Evil Angels: The Case of Lindy Chamberlain

Evil Angels: The Case of Lindy Chamberlain

by John Bryson


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Evil Angels: The Case of Lindy Chamberlain by John Bryson

The basis for the Meryl Streep film A Cry in the Dark : The dramatic true story of a mother’s worst nightmare and the murder trial that shocked Australia.

On a camping trip at Ayer’s Rock, the Chamberlain family’s infant daughter disappeared in the middle of the night. Her distraught mother, Lindy, claimed she saw a dingo carry her off into the Australian outback. Two years later, their tragedy worsened when, without a murder weapon, a body, or even a motive, a jury convicted Lindy Chamberlain of killing her own daughter. The public cheered.
John Bryson, a trial lawyer and award-winning journalist, deconstructs the factors that led to a seemingly reasonless incarceration and the public attitude that demanded it. With this book, he began to sway popular opinion in the Chamberlains’ favor by discussing the failures on the part of the police, forensics team, and press.
Winner of the CWA Gold Dagger award and the inspiration for the film A Cry in the Dark starring Meryl Streep, Evil Angels presents an impartial analysis of the most notorious miscarriage of justice in Australian history. It serves as a reminder of the dangers of blindly searching for a conviction, the importance of scientific accuracy, the volatility of the media, and the ease with which a nation can fall prey to bigoted thinking. Written with literary finesse, this is one of the twentieth century’s most important—and thoughtful—works of true crime.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504049474
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 02/20/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 1,294,689
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

John Bryson, a native of Melbourne, Australia, is a lawyer and an author of both fiction and nonfiction. He is the recipient of several awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Evil Angels.

Read an Excerpt

Evil Angels

The Case of Lindy Chamberlain

By John Bryson


Copyright © 1985 John Bryson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4161-4




It was autumn. Roadside aspens and hickories were already lean and spiky. Leaves lay in the waggon ruts, and grass in the field was still damp late in the afternoon.

This field was at Phoenixville, on the south bank of the Schuylkill. In 1844, the year this was, the river left the woods here to flow through the rich plains of middle Pennsylvania. The meadow was owned by Josiah Levitt. The Levitt family had invited friends to pass a day there, in prayer, though it was not the Sabbath but a Monday.

Nearly twenty families arrived, most shortly before dusk. They were not late, because a day for these folk was measured from sundown to sundown. Some had come from Vermont, some from New Jersey. The waggons and the sulkies were drawn into a circle. Horses were unharnessed, the warm bits slipped from their mouths and, without halter or hobble, were turned out to graze steaming by the stream.

Some of these folk had not met before. Newcomers were welcomed with the words 'Brother' and 'Sister', and with familiar phrases from the Bible. There was greater warmth here than was usual in people who valued solemnity. On this day solemnity was an effort. Adults graced each other with their smiles. Shy children held hands. All were joyful for themselves and for one another. When they looked about they saw only the glad faces of the servants of God.

This was the twenty-second day in October. Everyone was here to watch the second coming of Christ and to be drawn up into the heavenly throng.

The evening was cold, and many had brought only their Sabbath clothing. Some had dressed in white muslin robes they thought suitable for an Ascension. There was little food, for most believed they would be well provided for. Elder Joshua Himes had said: 'Go not into your houses to take anything out, leave everything upon the Altar of God, and if He wants any part of it He will take care of it.' The sceptics among them brought fruit and water for the journey.

Night passed with hymns and recitations from the Testaments. No one wanted to spend the last mortal night in sleep. Their singing swelled. Sarah Smollett, after consulting with her husband, asked if their voices might not drown out the approach of the Heavenly Choir, but it was generally thought more important to give than to receive, and the verses rolled on.

The darkness was parted, not yet by angelic light, but by the advent of a pale sun rising behind the woods. Children stretched, and crawled out from underneath the carriages. The sun found everybody bright and warm, a condition they all recognized as curious. Nathaniel Brett said this was a sign.

