True Crime

Our babysitter’s deadly obsession

Fifteen-year-old Rachel Barber was murdered by her babysitter. Here, her sister Heather shares her story of pain and hope.

Heather Barber, 23, Melbourne, Vic

Dear Rachel,

Blowing out the candles on my 15th birthday cake, I could see your smiling face when I closed my eyes. I had just one wish. ‘I want you here,’ I whispered.

You were my big sister, Rachel, and should’ve been by my side. The day I turned 15, the age you were when you were taken from us, you would have been 21. Instead you’ll forever be a teenager, torn from our family by someone we trusted.

Growing up, I always admired you. You lived to perform and every day, you would direct plays for me and our sister, Ashleigh-Rose, 11, to appear in.

You’ll forever be a teenager, torn from our family by someone we trusted.

Our parents, Michael and Elizabeth, would watch, cheering at the end. You were a star, shining brightly wherever you went.

But when I was nine, everything changed. I remember that afternoon as if it was yesterday. ‘Love you Mum!’ you chirped as you raced off to dance rehearsal.

After class you were due to catch the tram straight home – but as the hours ticked by, there was still no sign of you. Slowly, an unsettling tension gripped our home. Where were you? It wasn’t like you to be late.

‘Rachel’s missing…’ Mum panicked. I was only nine, but deep down I knew you were in danger. Mum and Dad scoured the streets with the police and our friends and family. Thousands of posters of you were put up all over Melbourne.

Rachel Barber
You were a star, shining brightly wherever you went.

Back at home, all I wanted was for you to come back. Where were you? Then, 12 days later, we got news from the police. Mum and Dad didn’t need to say a word. The tears in their eyes told me everything. ‘She’s dead, isn’t she?’ I whispered.

‘Rachel’s been murdered by a family friend,’ they explained. Ashleigh-Rose was absolutely hysterical, Mum and Dad were drowning in a sea of sorrow.

For me, the pain of losing you was crippling. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even cry. The days that passed were a blur of faces – police officers, relatives, journalists… Who had taken you from us?

When Mum mentioned the name Caroline Reed Robertson, I was so confused. Caroline used to be a family friend, and she had been our babysitter a few times when we were younger, but we hadn’t seen or heard from her in years.

I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even cry.

Did people think she’d killed you? It had to be a mistake. I was quite young when she used to take care of us, but I do remember she was really quiet and a little odd. How could she be capable of such a thing?

But then the police arrested Caroline for your murder. We were shocked!

At the time, I was too young to realise what really happened when you were taken from us. Our parents tried to shield Ashleigh-Rose and me from the details – but we couldn’t escape the newspaper articles and the whispers at school.

Over time, I started to piece together the story. While our parents trusted Caroline, then 19, she’d been leading a double life. Police found her diary, revealing a sick plan to kill you. Caroline had developed an abnormal obsession with you. She envied your personality, beauty and family.

Rachel, Elizabeth, Heather and Ashleigh-Rose
Rachel, Heather, mum Elizabeth, and Ashleigh-Rose

Strikingly attractive, dancer’s body, hypnotic green eyes, wild free spirit... she’d written. Caroline desperately wanted to be you and had even applied for your birth certificate. A few days before you went missing, Caroline asked you to take part in a university study.

You went to her flat to help, and it was there she did the unthinkable. She drugged you before strangling you with a telephone cord and dumping your body in a closet. My poor sister, you must have been so frightened. It breaks my heart to think of the pain you suffered.

Your body was discovered buried at a property belonging to Caroline’s father. When police interviewed her, she confessed everything. ‘It was an accident,’ she told an officer. ‘I killed her.’

It breaks my heart to think of the pain you suffered.

Caroline planned to adopt a new identity. Her diary revealed one of the names she considered was Jem Southall, Mum’s maiden name. She killed you because she wanted to be you.

In November 2000, a year after you were murdered, Caroline Reed Robertson, 21, pleaded guilty to murder. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison, with a minimum jail term of 14 and a half years. Although Caroline’s jailing brought some comfort, our family struggles to live without you. As I drowned my sadness in music, Mum found writing about your story helped deal with your loss.

Most nights I heard her crying and Dad trying to console her, while dealing with his own pain. Ashleigh-Rose and I tried to support each other. As I grew up, people started to say I looked like you. It’s sad but also comforting to know that in a way, you’re still with me.

Caroline Reed Roberstron
Our trusted babysitter – Caroline Reed Robertson

Three years after you died, Mum wrote a book, Perfect Victim, about what we’d been through. Soon after it was released, we were approached by film directors. ‘We want to make a movie about Rachel’s story,’ one proposed. Talking it over, we realised it could be a chance to give you a voice from beyond the grave.

We were involved in every step, from seeing the script to meeting the crew on-set. Guy Pearce was cast as Dad and Miranda Otto played Mum. When we sat down with Kate Bell, the girl who’d been given the role of Rachel, it was really emotional. She looked just like you.

‘We want to make a movie about Rachel’s story,’ one proposed.

The film I am You came out the same month that Caroline was eligible for parole. We hoped the movie would make people realise that someone capable of such a twisted crime should stay behind bars. Thanks to a public outcry, Caroline’s release was delayed. It’s a huge relief.

Touched by our story, Guy Pearce played piano as I performed Angel by Sarah McLachlan as a tribute to you, my sweet sister. ‘You’re in the arms of the angel. May you find some comfort here,’ I sang.

Rachel, we miss you so much. You’re forever our shining star.

Originally published in that’s life! Issue 37, 2013.

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