Strikingly attractive, dancer’s body, very clear pale skin, hypnotic green eyes, wild free spirit, passionate, charming, moody, mysterious.’
This was the description of Rachel Barber, written in the diary of her obsessed killer, Caroline Robertson, five years her senior. Her parents described Rachel as elegant, charismatic, showy and innocent.
A blossoming fifteen year old, Rachel left school to pursue her passion for dancing. On the day of her disappearance Rachel told her boyfriend, Mannie, she was meeting an old female friend who had a job for her. Rachel showed Mannie the spice girl platform shoes she wanted, and said she would be able to buy them with the ‘heap of money’ she would make that night.
Caroline had on occasion babysat Rachel and her sisters and used to live across the road from the Barbers. Caroline’s diary revealed a jealous, insecure, girl who planned on taking over Rachel’s identity. Caroline had phoned the Barbers some weeks earlier to find out the dates of birth of the family members. She spoke with one of Rachel’s sisters.
Documents found at Caroline’s unit, showed she intended to adopt the name ‘Jem Southall’. She even went to the extent of composing a short personal history of Jem Southall, which contained fictitious details of the parents of the new persona. Southhall was Rachel’s mother Elizabeth’s, maiden name and Jem was an unrelated first name. She wrote, ‘Jem Southall – 16 years – total revhead’.
Caroline had written down her strategy to lure Rachel with an offer of money to take part in a fake psychology study, then drug her, disfigure her and dispose of her body.
When Rachel did not meet her father as arranged, her family began to worry. Rachel loved being at home, never had sleepovers and was very close to her family. Her parents knew immediately something was wrong, she was not a runaway like the police treated her case.
Initially many doors were slammed in their faces, so Rachel’s family began their own search for their daughter. They put up flyers everywhere, door knocked and contacted everyone they could think of who knew Rachel. They had to fight for the police take their concerns for their daughter seriously.
On 28 February 1999, Caroline met Rachel at Richmond train station, Melbourne and together they bought a pizza, before returning to Caroline’s flat in Prahran. Caroline tried to ply Rachel with alcohol but was not successful as Rachel was not interested.
Some time in the night, that remains unknown, Rachel was strangled with a telephone cord. Her body was kept in the wardrobe for three days, before she was buried in a shallow grave.
Caroline told her psychologist, that Rachel pleaded for her life, saying ‘please, please don’t.’ Caroline Robertson, who later changed her name to Caroline Reed Robertson, said ‘Just for a moment the veil lifted and I didn’t want to do it – but something said that I was in so much trouble now I had to … and it was as though the veil had dropped again.’
Caroline hired a van and drove to her father’s property in Kilmore and buried Rachel in a shallow grave. She still had the cord around her neck, when her body was found two weeks later.
In her impact statement Rachel’s mother, Elizabeth said ‘It is tragic in Caroline’s naivete she had never seen the side of Rachel that was not happy. The Rachel who struggled academically at school (socially she was loved), the Rachel who gave up dance at 13 due to ill health and an over-disciplinary dance teacher. The Rachel who at 14 told her father, ‘I know why I am so miserable, it is because I am not dancing’. (A factor we had known for that year). The girl who had been afraid to return to dance because she feared the severity of what she wrongly assumed an excellent teacher to be. And finally her decision to return to dance, but to musicals and contemporary dance as she was now afraid of her love, ballet.’
Caroline was sentenced to twenty years for pleading guilty, with a non-parole period of fourteen and a half years.
In his sentencing remarks on November 29, 2000, Justice Frank Vincent said ‘Robertson had been motivated to kill Ms Barber by envy of her for her family, her beauty and her personality and … because you believed that she would be likely to have a happy and successful life of a kind that you anticipated you would never experience’.
Caroline Reed Robertson will be released in January 2015, after spending nearly fifteen years in Deer Park Prison, in Victoria.
Rachel’s boyfriend Mannie Carella, 31, said he thought about Rachel every day and has had anxiety attacks at the thought of Caroline being released.
Elizabeth Barber said she did not begrudge Caroline happiness on the outside, but remains fearful she would reoffend.
Elizabeth said ‘If she is expressing concerns for her mental health before she is released on parole, what level of rehabilitation does the Adult Parole Board of Victoria deem adequate for her not to be a risk to our community?
Caroline has said she is concerned for her family and is upset they have been threatened and have had to move house.
Caroline mentions the book co-authored by Elizabeth Barber,called ‘Perfect Victim’ and the film, ‘I Am You, which tell this harrowing story.
Elizabeth said ‘Rachel lost her life because of Caroline’s crime. It is not only Caroline’s family who have suffered because of her crime, primarily it is Rachel and her/our family.
Caroline should not insinuate it is the book or film’s fault that her family is currently suffering. It is Caroline’s crime that is solely responsible for this.’
Caroline will be 35 when she is released from prison, and by all accounts has been a model prisoner.
The judge said when sentencing Caroline in 2000, ‘that she has a ‘deeply entrenched personality and would be dangerous to anyone she fixated on.’
Rachel and her family had moved from the country, as there was more opportunity for Rachel to progress with her dancing.
Sadly her life was cut short in a malevolent act.
Conclusion – Caroline was released in January 2015 and remains free today.