The Dingo Ate Your Baby

My Missing Person Monday offering today discusses a case from the 1980s.
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Does anyone remember when Elaine on Seinfeld said, "Maybe the dingo ate your baby"?

Did you know the origin of that saying?

I didn't until I read about what was likely Australia's most famous missing person case.

Case Summary


On August 17, 1980, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were camping with their family, that included 9-week-old Azaria Chamberlain, in Ayers Rock, Northern Territory, Australia.  

The family's site states this:

...three people heard the cry of Azaria on the night she disappeared from the tent in the camping ground at Ayers Rock (Uluru).


Lindy saw a dingo coming out of the tent and dingo tracks were seen around and inside the tent. Blood from Azaria was found in large quantities - for an infant - on the tent mattress and other items, on the tent itself, near the carry-basket she had been sleeping in, and next to dingo tracks.


Shortly after the alarm was raised, Aboriginal and white trackers following the dingo prints (until they could no longer, as it mixed with shoe prints of humans on the road) saw drag marks in the sand; in two places were there was a shallow depression in the sand, where a bundle had been set down, apparently while the animal rested.

The depressions contained the imprint of a knitted garment, and next to one, small, dark patches in the sand, which they took to be blood...
The baby's body was never found.

Prosecutors eventually tried to discredit the "dingo took my baby" story and charged Azaria's mother with murder and her father as an accessory. 

In 1982, with the help of some questionable forensics, Lindy Chamberlain was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor.

And perhaps she would still be imprisoned today if not for a chance discovery in 1986--authorities searching the Ayers Rock area for a missing hiker who had fallen to his death, found part of Azaria's clothing in an area full of Dingo lairs.

With the new evidence to bolster the dingo attack explanation, Ms. Chamberlain was released from prison, and two years later all convictions against the parents were overturned by one of the nation's court of appeals.

Update

This case is in the news again as Azaria's family reportedly petitioned the court with jurisdiction to have the child's death certificate changed from an unknown cause of death to listing the dingo attack.

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So Lindy Chamberlain's 9-week-old baby is taken from her, authorities accuse her of lying, she is convicted of murdering her child, and then she spends 4 years in prison as an innocent person?

Now that I understand the origin behind Elaine's quip: "Maybe the dingo ate your baby", it is apparent how inappropriate and lacking in humor that line really is.
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*Note: A movie starring Meryl Streep entitled A Cry in the Dark was released in 1987 about the incident.

40 comments:

ijustsaw said...

so strange how this phrase became a comedic one...brings to mind either woody allen or sidney pollack when he said, "comedy equals tragedy plus time"

Jen said...

I saw that movie. It was very good.

Hilary said...

Yes, I knew the origin. Most Seinfeldisms show a distance and lack of concern for anyone but themselves. It worked for them for all those years.

Miss Caitlin S. said...

Weird, I had no idea about that story at all. Sadly, I still find b*tchy Elaine incredibly entertaining.... but that story however, is so sad. That poor woman, I really cannot imagine the hardship she endured. Thanks for the insight, as always.

Selma said...

This was a huge news story in Australia. I was at Uni when it happened and I remember the nation being quite divided about it. Most people I know still believe Lindy Chamberlain guilty of killing her own baby and that a dingo had nothing to do with it. The thing about dingos is that they don't go near humans.

The other striking thing about the case is how dispassionate Lindy was about the whole thing. At times she seemed emotionless. Odd behaviour for someone whose newborn baby had just died.

People still debate this case today. Some people I know still believe she did it. I am on the fence. Perhaps we'll never know the truth.

Sister Copinherhair said...

Your timing with posting this particular story seems apropos with all of the Halloween specials they have been playing on TV. Way to keep it current, Slam. :)

malone8 said...

Not a sitcom fan, so not familiar with this phrase.

However, I do remember the story well. I had a heavy heart for the parents, as I did not believe they had any guilt in their child's disappearance or demise.

Dingos aren't known for contact with humans, still there is always the exception to the rule in everything.

Diane said...

That is a sad story. The mother lost her babe to a dingo and she gets blamed. Horrible for her. :O(

ladyfi said...

I remember this case (and film) very well. What a terrible tragedy!

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

What an awful story!!! How sad, thanks for enlightening us all.

Katie Ganshert said...

I never knew! How tragic!

Lydia Kang said...

OMG, that phrase is now so chilling.

T. Anne said...

That is SO sad. I remember this loosely. What a heartbreak to spend four years in prison after suffering the biggest loss of your life. I wonder how she's doing now?

Jeanette Levellie said...

