The Age

20 years' jail for envious killer

The Age (Melbourne)
Thursday 30 November 2000

Caroline Reed Robertson is escorted from court
Fatal obsession: Caroline Reed Robertson is escorted from the Supreme Court after her sentence.
An obsessive and self-absorbed loner yesterday bowed her head as she was jailed for 20 years for the murder of a teenage dancer whose life she believed was perfect.

Caroline Reed Robertson, 22, walked briskly from the dock of the Supreme Court with two custodial officers after Justice Frank Vincent fixed a minimum jail term of fourteen-and-a-half years.

Justice Vincent paused and at times appeared emotional as he detailed the subtle and manipulative plan Robertson used to lure 15-year-old Rachel Barber to her death. He said Rachel was vulnerable and would never have suspected the motives of Robertson, a family friend and former babysitter, when she was promised what she called "a heap of money" for participating in a confidential study.

Rachel expected to spend the money on shoes. Instead, she was strangled at Robertson's Prahran flat and later buried in a shallow grave at a Kilmore district property belonging to Robertson's father. Robertson pleaded guilty to murdering Rachel, whose body was found 12 days after she disappeared on March 1 last year.

Justice Vincent said Robertson's writings showed she had an abnormal and almost obsessional interest in Rachel, whom she envied for her family, beauty and personality. The writings showed Robertson planned to kill Rachel, disfigure her body and dump it "somewhere way out".

They also revealed descriptions of Rachel's physical appearance and personal characteristics and a plan by Robertson to adopt a new identity under the name Jem Southall after killing her.

Justice Vincent said Robertson took everything from Rachel - in the belief she would never experience the happiness and success she believed was likely for her victim.

But Rachel's mother, Elizabeth Barber, said later outside court that her daughter would have laughed if she thought someone was describing her as perfect.

"Rachel - she was funny. Rachel was bubbly, loving, full-on, demanding, exhausting," Mrs Barber said. "She went through all the normal things that everyday kids go through ... everybody loved her but one, it seems."

Mrs Barber said she knew Robertson had problems, but she had always been polite and had babysat the Barber children. She said she wished Robertson had been given some special counselling earlier in her life, but could not say it would have prevented the killing.

"Maybe in prison she will get the special help she needs, but it doesn't take away the tragedy. She's destroyed a beautiful life," Mrs Barber said.

She said earlier: "The root of all this evil has stemmed from the fact that she didn't believe she was loved and I'm convinced her parents loved her."

Justice Vincent said he found the malevolence of Robertson's actions disturbing and described her as appearing self-absorbed and concerned only with her own life, feelings and desires. "In consequence, you took the life of a young person who, despite your researches, you almost never really knew or understood," he said.

"The simple reality is that, contrary to your distorted perception, there are no perfect lives or perfect people for that matter, but each of us ... is unique and irreplaceable."

Justice Vincent said Robertson had a deeply entrenched personality disorder and represented a real danger to any subject of her fixation. He said she was remorseful, but suspected much of her reaction was based on self-pity. He was not confident, he said, that she had developed any real insight into the true significance of what she had done.

Copyright The Age Company Ltd 2000.