The year had been full of signs. Most were warnings of destruction to a sinful world. The month of March had seen earthquakes close to the southern seaboard. Towns in the Carribean splintered, and American ships were hurled up on the shores of Texas. A comet was bright in the New England skies. Beneath it the northern weather had begun to change. It snowed in Philadelphia on the summer solstice. Boston was covered with frost on 21 July. Cold in Austinburgh had killed an entire season of buckwheat. A God who would confiscate the summer would send his faithful a sign.

So they sang. They arranged to face the east, since that was from where their sign had come.

Mad Mary Chase, wife of Captain Chase, who now refused to be seen with her, sat next to her daughters. Four of these she placed in a line of diminishing size, but held the fifth in her lap because it was twelve weeks old. Old Amos and Martha Gower, childless all their seventy years of marriage, chose to be surrounded by the children of others. Matthew Lockitt, a fruit vendor, sat happily in his empty box-cart. Matthew was a seller of toffeed apples until last August, when he set up his stall in a Washington park near an Advent meeting. By the time the preacher finished, Matthew had given all his apples away to the crowd. His cart had been empty since.

Behind, Adin Shortbridge sat in company, though with a space on his left. He would allow no one to fill it. Adin's brother William had died while awaiting this Advent on a mistaken date. The Boston Liberator reported that William climbed a high tree, and 'mantled in his long white ascension robe he made one aspiring effort, but was precipitated to the ground, and instantly died from a broken neck'. The space on Adin's left was for the use of William Shortbridge at the time appointed for the dead to rise.

That time was brought closer by the passing of the sun overhead. It also brought sightseers from Phoenixville township and from the Inquirer newspaper in Philadelphia. The townspeople leaned on the fence. A persistent wit loudly counted the dissipation of time. The reporter took a notebook from his pocket. He made across the grass just as the startlingly resolute voice of young Hannah Ballou began Psalm 23. He made, too, an effort to seriously compose his face, to better his chances of an interview with somebody.

The friends in Levitt's green meadow were well accustomed to the presence of those that troubled them. Adventist meetings in the cities were often disrupted by volleys of detonating firecrackers. Howling youths pranced the aisles in white sheets. On windy days, smirking men loosened the pegs on the marquee in which Adventists prayed, so that the poles tottered and the canvas fell in. Their quiet children were jeered in the streets. Cartoonists lampooned their earnest faces in the press, and employers' doors were closed on them because they thought it wrong to work on the Sabbath.

Threat of intrusion by the press retreated now with the sudden appearance, from somewhere behind a cartwheel, of the Ballous' mastiff. With no command from anyone, it set the man from the Inquirer over the fence. Hannah finished her verses, then wondered aloud what sort of man could so merrily count down the time to his own destruction, as did the wag on the rails. The severe wisdom of the child, and that of the dog, stiffened their backs and their resolve. The day was growing cold, but no winter was ahead of them.

'And Jesus said: "If thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Third, Revelations, three.'

'Yes, Brother. Watch for Him. He will come in the clouds of Heaven.'

'"And with them that are raised from the dead." First Corinthians, fifteen fifty- two.'

'And first Thessalonians, four sixteen, Sister.'

There was but half an hour to sunset. The portly Moses Clark, who had once been chairman of the land commissioners at Landoff, suggested they should form the waggons in a cross. This was accomplished without the help of their discarded horses. They had the advantage that rows of the seated now faced each of the quarters of the compass, and wondered why they had not thought of it before. Nathaniel Brett took up the count-down that was once the delight of the wag by the fence. Old Amos and Martha Gower held each other's sparse hands. Mad Mary Chase prettied her little ones.

They sang and they sang, and the sun absconded with their dreams.

Darkness fell silent Adin Shortbridge rested his hand on the empty space beside him. George Florida, a blacksmith whose hot trade had numbed the breath in his throat so he had not been able to sing, fingered his collar. Within a week the Boston Liberator will report that he has hung himself with a chain. Mad Mary Chase nursed the youngest three of her daughters all together. Already she had started to cry. The same newspaper will record her finding under the dray, tomorrow morning, the bodies of the other two children dead from cold.

Hiram Edson will recall, in a memoir, the way they passed the long night. They wept until the dawn came up.


The same sunlight falls on New Hampton. There is a small church. The forest walls here are cut back only far enough to allow for a sacrarium tiled with fallen leaves. This gives the pleasing impression that the church is the presbytery within a greater tabernacle. The trees are as straight as organ flutes.

