The Parallels between the Lindy Chamberlain and Sue Neill-Fraser Cases
There are some amazing parallels between the cases of Lindy Chamberlain and Sue Neill-Fraser here in Hobart. Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of the murder of her nearly 10 week old baby, Azaria, at Ayers Rock on 17 August 1980 and Sue Neill-Fraser was convicted in 2010 of the murder of her long-time partner, Bob Chappell, on Australia Day 2009. Both cases have polarised public opinion and divided the community. Indeed, as a long serving police officer, it took me many years to realise that Lindy was indeed innocent and it was really only after a Royal Commission (the Morling Inquiry) that her innocence was considered proven, at least for most.
Some of the intriguing parallels between the two "murder" cases include:
- no plausible motive;
- no confession or admissions;
- no direct eyewitnesses to the alleged crime;
- no forensic evidence linking the so-called offenders to the crime scene;
- no weapon;
- no body;
- possible police "tunnel vision";
- a highly circumstantial case;
- poor management of the crime scene;
- failure by police to seize critical exhibits in a timely way, such as the relevant motor vehicles, clothing etc;
- damaging pre-trial publicity;
- biased and prejudicial media coverage;
- extensive rumour, gossip and innuendo circulating within the community;
- failed appeals - in Lindy's case to the Federal Court and the High Court;
- talkative women, who may have literally talked their way into gaol - Sue had two lengthy video-taped Records of Inteview without the benefit of a lawyer being present;
- both women were portrayed as clever and deceptive;
- both women were accused of employing "red herrings" - in Lindy's case the dingo tracks in the sand dunes near the tent;
- flawed forensic evidence including conclusions drawn from presumptive testing or screening agents;
- flawed expert evidence including the failure to eliminate the possibility of false positives - the Mt Isa dust in Lindy's case which tested positive for blood and the possibility of bleach-based cleaning products in Sue's case in relation to the dinghy;
- the use of petitions to garner public support;
- the importance of jackets in the case - the matinee jacket in Lindy's case and the red jacket found on the Marieville Esplanade foreshore in Sue's;
- the dingo in Lindy's case and the dinghy in Sue's - the grey and very different dinghy seen tied to the Four Winds by at least 4 witnesses on the afternoon of Australia Day;
- the fact that they were both outspoken women who may have experienced a misogynist reaction from police and others;
- their demeanour and personality which saw both of them remaining stoic and unemotional - a trait not well received by the public where some hold stereotypical views about grieving mother's and spouses;
- the strong and entrenched resistance from the system and Government to rectify what was strongly claimed to be a wrongful conviction.
In another parallel, but a widening one, both women spent around 4 years in gaol. Sue will mark four years in gaol on 20 August 2013 while Lindy spent around 3.5 years "inside".
If you would like further information about the Lindy Chamberlain case, please visit my blog postings for 26 March and 1 April 2013 where I reviewed the excellent book by Norman H. Young Innocence Regained: The Fight to Free Lindy Chamberlain (Federation Press 1989). It would certainly be frightening to think that 30 years on, the same mistakes might be made.
The Morling inquiry into the Chamberlain convictions revealed an extraordinary list of forensic blunders:
- An arterial foetal blood spray found under the dash of the Chamberlains' car turned out to be sound-deadener sprayed on in error during manufacture.
- A car 'swimming in blood' turned out to have very little or no blood.
- A preliminary test for blood had been put to the jury as, in effect, conclusive evidence of a blood-spattered car.
- Bloody fingerprints 'from a female hand' turned out to be mainly red desert sand.
- 'Cat hairs' in the tent and on the baby's clothes turned out to be dog hairs. The Chamberlains did not have a dog, and a dingo is a dog.
- The testing for foetal blood (the baby's) was defective.
- Numerous items were stated in error to be bloodstained.
It can be seen that many of the forensic errors related to blood.
If you have any other interesting parallels in the cases, or indeed any stark differences, other than canine involvement, climate and geography, please feel free to comment.