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 floors below the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend, Antony Hampel.
Within minutes, the sound of sirens filled the hall as police cars from the nearby police station filled 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 botched their investigation, so Phoebe‘s grandfather, a former detective, decided to run one of his own. And in December 2014, after a 14-day inquest, the Coroner delivered a finding 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 fiction.
I won a copy of true crime writer Robin Bowles latest book, Into the Darkness: the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk via a Goodreads giveaway. This is a book that contains a crime mystery that has fascinated me since word first got out through Australia’s media coverage of the case, some six years ago now. More recently, my interest in the case was piqued when I watched a Sixty Minutes television report on Phoebe Handsjuk’s case.
For those who are not aware of this peculiar crime mystery, it centres on the death of a twenty four year old woman named Phoebe Handsjuk. Phoebe was a talented young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Phoebe’s life was sadly cut short, when she was found in the rubbish chute in luxury apartment block she resided in with her boyfriend in Melbourne. After a short but bungled police investigation, Phoebe’s death is ruled as suicide. The Handsjuk family fight this ruling, believing there was much more to Phoebe’s death that the police miscounted. Robin Bowles opens up the resulting investigation. Bowles delivers an impartial account of the inquest and she also traces back to the original police investigation. Bowles also gives the reader an insight into Phoebe herself, the girl growing up and the troubled young woman she became before her death.
Robin Bowles is a skilled Australian true crime writer. A quick glance at her repertoire of novels she has under her belt, proves her precision at bringing fascinating true crimes to the attention of readers. The case of Phoebe Handsjuk is just as bizarre, as much as it is tragic. I thought Robin Bowles did a fine job of building a picture of Phoebe as a starting point, which I feel is an integral part of this novel. Bowles delves into Phoebe’s family relationships, childhood and her formative teenage years. She also examines Phoebe’s more recent experiences as a young woman struggling with depression. Bowles then moves onto Phoebe’s relationship with Antony Hampel, the boyfriend who she shared an apartment with, which was the very same apartment where she was found dead. Understanding this relationship is quite crucial to the case, as this is where many inconsistencies in the police investigation lie. Bowles follows up her story with a detailed picture of the inquest, which really is an eye-opener as to how flawed, as well as unclear, this case has been right from the start. What I took away most from Bowles’ treatment of this sensitive case, was the need to inject more into mental illness. Phoebe life may possibly have been spared, had she received the care and attention she needed before her life was cut short.
Into the Darkness: the mysterious death of Phoebe Handsjuk offers an informed and comprehensive account of a tragic crime that captivated the nation. It is a must read if you are a fan of quality true crime stories.