I don't think that line is funny, either.

I'm glad the mom was finally released. What if they had executed her? Man.

kittycat said...

Yes I do remember. Strange how that is a running joke. I dont know that many people still remember why that saying came about.
sad really

Crystal Escobar said...

Oh my, what a CRAZY story! There is nothing worse to me than an innocent person going to prison. Makes me feel sooo bad.

James (SeattleDad) said...

That is a crazy story and I watched that movie way back when. I sympathize so much more for the mother now that I am a parent.

Tara said...

I saw that movie, but only vaguely remember it. I can't even imagine that mother's pain and horror!

Kimi said...

Do you think the mom was accused because her story seemed false and unlikely or do you think because of the media hype the mom led herself to believe she killed her child? Guess we'll never know. Thanks for sharing (despite how sad and sordid it is). I'll definitly keep my ears more opened to what people say, no matter how funny they are.

BobKat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BobKat said...

Who goes camping with a 9 month old baby in the Australia Outback? Sure a wild dingo will grab a baby. I'm wondering about the parents. Sorry, if that is odd.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

To lose your newborn and then serve time for a crime you didn't is horrendous enough. Having someone turn your loss into a tasteless punchline is just not right.

Brian Miller said...

yeah i did some reasearch on this a couple months back when i used the quote in writing a poem...interesting how things make it into our language...

Rhiannon Nicole said...

Gosh what an unfortunate experience for anyone to go through let alone a mother. Every now and then the dingo line comes up and my parents told me about this story a few years ago. How sad :(

jodeeluna said...

Four years in prison when you did not commit the crime is incomprehensible and I imagine torturous for a grieving mother to bear. Yet an interesting story all the same. I so enjoy your missing person posts.

Emily S. said...

I never knew that that's where that phrase came from... how in the world did that end up in a sitcom? What a terribly sad story.

myvicarioustravel said...

...and the truth shall set you free! But isn't it so sad what we may need to endure before emancipation - it also makes me think of how many a true word is said in jest that is not always funny, is it? Nice post.

slowvelder said...

I remember the case well. I often wonder what sort of compensation the state gives someone for locking them away when they are innocent. I guess nothing can give you those years back...

Stephanie Faris said...

Yep, that pretty much sums it up...yet most of us wouldn't trade the comfort we have now for anything!

kathryn said...

Wow. I had no idea that's where the Elaine/Seinfeld line came from. What a horrific story...and that poor mother...as if she hadn't been through enough.

terri said...

I understood the comment only because I knew of the Meryl Streep movie. I'm not sure I every actually saw it though, and didn't really know the details of the story until reading this post. Very sad.

LisaF said...

Never saw the Meryl Streep movie and missed that episode of Seinfeld. But I'm with Stina. Tasteless writers should be ashamed.

carma said...

wow!! that is totally bizarre. Remind me not to camp out near dingoes.

aconnectiontomyheart said...

Oh no, very sad, losing a child and then getting accused of killing it.. ! In the end the truth came out, which is a miracle! However had to google, Dingo and the movie :)

J. J. in Phila said...

I think Elaine's line was a parody of the movie, not the crime directly.

One thing, the Chamerlain's were Seventh Day Adventist. At the time, the church was not particularly well established in Australia. Many people in the area regarded it as a cult. That prejudiced the proceedings.

ocmist said...

I rarely listen to Seinfeld, and usually find them tacky when I do. I remember reading somewhere about this story, too. So sad for those poor people. I'm glad that they were at least exonerated of the charges.

angelcel said...

I'd heard of the original story but had no idea that it had reached some resolution. What a living hell that woman has been through.

Anonymous said...

How sad! I've heard of this and saw the movie as a child. I can't imagine a more horrific way for a baby to die :o( Also, the poor mother to endure such a tragedy and be wrongfully imprisoned when grieving. As a mother myself, I don't know how I would go on....

Julie said...

PLEASE ""But police and the public doubted a dingo was big or strong enough to drag away a 10-pound (4.5-kilogram) baby."" A few years ago, my dog (which weighted only about 40 pounds), dragged a piece of a deer I had quartered (which weighed 15 pounds) over 100 yards. I had only left the quarters in my cooler less than 15 minutes before I returned to find the cooler overturned, and saw my dog a little over 100 yards away in my back yard, still dragging the quarter towards the woods! I am sorry for the child, but dogs are much stronger than most people believe!

Anonymous said...

to any americans...
the dingo ate your baby "joke" features in several american "comedies"
why? it's not very funny from any perspective
how does this find it's way into these shows?