After 24-year-old Phoebe Handsjuk’s body was found at the bottom of a garbage chute in a luxury Melbourne apartment building, the coroner ruled her death “a tragic accident”.
But was it that simple?
Phoebe’s Fall, a gripping new investigative podcast, is raising serious questions about the case. Produced by Victorian newspaper The Age, it’s been hovering at the top of the Australian iTunes charts since its release on September 20, and is being hailed as Australia’s answer to Serial.
The series features six episodes unpacking the disturbing 2010 case, from the circumstances leading up to Handsjuk’s 12-story fall, to the police investigation and subsequent coronial inquest.
Handsjuk is described by the podcast as a “beautiful and complicated” young woman. She lived a seemingly charmed life in Melbourne, living with wealthy boyfriend Atony Hampel. Nineteen years her senior, Hampel is the son of retired Supreme Court justice George Hampel and stepson of sitting County Court judge Felicity Hampel.
But all was not as it seemed. Handsjuk battled depression, as well as an ongoing problem with alcohol – at the time of her death, the 24-year-old’s BAC was 0.16 (more than three times the legal limit) and she had controversial sleeping drug Stilnox in her system.
It was this dangerous cocktail that lead the coroner to determine Handsjuk entered a “sleepwalking state” during which she inadvertently climbed into the chute and plunged 40 metres onto the blades below, reported The Age.
Phoebe and her partner, Antony Hampel. Image: Facebook.
But three episodes in, Phoebe's Fall has already raised some key questions about this finding: how did she manage to climb in feet-first? Why were no fingerprints found around the opening? Why was she found with her jeans around her knees?
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But more than inspiring morbid curiosity, the podcast is sparking calls for legislative reform.
According to The Age, in the wake of the opening episodes, the state's opposition has pledged to amend the Coronor's Act to broaden the scope for appeal. This would make it easier and less expensive for grieving families, like Handsjuk's, to lodge appeals against a coronial finding.
For now, though, the case remains closed.
The series can be streamed via the dedicated interactive website, or downloaded via iTunes.
Feature image via Linley Godfrey, Facebook.