, but four years later, that verdict was overturned and Chamberlain was set free. However, it was never officially determined how her baby died, until today.

It seems a dingo did, in fact, take her baby. "[T]he coroner in the fourth inquest into her death announced on Tuesday that the baby died as a result of being taken by a dingo," James Gorman reported in The New York Times.

The coroner, Elizabeth Morris, with tears in her eyes, addressed the Chamberlain family in a courtroom in Darwin, Australia.

“Please accept my sincere sympathies on the death of your special daughter,” Ms. Morris said. “I am so sorry. Time does not remove the pain and sadness of the death of a child.”

She said of Azaria, “The cause of her death was the result of being taken by a dingo.”

Although "A dingo's got my baby!" was apparently a misquote, the phrase and the 32-year-old case became deeply embedded in American pop culture. In addition to references on shows like Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and a fictional rock band called Dingoes Ate My Baby on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Chamberlain story was made lastingly famous in the 1988 film Cry in the Dark, in which Meryl Streep was cast as Lindy Chamberlain and immortalized the plaintive cry*.
The film was an adaptation of Evil Angels, a book by Australian lawyer and journalist John Bryson. In a New York Times review of Bryson's book, Linda Wolfe explained that some of the confusion surrounding Chamberlain's case was actually confusion surrounding the nature of dingoes.
In an atmosphere of hatred and hullabaloo, some of it stirred up by big-city animal lovers who view the dingo as a cute canine rather than -- as Australia's leading expert on the animal advises -- a predator, Mrs. Chamberlain is eventually put on trial, accused of slitting her baby's throat with a scissors and hiding the body in the trunk of her car until she could dispose of it. During the trial, the Government relies on forensic experts whose work is slipshod at best, dishonest at worst. 
The end to the 32-year-saga was a relief for the Chamberlain family, even if it was also Twitter-joke fodder for the rest of us.
Watch out for dingoes, guys.
*Correction: This story originally said that Meryl Streep won an Oscar for A Cry in the Dark. She was nominated for best actress but lost to Jodie Foster for The Accused.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.