The Deadly Obsession – The Murder of Rachel Barber

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4th January 2021  •  4 min read

Rachel Barber was a 15-year-old dance student and model who came from a good family. She had dreams and ambitions of starring in musicals, her favorite of which was Cats and Chicago. She was popular and was in a steady relationship with a boy who went to the same school as her. Never in a…


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Rachel Barber was a 15-year-old dance student and model who came from a good family. She had dreams and ambitions of starring in musicals, her favorite of which was Cats and Chicago. She was popular and was in a steady relationship with a boy who went to the same school as her. Never in a million years did Rachel believe that she had an enemy, one who was unimaginably jealous of her.

On the 1st of March, 1999, Rachel vanished. She had had left The Dance Factory in Church Street, Richmond, Melbourne, that evening, telling a friend that she was going to make “a lot of money that night.” The last reported sighting of her came around an hour later, when she was spotted getting off a tram in the company of a woman. That night, when Rachel never returned home, her concerned parents reported her missing right away. According to her 16-year-old boyfriend, Emmanuel Carella, Rachel had told him that she was going to a secret job where she would be “well paid.” However, nobody had any idea as to what this secret job could have been.1

There was no real update in the case until the 14th of March when it was announced that a 19-year-old woman had been arrested in relation with Rachel’s disappearance. Even more disturbing for Rachel’s family, the news of the arrest came with news that Rachel’s body had been discovered in a shallow grave on a property near Kilmore. She had been strangled to death and then buried.

The woman would be identified as Caroline Reed Robertson. Investigators had uncovered that Caroline was the woman who was seen in the company of Rachel shortly before she vanished. When they brought Caroline in for questioning, she directed them to Rachel’s body but claimed that she had killed her accidentally…2

Caroline Reed Robertson.

As it would turn out, Caroline was well-known to Rachel and her family. She had developed a disturbing obsession with Rachel and stalked her from a distance before befriending her and gaining her trust. Caroline was also successful in gaining the trust of Rachel’s parents, so much so that they hired her to babysit Rachel and her younger siblings.

An investigation into the murder would reveal that Caroline had plotted to drug and murder Rachel after compiling a psychological profile of her victim in her journal. There were notes in her journal which detailed Caroline’s plans to: “drug her, put her body in an army bag and then disfigure and dump the body somewhere way out.” Rachel’s autopsy would show that she had been given an anti-histamine which impaired alertness before she was strangled to death with a cord.

Alongside these graphic notes, self-loathing Caroline drew pictures of how she perceived herself with hateful words written alongside them. Caroline described herself as “ugly,” “fat,” and a “social failure,” and shared her fears that she would be a failure at achieving her dream of acting. She wrote how she hated her life and appearance and in one posting, she wrote: “I feel like a troubled and tortured lost soul thrown into a world of angels.”

Over time, however, these journal entries began to focus solely on Rachel and how Caroline would assume her identity after killing her. In the journal, Caroline referred to ordering a pizza and then lacing it with “drowsy powder.” There were other references to “toxic cloth over mouth, dump far away.”3

Caroline concocted a plan to lure Rachel to her own apartment under the pretense of earning $500 to take part in a highly-confidential psychological survey. Rachel agreed; she thought that she knew Caroline and had no reason to suspect that she had been planning something sinister. Once inside Caroline’s apartment, Rachel was drugged with laced pizza and then strangled to death with a telephone cord. The body of Rachel lay in the apartment for two days while her family franticly searched for her. Caroline then took the body to her father’s farm and buried her beside her cat which she had buried years earlier.

After burying Rachel, Caroline began to plan her new life. She applied for a large loan and made inquiries with V-line trains. Unbeknownst to Caroline, however, investigators were already in the process of linking her to the disappearance of Rachel via phone records. Following her arrest, when her apartment was searched, an application for a birth certificate in the name of “Rachel Elizabeth Barber” was discovered.

In October of 2000, Caroline pleaded guilty to the murder of Rachel. During the court appearance, Caroline described herself as an unhappy and friendless “nobody” and wanted to be somebody else, somebody better. She had become obsessed with Rachel because she felt as though she was the embodiment of “pure” and everything that she had wished to be.4

During the court hearing, forensic psychiatrist Justine Barry-Walsh said that Caroline was “profoundly disturbed” when she murdered Rachel but was not legally insane. She said: “It is possible that she thought she could somehow re-invent herself in the image of the victim.”5 Prosecutor Jeremy Rapke said that the motive was Caroline’s “obsession with Rachel, her jealously of her attractiveness, popularity and success and perhaps a desire on her part to emulate the success of a younger person with whom she had become infatuated.”

Caroline was sentenced to 20 years in prison with a minimum term of 14 ½ years. She would later say that at one point, the veil had lifted and she reconsidered killing Rachel – she thought for a mere moment that she had gone too far before going ahead with the murder anyway. Caroline Reed Robertson was paroled in 2015. Rachel’s parents opposed her parole but expressed their wishes that Caroline, who has shown no remorse, be left alone to be able to re-enter society and hopefully give something back. 

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Footnotes:

  1. The Age, 14 March, 1999 – “Missing Dancer, 15, Found Dead”
  2. The Australian, 15 March, 1999 – “Teen Dancer’s Parents Feared Something Sinister”
  3. The Age, 1 February, 2000 – “Family Friend Plotted to Kill Teen, Court Told”
  4. Herald Sun, 11 October, 2000 – “Insane Jealousy Ends in Murder”
  5. The Age, 26 October, 2000 – “Killer Jealous of Girl’s Perfect Life”

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