Two wooden dwellings share the ground here. Both belong to a family by the name of Miller. It was for this church that William Miller felled timber, drove pegs, and carved plans into the blaze of a tree. It was also by Miller's calibrations that the time was set for the Second Advent of Christ.

Eleven families are here now. All were joined to the event by Miller's persuasive teaching. They sit on the porches and in the doorways. The most common expressions are of resolution and piety, but this hides a deep spirit of dejection. It is a time they will later call the Great Disappointment.

Continued silence from the church is an increasing distraction for them all. An hour after sundown, William Miller strode inside, alone, and has not yet come out. His brow was heavy. The corn of Adventist farmers stands unshucked in the field because he advised them so. Potatoes lie wet in the ground, their unweaned heifers follow irritable cows, their store-rooms are dark and empty, their windows are boarded over. They are, in the eyes of the world, a people jilted by their Redeemer.

William Morris led them here. He led them into error, but the sound they now await is that of his invigorated step to the church door.


In December 1849, five years after the Great Disappointment, mourners at the funeral of William Miller filled the church. There were two days to Christmas, and roads to Low Hampton were sluggish with snow. Latecomers found room to stand and, during the hymns, quietly eased their boots from the floor to prevent them freezing to the boards. The voices of children were as many as the voices of adults, since schools were closed in west New York State by a winter so harsh that school-houses were not habitable.

More than half the congregation were either named Miller or were related to a Miller. William Miller was once the eldest of sixteen siblings. His casket lay by the lectern. Those who had seen him laid out were heartened that his expression in death was his expression in life. It confirmed for them his calm in the sudden presence of his Redeemer, for it was their firm belief that this meeting takes place during the last moments in which the spirit prepares to leave the body.

Joshua Himes gave a eulogy. He spent little time on Miller's scriptural calculations or on the Error. Such was the faith of Adventists that these issues were already well resolved. The year 1844 was not to have been that of Advent, but that of Heavenly preparations for Advent. A time of Advent was itself certain, imminent, and incalculable.

The words Joshua Himes gave were so familiar that most knew them by heart. This passage William Miller used near the end of his sermons, and by his own count he had given 3200 sermons in ten years. 'At this dread moment, look, look! O look and see! What means that ray of light? The clouds have burst asunder, the heavens appear, the great white throne is in sight! Amazement fills the universe with awe! He comes! Behold the Saviour comes! Lift up your heads, ye saints, He comes! – He comes! – He comes!'

They lifted the coffin. The six pall-bearers were short and stocky. All were Millers. They walked, in step, carrying their brother towards the grave they had dug through the snow that morning. Some of those who followed the burial procession will carry their burdens far further. The Sabbath-keepers among them would, in 1863, after bitter argument, inaugurate the Seventh-day Adventist Church according to secular law. The elders Hiram Edson and Joshua Himes will press the need for repentance throughout the northern states until they die. Joseph Bates will be remembered for using the message of Adventism as a force in the anti-slavery movement. The preacher Jones, yet to withdraw from the Baptist clergy, will prove so successful an evangelist that his Christian name will be forgotten and he will be known simply as Increase Jones.

The first woman to fell soil into the pit was Miller's widow. Her pallor was not due to the cold. She had spent the past four years nursing William through illnesses. The path to their house had deepened with the passage of well-wishers. But now she was tired, and will not live long.

The second woman to cast soil was also to cast her presence so powerfully over the church that the work of William Miller would be obscured. This was Ellen Harmon White. With her husband James she will move the centre of Adventism to Michigan. The town they select for a sanitarium there has an auspicious name. It is called Battle Creek. Ellen White will then move for a time to Cooranbong to begin an Adventist colonization of New South Wales.

Her voice was soon to carry the highest doctrinal authority, for Jesus will frequently choose to appear to her in person. She will then be able to detail recent progress in the great clashes between the massed brigades of Satan and the platoons of heavenly angels who, during lulls in the fighting, peer down to see how saints on the world below are faring in similar circumstances.

The crisis of credibility caused by her visions will split the church in 1905, beginning another cycle of public derision. But her stern path was to carry the message of Adventism through, as she described it in 1868, 'the exulting, sneering triumph of evil angels'.

