By all accounts, everyone who knew Rachel Barber thought she’d be a star one day.
The 15-year-old from Melbourne had the looks and the passion to be a dancer or model. She was tall and “elfin-featured” with brilliant emerald eyes. She loved to perform and was a promising student at the Dance Factory in Richmond.
Off the stage, Rachel was an unexpectedly shy teenager, especially with people she didn’t know. She had loving parents, Elizabeth and Michael Barber, two younger sisters, Heather and Ashleigh-Rose, a devoted boyfriend, Manni Carella.
She also was friends with a woman called Caroline Reed Robertson.
Caroline was four years older than Rachel. The 19-year-old was the Barbers’ trusted babysitter. Her younger sister was best friends with Rachel’s younger sister.
Listen to Mamamia’s true crime podcast, True Crime Conversations. Post continues below.
And on Monday, March 1, 1999, she lured Rachel to her apartment and strangled her to death with a telephone cord.
A year-and-a-half later, Caroline was sentenced to 20 years in prison with a non-parole period of 14 years and six months for Rachel’s murder after pleading guilty in the Victorian Supreme Court.
It wasn’t until the trial that Rachel’s family and the court learnt of Caroline’s motivation: to kill Rachel and in part, assume her identity, The Herald Sun reports.
The night before her death, Rachel received a phone call from Caroline, court documents show. Caroline had a way for Rachel to make a quick $100. All she had to do was meet Caroline the next night after dance class and take part in a “psychology study”. The only catch: she must keep their meeting a secret.
Rachel had no idea this offer was part of Caroline’s premeditated and elaborate plan to lure the reserved and shy teen to her apartment in order to end her life. In an uncovered journal discovered in Caroline’s apartment, she had detailed her plan, writing:
“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/parent. Drug Rachel (toxic over mouth), put body into army bags and disfigure and dump somewhere way out.”
The next evening at around 5:45pm, Rachel left her classmates to catch the Prahran tram with Caroline. In line with her promise to keep their plans a secret, Rachel didn’t tell anyone where she was going, only that she would be back at the tram terminus to meet her dad at 6.15pm.
When the two teenagers got to Caroline’s apartment, they ate some pizza together. Court documents claim Rachel’s pizza may have been drugged. Caroline then convinced her to do some meditation as a part of the psychology study, asking her to think of “happy and pleasant things”.
It is believed it was at this time that she placed the telephone cord around Barber’s neck and strangled her to death.