Rachel Barber, 15, was drugged and strangled to death with a telephone cord in an attempt to steal her identity. Her murderer was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2000, with a 14-and-a-half year non-parole period. However, she was released from prison in January 2015.
It wasn’t until the trial that Rachel’s family and friends learned of her murderer’s motivation, to kill Rachel and assume her identity.
Caroline Robertson’s deadly obsession with Rachel Barber
15-Year-old Rachel Barber from Melbourne had the looks and passion to be a model and dancer; she was ambitious and aspired to be a leading lady in musicals. She was one of the most popular kids in school and was in a long-term relationship with a boy from her school, Manni Carella.
She was tall and “elfin-featured,” with emerald eyes. She enjoyed performing and was a promising student at Richmond’s Dance Factory.
Rachel, as confident as she was on stage, was an unusually shy adolescent, especially around strangers. Rachel Barber was born on 12 September 1983. She had two younger sisters, Heather and Ashleigh-Rose, and a boyfriend, Manni Carella, as well as loving parents, Elizabeth and Michael Barber.
Rachel’s family relocated to Mont Albert in 1992 or early 1993, and it was here that she met Caroline Reed Robertson. Caroline became a trusted member of the family in the following years, as she babysat the Barber children, including Rachel.
Caroline couldn’t take her fame and was envious of her. Caroline has grown up dissatisfied with herself. “Loser, unwanted, dirty, obese, funny in the head,” she wrote in a self-portrait when she was 14 years old. She had painted herself over the years, scribbling derogatory remarks about herself on the portraits.
She would write angst-filled letters to her estranged father, detailing how much she despised her life and how worthless she felt. “I feel like a troubled, tortured, lost soul that’s been thrown into an alien environment full of angels,” she wrote in one of the letters to her father.
The Disappearance of Rachel Barber
On the morning of 1st March, Rachel’s father drove her to the tram stop to catch the train at about 9:30 am. She left her home wearing a gold necklace with a diamond-like stone and a blue topaz ring, and she had about $13 with her in her wallet.
Rachel told her 16-year-old boyfriend, Manni Carella, that she was leaving for a secret job where she would be “well paid.” Nobody, except Rachel and her murderer, knew what the secret job was.
Rachel was last seen by her friend Allison Guberek on her way to get on the tram at the intersection with an older girl, the older girl was none other than Caroline Reed.
Rachel was supposed to meet her father in the evening at the tram, but she missed her tram, her parents grew concerned and reported the incident to the police the next day.
But Rachel had no idea that this secret Job was Caroline’s premeditated and elaborate plan to lure the shy teen to her apartment to end her life.
Rachel left her classmates at 5:45 p.m. on March 1, 1999, to catch the Prahran tram with Caroline. Rachel kept her promise and did not tell anyone where she was going, only that she would be back at the tram terminus at 6:15 pm to meet her father.
When they went to Caroline’s apartment, they ate pizza together; according to court documents, Rachel’s pizza may have been drugged. Caroline then persuaded her to participate in some meditation as part of the psychology study, instructing her to think of “happy and pleasant things.”
It was assumed that she strangled Rachel to death at this point by wrapping the phone cord around her neck.
On March 11, 1999, Guberek assisted the police in compiling a computer face image of the girl she saw with the deceased. That image was a good representation of Caroline.
Why did Caroline kill Rachel?
As much Caroline was dissatisfied with herself, she hated Rachel, she wrote about her obsessively, with her vivid descriptions, ‘Rachel was always “wild”. Let’s run barefoot in the country. Began dating very young. Very talented at classical ballet,’ Tried modeling… Strikingly attractive – dancer’s body. Very clear pale skin, hypnotic green eyes, dyed hair lots of different colors.’
Caroline devised a complex scheme to persuade Rachel to return to the apartment where she lived alone. Caroline knew Rachel did enjoy modeling, so she told her she could earn $500 if she participated in a highly confidential psychological survey, but she couldn’t tell anyone about her participation.
Rachel trusted her and took the opportunity, but Caroline had planned every detail of the murder, one of her diary entries read: ‘On the way to dance school, say that she can’t tell anyone that she’s meeting me as I’m not allowed to give the study results to anyone — ethics — highly confidential. Not even your boyfriend/parents … Drug Rachel (toxic over mouth), put the body into army bags and disfigure and dump somewhere way out. No car …’
‘Check farm (including bag) … Tuesday, arrange bank loan … Moving van … Night to disguise hair … Thoroughly clean house, and steam clean carpet.’Caroline’s diary entry
Caroline had decided on ‘Jem Southall’ as her new name, which she would take after taking out a bank loan and fleeing the state.
Caroline kept Rachel’s body in her house
Caroline’s body had been in her apartment for two days, hidden in her wardrobe. The body was present when she closed the door to prevent her father from entering the room on one occasion when he came to see her after learning she was ill.
She wrapped Rachel’s body in two rugs and took a taxi to her father’s Kilmore farm, telling the driver she was moving a statue. She buried the body in a shallow hole, oddly next to her pet cat’s grave.
Caroline began to live the life she had planned for herself after burying Rachel; she applied for a large loan and inquired about V-line trains.
While Caroline was planning to live her carefree life, her unusual behavior drew attention to her, and her mother soon expressed her concerns to Caroline’s father. Similarly, the police became interested in Caroline.
Caroline pleaded guilty in October 2000, describing herself as an unhappy and friendless “nobody” who wished to be someone else, someone better, during her court appearances. She explained that she was obsessed with Rachel because she saw her as the embodiment of “pure” and everything she wished to be.
On Saturday, March 13th, police conducted a search on the Kilmore property and discovered Rachel’s body. An autopsy was performed on the body, and it was determined that the probable cause of death was ligature strangulation with a cable found around Rachel’s neck.
When police searched her apartment after her arrest, an application for a birth certificate in the name of “Rachel Elizabeth Barber” was discovered.
Rachel’s mother said Caroline had shown absolutely no remorse for Rachel’s murder, and she would have preferred to see her serve 17 or 18 years in prison. “Nobody wants their daughter murdered, and justice, as far as Rachel is concerned, will never be done, because Rachel’s life has been taken away from her.” she said.
Caroline first became eligible for parole on August 10, 2013, but her release was delayed following a public outcry by Rachel’s parents to keep their daughter’s killer behind the bars.
Caroline was released from Deer Park’s Dame Phyllis Frost prison in January 2015 after serving 15 years of her 20-year sentence. She is said to have never expressed remorse for her crime.
Caroline transformed her appearance behind bars, emerging, unlike the plump, pizza-faced teen she despised herself for being. Rachel’s parents, who hadn’t seen Caroline since she was sentenced in November 2020, were taken aback by her transformation. But her family still has fears about Caroline’s mental state and hopes that rehabilitation can protect the community.
When Rachel’s mother first saw her after she came out of prison, she thought she looked like someone else, like her daughter, “There is a Rachel likeness there, the eyes.”
The story of Rachel Barber and Caroline Robertson was turned into a 2009 film, In Her Skin.
Now, that you’ve read about Rachel Barber, you might also like reading about Steven Pladl, who divorced his wife to marry his daughter.