The grave was filled. A stone had not yet been cut, so the head was marked with a cross. Two harrowed Miller daughters drew their mother away. There were no words of leave-taking. They were all to travel from here to Fairhaven where the Congregational church was large enough for a public service. The men went directly to rig the carriages. Ice was shaken from the leathers so not to chafe the horses. Fairhaven lay over the mountains.

Quiet snow continued to fall. By the time the last sulky cleared the gate, William Miller's white grave had already taken on the order of well-settled ground.




Most of us are pilgrims of one kind or another, although what we are truly in homage to might not come clear until our pilgrimages are done. There is a memorial near the Stuart Highway, five hundred kilometres north of Alice Springs, standing to the left of the southbound lane. The roadway is sealed, but the face of the marker is often red with vagrant dust from the plains, for this is the edge of the central Australian desert, and there are not many days in a year on which it rains.

The memorial is to John Flynn. Flynn was a missionary from the south, concerned with the distribution of the gospel by squads of meandering padres. He came to be more famed for his distribution of medicines by aeroplane, and it is this memory which still causes grateful homesteaders to dust off his monument so that tourists can read the inscription without leaving their automobiles.

Another five hundred kilometres further south-west is the Hermannsberg mission. It has been here a hundred years. Most of those who live and work at this settlement are Aranda, a people with the light step of hunters and gatherers. Implacable sunshine, over forty thousand years, has bleached their hair. Missionaries brought them here to raise cattle beside the sandy bed of the Finke River, grow irrigated vegetables, and worship in Lutheran churches. Around the turn of the century, the pastors translated into Aranda the twenty-seven books of the New Testament so that the desert people could recite verses wherever they were. The mission was considered successful until 1975, when legislation gave Aboriginal people the right to choose where to live. Many then chose the desert. Now the Lutheran pastors of Hermannsberg are best known, not so much for their attempt to make farmers of hunters, but as authorities in local languages and for the first English-Aranda dictionary.

Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, and Seventh-day Adventists have all, at one time or another, sent missions to the sparse tribes of the desert. This resulted in an abnormally high incidence of Christian instruction. Mission bulletins recorded astonishment that a people could live here at all.


The most common activity in this part of the country is transit. Alice Springs has been the waypoint here since the 1870s, when the attractions were water and shade. Now the attractions are gas-stations and motels, and the most expensive drink in town is mixed at the bar of the casino by a costumed girl who takes your money equally quickly when she doubles as a croupier at the roulette tables.

The casino now claims to be the most important part of Alice Springs, a boast that only city folk can take seriously. Those who come here for the gambling don't go far beyond the gaming rooms and the swimming pool, unless the bell-hop has a taxi-cab handy, but the township is not much more than a kilometre away, and the walk is worth taking for more reasons than exercise.

Alice Springs lies in a basin, at the southern edge of the Macdonnell Ranges. From here the vegetation on the rocks is hard to see, and amateur painters generally colour them in shades of red and brown. These ranges have given the basin the Todd River, rainfall enough to have it flow once every year or so, and shelter from the south-easterlies, which are so insistent outside that the climatological tables given to tourists don't record a wind from any other direction. The ranges also make a rim for the horizon to sit on all the way around, and it is this periphery, as much as the trees and the river-bed, which accounts here for the sense of oasis.


Excerpted from Evil Angels by John Bryson. Copyright © 1985 John Bryson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


So Void Was Night,
God Put It Here, Himself,
It's Time We All Went Home,
Evil Eye,
Every Part of Town,
Nothing At All Like Trust,
Faces in the Bloodstream,
The Rarest Species Around,
The Proper Management of Sorrow,
A Graveyard, Floodlit,
Use the Word: Merciful,
For All the Good It Will Do,
The Secret Assumptions of Science,
Necromancy, So to Trial,
Always Running From Something,
A Whole Different Town Here,
Part of the Fact, Anyway,
Enough Magnifications to See By,
The Molecular Structure of Truth,
2 Timothy, 4:7,
The Lord Should Have Been Here By Now,
A Quiet Place on Redemption Street,
About the Author,

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