Into The Darkness


the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk

by Robin Bowles

Australia’s ‘Queen of True Crime’, Robin Bowles examines the strange circumstances surrounding the death of young Melbourne woman Phoebe Handsjuk.

On 2 December 2010, the body of a 24-year-old woman was found at the bottom of the rubbish chute in the luxury Balencea tower apartments in St Kilda Road, Melbourne, twelve oors below the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend, Antony Hampel.

Within minutes, the sound of sirens lled the hall as police cars from the nearby police station lled the front forecourt in response to the day manager‘s call. So began the so-called investigation into the sudden death of a young woman called Phoebe Handsjuk.

From then, the case became weirder and weirder. Phoebe, it turned out, was a beautiful but damaged young woman who’d been in a fraught relationship with a well-connected and wealthy lover almost twice her age, who was related to the elite of Melbourne’s judiciary. The police investigation left many questions unanswered, so Phoebe’s grandfather, a former detective, decided to run an investigation of his own. And in December 2014, after a 14-day inquest, the Coroner delivered a nding that excluded both suicide and foul play, a ruling that shocked her family and many others who had been following the case.

How did Phoebe Handsjuk fall to her death? In Into the Darkness, Robin Bowles uses her formidable array of investigative and forensic skills to tell a tale that is stranger than ction.

  • Robin had unprecedented access to the Handsjuk case – including gaining access to the supposedly secure building where Phoebe died – to carry out her own investigations.
  • For readers of Caroline Overington and Helen Garner.

Edited extract:

Before the meeting [with Homicide detective Clanchy], Lorne compiled a long list of things the police should have done, but hadn’t. They hadn’t taken the CCTV footage on the night. They hadn’t interviewed the building manager about security systems or asked if he’d noticed anything unusual that afternoon. They hadn’t interviewed Ant Hampel’s staff to verify his movements on that day, which is Investigation 101 for the circle of people around anyone who dies in strange circumstances. They hadn’t seized the computer from the apartment to see if there was anything useful on it — a suicide note, for example. They’d brushed aside the broken glass, the bruises on Phoebe’s wrists and upper arms, and the blood in the apartment, on the mouse and on the doorframe, arguing that Phoebe had dropped the glass and cut herself. But could the dropped glass equally indicate a scuf e? Most important of all, apart from taking a cursory look on 7 December, police hadn’t con rmed that it was possible to commit suicide by way of the rubbish chute. Lorne expressed all these concerns and more in his meeting with Clanchy on 10 December.

What Lorne wanted was a proper investigation. He believed that answers to these questions could shed more light on the circumstances surrounding Phoebe’s death and rule people in or out. That’s what police do, after all. But Detective Sergeant Clanchy was unmoved. He told Lorne that Homicide was satis ed that Phoebe committed suicide. Ant Hampel’s statement of 2 December had ‘checked out’. Lorne was at a loss as to how that could be
so when none of Ant’s employees or friends had been interviewed except Christo Van Egmond. But over Lorne’s protestations, Clanchy said that nothing had been discovered to suggest that anyone else was involved. The Homicide investigation was at an end. The le had been sent to Brendan Payne to tidy up and prepare an inquest brief.

Lorne felt the Homicide investigation had already been compromised, and now it was over. Done and dusted. RIP

Phoebe. But not if he had anything to do with it. He went to see Natalie, who was still in shock. She too couldn’t believe that Phoebe, for all her foibles, would have committed suicide, even if she’d considered it from time to time. Natalie was sure her love for her family would have stopped her.
Lorne told Natalie he wasn’t going to let it lie. If Homicide had thrown in the towel, he’d investigate the case himself, but he’d need her help. Was she up for it? Natalie agreed. She had no idea what a long haul it would be.