true crime

Caroline Reed Robertson was the Barbers' trusted babysitter. She killed their daughter Rachel with a telephone cord.

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.

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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.

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Caroline kept Rachel’s body in the flat for two days, hidden in her wardrobe with the telephone still wrapped around her neck. The body was still there when Caroline closed the door to discourage her father from entering the room on one occasion when he visited her after hearing that she was sick in the days following the murder.

She eventually relocated Rachel’s body to her father’s rural property in Kilmore, where she buried it in a shallow grave. It was there that it was discovered nearly two weeks later on March 13th, 1999, after she informed police where they would find the remains.

According to court documents, the judge presiding over the case, Judge Vincent, told Caroline at the sentencing hearing that Rachel “was vulnerable to such an approach, as you were known to her as a family friend and one time babysitter, whose motives she would never have suspected.”

“Indeed, what normal young person would have contemplated the terrible existence of such a chilling design or that she was the subject of such hatred? I have no doubt that you appreciated that the combination of a slightly adventurous but harmless secrecy, and the prospect of obtaining what she referred to as “a heap of money” that would enable her to purchase some shoes that took her fancy, would have been very attractive to a person of her age and apparent temperament.”

He further added, “For my part I find the deliberation and malevolence with which you acted extremely disturbing.”

Psychologist, Mr Michael Crewdson, who treated Caroline in jail, said his patient revealed that prior to taking the 15-year-old’s life, her fate hadn’t been decided.

“There is a poignant and disturbing moment in which Rachel Barber’s fate seemed to waver in the balance. Caroline told me that she had been in a daze, then ‘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 though the veil had dropped again.'”

Caroline was diagnosed with a “deeply entrenched personality disorder” which Judge Vincent believed “contributed to [her] conduct.” It is unknown whether she sought professional help for this while incarcerated.

In January, 2015, Caroline was released from Deer Park’s Dame Phyllis Frost prison after serving 15 years of her 20-year-sentence. She allegedly has never expressed any remorse for her crime.

And perhaps most chilling of all, Caroline drastically changed her physical appearance while in prison. When Rachel’s mother saw Caroline for the first time, she thought she looked like someone else. Her daughter.

“There is a Rachel likeness there, the eyes.’’

Shona Hendley, Mother of Goats, Cats and Humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. You can follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/shonamarion/

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