The Dingo Baby case, part three
_Click here for part two.
A trio of scientists were among those who found the Chamberlains’ guilty verdict difficult to swallow. Dr. Ken Chapman, a chemist, and Dr. Roland Bernett, a microbiologist, were well qualified although nowhere near Professor Cameron’s top-tier status. But the leader of the trio, Les Smith, had earned an applied science diploma and worked for a food company. While qualified for his position, by real-world standards he could only be considered an amateur in comparison to Cameron and textile expert Chaikin.
_Undeterred, as an experiment the three friends fed chunks of meat wrapped in cloth to Smith’s pet collie, Susie. The results were fully documented and photographed over several months, and they showed conclusively that sometimes Susie bit cleanly into the material and sometimes she ripped it. When these samples were compared to the jumpsuit worn by Azaria in September 1984, the resemblance could not be missed. Nor could any of the three friends reproduce the tears with scissors or any other sharp object.
The animal hairs on the jumpsuit, amazingly, had never been tested by the government authorities although they’d been mounted on slides. These were now analyzed by Dr. Hans Brunner, who literally wrote the textbook on identifying mammalian hair in Australia. In addition to two human hairs and one unidentified fiber, six hairs could only have come from a dingo.
The problem of the damning arterial spray, under the dashboard in the foot well of the Holden Torana, had bothered Smith since before the trial. If someone had killed a baby and intended to hide the evidence, why would that someone stuff the body, spewing blood, into such an odd place? Surely any rational person would expect the car to be searched and the blood to be found?
So if it wasn’t blood sprayed into the foot well, what was it?
Typical Holden Torana (not the Chamberlains' car)
_As another experiment, Smith examined as many cars of the same make and model as the Chamberlains’ as he could locate. Of the forty he found, at least five of them showed the same spray pattern in the same part of the foot well, meaning it wasn’t an “arterial spray” at all but a part of Holden’s manufacturing process. Specifically, upon chemical analysis it proved to be a sand-based sound-deadening substance known as Dufix HN 1081, sprayed into the wheel wells and leaking into the car’s cab through a drainage hole. Continued analysis showed that the five control cars all displayed the same angle of spray and the same drainage hole as the Chamberlains’ Torana.
Then why did it, and much of the rest of the car, all react positively to the orthotolidine? Why did it react as if the car had been stained with baby’s blood?
Some expert help
Prof Barry Boettcher
_By this point in the three amateurs’ investigation, expert scientists were joining in. One of the most prominent of these, Professor Barry Boettcher, headed the biological sciences department at Newcastle University. He’d testified for the defense in the Chamberlain trial and he’d been treated roughly by the prosecution, who’d basically accused him of being an academic with no knowledge of true forensic science.
But Boettcher knew his science, and equally knew that Joy Kuhl didn’t know as much as she seemed to think. She’d used the orthotolidine test but shown herself lacking some knowledge of how it worked and what results it could prove with certainty. Boettcher traveled to Germany and visited the company that produced the orthotolidine serum, Behringwerke. The corporate scientists willingly signed a statement confirming that, while the serum would react with fetal blood, they couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t also react with anything else.
A lab tech with the Western Australian Department of Agriculture, Julie Fry, had reached a similar conclusion. All the orthotolidine test proved was a peroxidase-type residue was present within the car, not that it had to be human, fetal blood and nothing else. Such residues could include vegetables such as horseradish, milk, and, as Kuhl had admitted in court, some baby side effects such as vomit. Nothing further could be determined without additional testing, especially when the samples were invisible, such as the scrapings Kuhl had processed and tested.
Dr. Bob Hosken, a biochemist with the University of Newcastle, Australia, discussed the questionable serum results with Fry, then turned to his resource materials, seeking an answer. It didn’t take long. With the orthotolidine test, false positive readings could be caused by traces of heavy metals, copper in particular—and the Chamberlain family, and their Torana hatchback, had come from Mount Isa, location of a huge mine producing silver, lead, and copper. The town was regularly blanketed by a cloud of haze from the mine, carrying with it copper dust.
As a final test, in May 1986, Boettcher traveled to Mount Isa and tested whatever articles crossed his path. From roadside gravel to his hotel room wall, from the door handle of a local car to a house key, each gave an immediate, spectacular false positive reaction to the orthotolidine solution, just as it had done for Joy Kuhl.
But by the time Boettcher achieved these results, Lindy Chamberlain was already free.
The matinee jacket
_A tourist from the U.K., named David Brett, was climbing Uluru one evening in early 1986 when he fell to his death. It took eight days to scour the Outback for his remains, but they were ultimately found not far from the ledge he fell from and very close to where Azaria’s clothing had been recovered. The area was riddled with dingo lairs. And only a few yards from the remains was found the last, most necessary bit of evidence to support Lindy’s claim that her baby had been carried off by a dingo: the little matinee jacket, edged with lemon yellow.
Lindy had sworn all along that Azaria had been wearing the jacket when she was tucked into bed. She had no reason to insist on its existence unless it was true, especially if she’d killed her baby. But the jacket’s recovery, so near the dingo lairs, prompted the Northern Territory government to reopen the case and, within a week, to release her.
With the publication of the amateurs’ and the friendly scientists’ results, an investigation into the case and verdict was initiated in May 1986. All of the results they’d obtained were vindicated.
In 1992, the Chamberlains were awarded AU$1.3 million for wrongful imprisonment. The amount covered roughly one-fourth of their legal costs. A fourth inquest into Azaria’s death is expected to be convened in 2011.
In April 1998, on Fraser Island, Alan Rowles charged a dingo attempting to carry off his thirteen-month-old daughter, Kasey. The dingo dropped the baby and ran. In April 2001, also on Fraser Island, a nine-year-old boy was attacked and killed by two dingoes, and in April 2007, a four-year-old girl was severely bitten.
At least now, no one can say it never happened before.