The Dingo Baby case, part two
_Click here for part one.
Dr. Kenneth Brown, the forensic odontologist, seemed to take the coroner’s rejection of the admittedly sloppy scientific evidence personally. He called in one of the world’s leading pathologists, Professor James Cameron, Professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of London since the retirement of the renowned pioneer Francis Camps in 1972. Cameron was given Azaria’s clothing and asked for his opinion: canine teeth, or something sharper and more sinister?
Following the analysis by Bernard Sims, forensic odontologist and a member of Cameron’s expert team, the poor little jumpsuit next was given to Professor Malcolm Chaikin, a textiles expert at the University of New South Wales. Meanwhile, the Chamberlains’ car, a yellow Holden Torana hatchback, was impounded and turned over to Joy Kuhl, a forensic biologist with the Sydney Health Commission who’d previously assisted the NSW police with analyses of bodily fluids, including blood.
When the various experts had reported in, the government of the Northern Territory requested the first inquest be quashed and the case reopened. The forensic dynamite the experts had delivered was so incredible, the motion was granted and a second inquest convened 14 December 1981, almost a year to the day after the first.
_First at bat was Joy Kuhl, the Health Commission biologist, and the inquest moved to the impoundment lot, encircling the Torana. Kuhl didn’t disappoint. She delivered her testimony with flair and confidence, pointing out the places in the hatchback where she’d found traces of fetal blood—which was basically everywhere. Even the hinges on the front passenger seat, the carpet, the console and dashboard, and the connecting bolts all showed traces of blood that Kuhl stated came from a baby aged six months or less.
The most damaging, and horrifying, part of Kuhl’s testimony were the positive reactions she’d received from three possibly interlinked sources: a small pair of nail scissors from the console between the seats, husband Michael’s camera bag, and the foot well area beneath the dashboard. There, a pattern of reaction was found that Kuhl referred to as an “arterial spray,” as if the baby’s throat had been cut with the little scissors and its still-gushing body hidden there, until it could be disposed of via the camera bag.
While the horrified inquest participants watched, Kuhl processed a sample scraped from the vinyl beside the front seat. The filter paper obligingly turned vivid turquoise when orthotolidine was applied—a positive reaction to fetal blood.
Prof James Cameron
_Professor Cameron, up next, had testified at major criminal trials around the world and he presented an unflustered, professional image before the inquest and the press. He spoke of experiments he’d performed with a dingo skull and the pathetic little jumpsuit, and his opinion concurred with Brown’s that scissors were more likely than teeth. As well, because much of the damage was centered around the jumpsuit’s neckline, he claimed that if it had been caused by a dingo the tears would be significantly larger. He also stated the clothing showed no sign of having been dragged—assuming, like many other, less capable experts, that a dingo couldn’t have carried off the child, despite documented evidence to the contrary.
Next, Cameron presented a series of slides, taken under ultraviolet fluorescent conditions, to illustrate his belief that the blood had flowed onto the jumpsuit not from small, localized wounds, such as those caused by a dog bite, but from a larger one that at least partially encircled the neck. Finally, he flashed on his penultimate slide—the one showing what he claimed was a human handprint, marked in blood, beneath the baby’s arm where an adult might naturally grip and hold.
“[D]eath,” he concluded, “had been caused by a cutting instrument, possibly encircling the neck, certainly cutting the vital blood vessels.” In plain speaking, either Azaria’s throat had been cut or she’d been decapitated.
Tears or teeth?
Close-ups of tears on the jumpsuit
_The last major testimony, from textiles expert Chaikin, seemed to cinch the case around Lindy. Chaikin had wrapped cloth around a slaughtered rabbit and slashed at it with a dingo’s jawbone. But the teeth dented or tore rather than cut the material, even though they sliced into the carcass beneath. The only concession the defense attorneys scored, and it was a small one, came in the cross-examination of Joy Kuhl. Concerning the positive fetal blood reaction from orthotolidine, she finally admitted that other substances can cause a similar vivid turquoise-colored reaction, including infant vomitus and milk. She hadn’t tested to exclude these substances, she said, because she couldn’t scrape together sufficient sample matter. Unstated was the assumption that it would require a colossal spill of milk or an incredibly sick baby to produce the large positive reaction she’d achieved, all over the front half of the car.
On the basis of this forensic avalanche, Lindy Chamberlain was sent to trial. The experts her defense team presented in the courtroom were eminently qualified, including Dr. Dan Cornell, the first biochemist in Australia to use the orthotolidine (crossover electrophoresis screening) test and who stated flatly that Joy Kuhl “didn’t know what she was doing.” Similarly, Professor Vernon Plueckhahn of Melbourne University blistered Cameron’s findings, saying, “I cannot in the wildest imagination . . . see the imprint of a hand” on the tattered jumpsuit. Most unbelievably, all the dingo evidence, including animal hairs found on the little jumpsuit, were ignored.
Nevertheless, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were pronounced guilty on 29 October 1982. Her murder sentence was life imprisonment with hard labor. His sentence, of accessory after the fact or helping to cover her crime, was eighteen months, sentence suspended on the basis of a good-behavior bond of AU$500.
And this is where the amateurs enter the picture.
Click here for part three