Haunting parallels between Madeleine McCann and 'dingo baby' Azaria Chamberlain

Although the cases of Madeleine McCann and Azaria Chamberlain seem very different with regard to the disappearance and murder, their mothers faced the trial by media in much the same way


                            Haunting parallels between Madeleine McCann and 'dingo baby' Azaria Chamberlain

When it comes to mothers from different parts of the world who have gone through something traumatic, such as losing a child, not everyone can say that they have also been accused of that child's disappearance or murder. Unfortunately for Kate McCann and Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, the going has been tough for the two mothers and they have been in the media glare for a very long time. The two cases, in themselves, are very different.

In Kate's case, her young daughter Madeleine vanished from the family vacation home in Praia da Luz, Portugal, while she and her husband were at a tapas restaurant with friends. The panicked parents realized their six-year-old was missing only much later. The date was May 3, 2007, and Kate along with husband Gerry are still actively looking for their daughter.

Lindy's case was a little different. Her two-month-old baby girl, Azaria, was taken on the night of August 17, 1980, by a dingo from a camp that the family had been staying in close to Uluru, better known as Ayers Rock, in Australia's Northern Territory.

(L) Madeleine McCann and (R) Azaria Chamberlain (Source: Handout/Getty Images)
(L) Madeleine McCann and (R) Azaria Chamberlain (Source: Handout/Getty Images)

Northern Irish novelist and journalist Eilis O'Hanlon wrote that Madeleine's disappearance "could almost stand as a metaphor for the rise of social media as the predominant mode of public discourse". The McCann couple's status with the public as articulate and professional was initially a good thing. Feminist scholar Nicola Rehling wrote that every institution in the UK wanted to help this white middle-class family who got caught up in this nightmarish situation abroad and this constantly gave fuel to the ever-growing fire.

The McCanns also took full advantage of the situation by hiring PR consultants and offered to give the media regular updates. The initial media frenzy soon turned hostile and this is when the "monstering of the McCanns" began, according to PR consultant Michael Cole. The public proceeded to heavily criticize the parents for having left Madeleine and their two other children alone in an unlocked apartment in spite of the availability of babysitters and a creche at the Ocean Club.

Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of missing British girl Madeleine, visit the Fatima Shrine on May 23, 2007, in Fatima, Portugal (Source: Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of missing British girl Madeleine, visit the Fatima Shrine on May 23, 2007, in Fatima, Portugal (Source: Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The argument then ran that any working-class couple would have faced child-abandonment charges if the circumstances were different. In June 2007, 17,000 people signed a petition online asking that the Leicestershire Social Services launch an investigation into how the children ended up being left unattended. Kate's appearance and demeanor came under heavy scrutiny with most of the comments about her behavior coming from other women.

It became a sensation in the news that Kate was a cold and controlling woman who was too attractive, too thin, too well-dressed, and just too intense.

The real reason, reportedly, is that she had been advised by abduction experts not to cry on camera because the person who kidnapped her child might enjoy the distress he/she caused. This ended up leading to more backlash, particularly with Portuguese tabloid Correio da Manhã citing sources that complained that Kate hadn't "shed a single tear".

Kate McCann joins members of the 'Hacked Off' campaign group to address the media outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference center following the publishing of the Leveson Inquiry on November 29, 2012, in London, England (Source: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Kate McCann joins members of the 'Hacked Off' campaign group to address the media outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference center following the publishing of the Leveson Inquiry on November 29, 2012, in London, England (Source: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Journalism professor Nicola Goc then commented that Kate had now joined the growing list of mothers who are deemed killers because they have "unacceptable maternal behavior".

Many commented that Kate's experience was just like that of Lindy, who was convicted of murder after infant Azaria was killed by a dingo. Just like Kate, she was also suspected, if only in part, because she did not cry in public. Lindy said in an interview when Kate was receiving media backlash: "How can you apologize to me and do this again to someone else?"

The Crown had alleged that Lindy had been responsible for her infant's death by cutting her throat in the front seat of the family car and hiding the child's body in a large camera case.

Then, according to the proposed reconstruction of the crime, she joined the rest of the campers around a campfire and fed one of her sons a can of baked beans before heading back to the tent and then raising the alarm that the child had been taken by a dingo. It was then alleged that while other people in the camp were looking for Azaria, she quickly disposed of the infant's body.

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain outside the court in Sydney on January 1, 1987 (Source: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)
Lindy and Michael Chamberlain outside the court in Sydney on January 1, 1987 (Source: Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)

The trial of the Chamberlains was the most publicized in Australian law history. Since most of the evidence that was presented in the case against Lindy was rejected later, the case is now being used as an example of how the media and the bias of the people can affect a trial negatively. 

When it came to the opinions of the public and those of the media, the trial was polarised with "fanciful rumors and sickening jokes" as well as lots of cartoons. The negativity was mainly directed towards Lindy who allegedly did not behave like a "stereotypical" grieving mother.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton arrives at Darwin Magistrates Court for the first day of the fourth coronial inquest into the disappearance of her daughter, Azaria Chamberlain, more than 30 years ago February 24, 2012, in Darwin, Australia (Source: Daniel Hartley-Allen/Getty Images)
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton arrives at Darwin Magistrates Court for the first day of the fourth coronial inquest into the disappearance of her daughter, Azaria Chamberlain, more than 30 years ago February 24, 2012, in Darwin, Australia (Source: Daniel Hartley-Allen/Getty Images)

The couple's Seventh-day Adventist religion also came under fire including false allegations that the church was a cult in disguise that would kill infants as part of strange religious ceremonies.

The media was quick to pounce on any point in the story that could be sensationalized. In this way, both mothers have suffered a lot by being under constant scrutiny and the media glare that was just waiting for them to say or do anything to prove they were monsters.

At the end of the day, these two mothers grieved in an unexpected way and society as a whole stigmatized them for it. The search for Madeleine McCann might be coming to an end soon and in the case of Azaria Chamberlain, her mother was released from prison.