WNYC Radio’s Retro Report is probably the best explanation of how the whole Lindy Chamberlain trial-by-media went down, and cleverly illustrates how the Australian public savaged an unprepared Chamberlain for not grieving ‘the correct way’. We like our grieving mothers to cry, in case you didn’t get the memo. Chamberlain’s matter-of-fact nature and description of how a dingo might go about killing a small child totally freaked-out the Australian public. Not to mention the rumors of satanic rituals. But these things make not a murderer. And yet, Chamberlin was convicted of murder, despite the lack of a murder weapon, witnesses, a body, or a confession.
It’s been 35 years since baby Azaria went missing, and Lindy screamed the infamous words “A Dingo Stole My Baby”. Words that have become the punchline to a joke, reeled out when Australian celebrities go on Conan. Whether you thought Lindy was guilty or not, the debate divided a nation, even after the 1992 acknowledgement from the Australian government of wrongful imprisonment. It seemed the more facts presented the more the public deemed her guilty.
All of this was set to the backdrop of Satanic Panic, a time when rituals and cults seemed a plausible motive for anything inexplicable. Cults featured regularly on Oprah, here’s a classic clip from the halcyon era when the topic of Satanic ritual murder stoked hysteria.
It’s impossible to know if this 1994 video was ever used as an actual police training tool, but it’s presented matter-of-factly, and even has advice on what animals satan worshipers like to sacrifice.
Most famously, the West Memphis Three were wrongfully imprisoned after an Arkansas jury found satanism to be the motive in the Robin Hill Murders. The documentary about the three, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, helped prove their innocence and dispel satanism as a motive. It’s still my favorite documentary, and the only time Metallica ever allowed a film to use their music.