File, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia — The dingo really did take the baby.
Thirty-two years after a 9-week-old infant vanished from an Outback campsite in a case that bitterly divided Australians and inspired a Meryl Streep film, the nation overwhelmingly welcomed a ruling that finally closed the mystery.
A coroner in the northern city of Darwin concluded Tuesday that a dingo, or wild dog, had taken Azaria Chamberlain from her parents' tent near Ayers Rock, the red monolith in the Australian desert now known by its Aboriginal name Uluru.
That is what her parents, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Michael Chamberlain, had maintained from the beginning.
The eyes of the parents welled with tears as the findings of the fourth inquest into their daughter's disappearance were announced, watched by people around Australia on live television.
"We're relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga," a tearful but smiling Chamberlain-Creighton, since divorced and remarried, told reporters outside the court.
The first inquest in 1981 had also blamed a dingo. But a second inquest a year later charged Chamberlain-Creighton with murder and her husband with being an accessory after the fact. She was convicted and served more than three years in prison before that decision was overturned. A third inquest in 1995 left the cause of death open.
"The dingo has done it. I'm absolutely thrilled to bits," said Yvonne Cain, one of the 12 jurors in the 1982 trial that convicted a then-pregnant Chamberlain-Creighton of murder. "I'd always had my doubts and have become certain she's innocent."
Cain said she still encounters people who doubt the couple's innocence, but they inevitably misunderstand what evidence there was against them.
"When people say she's guilty, I say: 'You have no idea what they're talking about — I was there,'" she said.
The case became famous internationally through the 1988 movie "A Cry in the Dark," in which Streep played the mother.
Many Australians initially did not believe that a dingo was strong enough to take away the baby, whose body has never been recovered. Public opinion swayed harshly against the couple; some even spat on Chamberlain-Creighton and howled like dingoes outside her house.
No similar dingo attack had been documented at the time, but in recent years the wild dogs native to Australia have been blamed for three fatal attacks on children. Few doubt the couple's story today, but the latest inquest — which the family had fought to get — made it official that Azaria was killed in a dingo attack.
An expert on dingo behavior, Brad Purcell, said he was not surprised that a dingo would enter a tent and take a baby while older siblings slept.
Purcell suspects that many people blamed Chamberlain-Creighton for leaving the baby in a tent where a dingo could have been attracted by her crying.
"She was almost being condemned because she wasn't acting as a responsible parent," Purcell told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
But not all Australians accept the latest ruling.
A policeman who was at Uluru the night Azaria disappeared said he still believes the first coroner's finding that there was some human intervention.
Frank Morris, who has since retired from the police force, said while he was not trying to blame the parents, he thought someone played a part in moving clothing Azaria wore that night.
"We don't know who. That is the $64,000 question," Morris said.
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