On the 28th of February, 1999, Rachel spoke to someone unknown on the phone. The following day, her father, Michael Barber, gave her a ride to the tram stop, promising to be back by 6:15 p.m to bring her home. Rachel never showed up.
Rachel was a 15-year-old model and dance student with dreams of performing in musicals. She was a natural beauty. She was popular at school and in a steady relationship with her boyfriend, Manni Carella. Her vibrant personality and charisma were taking her places in life.
In March of 1999, Rachel was offered a chance to make money by someone she knew. She had told her boyfriend, Manni, that the job was secretive and she couldn’t divulge any details about it. Manni says she assured him the job was moral and it involved an old female friend, therefore she felt it was safe.
On the 1st of March, Rachel told friends at The Dance Factory in Richmond, Melbourne that she was headed to a prospective job opportunity that was going to pay her a lot of money. An hour after leaving the dance studio, a witness saw Rachel getting off the tram with a blond-haired woman. This would be the last time she was ever seen alive.
That evening, when Rachel didn’t meet her father at the scheduled time of pickup, her parents became extremely concerned that something sinister had happened to her. Elizabeth, her mother, made phone calls to Manni and their friends, asking if anyone had seen her. Michael drove around town looking for any signs of Rachel but found none.
Eventually, her mother called the police department to report Rachel as a missing person. When her family brought in pictures the next day to include in the report, they were told that nothing had been officially filed, as police were convinced that she was a runaway and would eventually show up.
When Elizabeth searched phone records for clues to her daughter’s whereabouts, she noticed an unknown phone number that had called the house phone in the days leading up to Rachel’s disappearance. The person on the other end of the line was her killer.
Police called Rachel’s parents on March 13, 1999, to inform them they had found her body and she had been murdered. Caroline Reed Robertson, 19 years old, was arrested in connection with Rachel’s disappearance and murder.
Robertson was a friend of the family. She had babysat Rachel and her siblings in that past, but over time she began developing an obsession with Rachel because of her beauty and popularity. Coworkers stated that Caroline had taken several days of sick leave recently and was constantly talking about how Rachel had a history of being a runaway.
Caroline had premeditated the murder of her friend.
Caroline wanted to become Rachel and dreamed of stealing her identity. She believed Rachel possessed all of the desirable qualities that she was lacking. She was extremely self-conscious about her appearance and felt that others around her perpetuated the negative feelings she had about herself.
When police arrived at Caroline’s apartment, they found it locked and called the fire department to gain entry. They found Caroline passed out on the floor; she had possibly suffered from an epileptic fit. It looked as if she had been packing to go somewhere and she recently changed the color of her hair. It was later discovered that Caroline was the woman witnesses saw Rachel with at the tram the night she vanished.
Investigators were able to link Robertson to Rachel through phone records when the two had communicated shortly before her she went missing. After Robertson’s arrest, her apartment was searched thoroughly. Police found some of Rachel’s clothes, a birth certificate filled out under the name “Rachel Elizabeth Barber” and a journal.
“I feel like a troubled and tortured lost soul thrown into a world of angels.”
— Caroline Robertson Journal Entry
Over time a jealously developed in Caroline when she realized she could not have the same attractive characteristics that Rachel possessed. She began her plan of taking over Rachel’s identity. Manipulating her with the trust she had already established with her friend, she invited her to come over to her apartment under the guise of participating in a survey that would pay a good deal of money. She insisted that the survey was tremendously confidential and she could not share any information about it with family and friends.
When Rachel arrived at the apartment, Caroline drugged her by feeding her pizza she had laced with anti-histamine then killed her.
According to her diary, Caroline devised an escape plan that she put in place after the murder: taking out a bank loan, renting a moving van, coloring her hair, and deep cleaning the apartment, including steam cleaning the carpet. When police arrived at the apartment to arrest Caroline, she had already begun to initiate the first steps.
Caroline applied for a $10,000 bank loan in an assumed attempt to relocate herself and start her new life. Her plans never came to fruition before she was arrested and all that was left was to face the reality of what she had done.
Robertson appeared in court in October of 2000 and pleaded guilty to premeditated murder. She admitted to becoming infatuated with Rachel and her successes and felt like she could never measure up. She stated she wanted to be someone else by reinventing herself in Rachel’s image. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Robertson was paroled in 2015. She is free today.