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Three other dingo attacks helped solve mystery of Azaria Chamberlain's death (+video)

After 32 years and four inquests, an Australian coroner ruled a dingo killed baby Azaria Chamberlain. Three attacks on children in Australia countered original arguments that a dingo would never kill a child.

By Rod McGuirkAssociated Press / June 12, 2012

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton speaks to the media outside a coroner's court in Darwin, Australia, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. After the notorious 1980 case that split the nation and led to a mistaken conviction, an Australian coroner ruled that a dingo took a baby from a campsite in the Outback, just as her mother said from the beginning.

(AP Photo/AAP, Patrina Malone)

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Canberra, Australia

The dingo really did take the baby.

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A coroner in Australia has agreed that a dingo took a 9-week old baby back in 1980, in a notorious case that at one point saw the infant's mother serving prison time for murder.

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.

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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 attacks on children. In 2001, a 9-year old boy was attacked and killed by two dingoes on Fraser Island. In 2007, a 4-year old girl was also attacked, and survived, on Fraser Island. In 1998, a 13-month old old girl was grabbed by a dingo, which began to drag her away until her father intervened.This also was reported to have occurred at a camping area on Fraser Island.

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.

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