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Feb. 9, 2022

Episode 8: The Suspicious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk

Episode 8: The Suspicious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk

In Melbourne, Australia, a young woman’s tragic end has puzzled a family since 2010. Phoebe Handsjuk's death was blamed on a combination of sleeping drugs, alcohol, and depression but holds more evidence of foul play.

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Transcript

Hello and welcome to the eastern crime zone, a show about investigations of real true crime cases. 
 
I'm your host, Cassie Malay, and every week I’ll take you through new details about cases you're familiar with and completely new cases you've never heard of before.

If there's a case you're interested in learning more about, please head over to my website, easterncrimezone.com, and leave me a voicemail or send me a DM on instagram @easterncrimezone.

Coming up in today’s episode:

In Melbourne, Australia, a young woman’s tragic end has puzzled a family since 2010. Phoebe Handsjuk's death was blamed on a combination of sleeping drugs, alcohol, and depression but holds more evidence of foul play.
Phoebe was just 24-years-old when her body was found at the bottom of a garbage chute in the basement of a luxury apartment building on the evening of December 2, 2010. She survived the 30 meter fall, but suffered deep gashes from the compactor blades and died on the floor of the refuse room from loss of blood. With the recommended dose of the sleeping drug Stilnox, similar to Ambien, and a blood-alcohol level at three times the legal limit, the police coroner made the determination that Phoebe climbed into the garbage shoot herself.

There are a few serious problems with this narrative, mainly that the garbage chute was a mere two feet by nine inches and incredibly difficult to enter. There were also no fingerprints found on the handle or outside of the chute, and it appeared to be wiped clean.
At the time of this mysterious incident, Phoebe was in a relationship with a much older man named Ant Hampel. Ant Hampel is the son of retired Supreme Court judge George Hampel and the stepson of County Court judge Felicity Hampel. Several years after Phoebe's death, Ant would lose another young girlfriend in a suspicious manner. 


Grab your notepad, get settled in, and let's dive into another “Cassie File”..

On December 2, 2010 the body of 24 year old Phoebe Handsjuk was discovered on the floor of a garbage compactor room on the ground floor of the luxury, Balencea tower apartments, in Melbourne.

Phoebe had fallen through the garbage chute from the apartment she had shared with her boyfriend, Antony Hampel. Their apartment was on the 12th floor, meaning Phoebe had fallen 40m (or 131 ft for the Americans listening) feet first down the chute.

Phoebe appeared to survive the fall itself. Her right foot was almost severed off. There’s evidence that Phoebe fought her way out of the bin she had landed in and had tried to crawl her way out of the trash compactor room but was too badly injured to get far. She would eventually bleed to death in the dark room.

Before this, before Phoebe’s life would be ended before she has a chance to figure herself out, Phoebe was a vibrant, three dimensional person with a lot of potential. I would like to tell you about WHO Phoebe was. Who the worst lost on December 2nd 2010.


Phoebe was born on May 9, 1986, to Natalie and Len. She was the oldest child and the only girl. She would later become the sister to brothers Tom and Nikolai.

Natalie called her only daughter her Tiger Cub because she was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. 

They grew up on a big block in Richmond, in Melbourne’s inner-east, in a rambling house with a slate roof that Phoebe liked to climb on top of and stare at the sky. She enjoyed physical challenges, including rock climbing and hiking. Her teacher at the nearby Steiner school said she had never met such a strong child.

She was a wild child, and enjoyed the rich fantasy world of her own imagination. She was physically active as a young girl and loved natural spaces, wild places and especially the ocean.

Phoebe’s family describe her as “extremely sensitive, caring and compassionate. She was artistically gifted and creative. Strong willed, and often quick tempered, she had a cheeky, playful sense of humor”.

Phoebe was athletic and a fast runner. She played basketball  in a team with good friends. When someone fouled her, she would suddenly rise to a different level of play. She would become determined and speed with the ball from one end of the court to the other, almost unstoppable! At the end of such a game, parents of other players would ask “What got into Phoebe?” “Why doesn’t she play like that all the time?” It was because someone had done her a ‘wrong’.

I really related personally to phoebe in this way. I did the same thing when I played basketball in school. Almost exactly the same actually. 

At age 15, she started hanging out with the “wrong crowd”, experimenting with drugs like alcohol, speed, ecstasy and marijuana. She struggled with alcohol and used it to overcome her anxieties.

By age 16, as Bowles reveals in her book, Phoebe was in a relationship with a teacher who was almost twice her age – starting a pattern for falling in love with older men.

Her mother Natalie speculates that this attraction to older men may run in the family as she and Len, Phoebe's father, are 14 years apart in age and had also had an affair with a teacher in high school.

She ran away from home for eight weeks, with an ex-prisoner, his partner and their baby. This quickly ended after a domestic violence incident between the couple that scared Phoebe.

 After returning home, she began taking antidepressants to curb her mood swings and sought counseling to assist her depression.

On the family-created website seeking justice for Phoebe, one friend said that “Phoebe was the girl that when she walked into a room everybody noticed her. It wasn’t that she ever went out of her way to seek attention, it was just that she had this amazing presence about her that you could not ignore. Once you met Phoebe, you never forgot her.”

By all accounts, she was extremely creative: an obsessive artist, constantly journaling poems, painting, and drawing.

She is described as a loyal friend, as never judgmental, as protective, cheeky, and funny.

She had also been in a relationship described by some as controlling. Phoebe had a history of dating much older men, and her boyfriend of 2 years Antony Hampel was no different. When they started dating, he was almost 40, and she was 23. They met because Ant was a client of the salon that Phoebe was a receptionist for. He asked her to dinner and she accepted. The couple moved in together after five months of dating and at the time of her death, Phoebe was living with Ant in his luxury apartment.

Antony came from a prominent legal family. Antony Hampel is the son of George Hampel, a long-time Supreme Court judge. His stepmother, Felicity Hampel, is a County Court judge.

Ant and Phoebe could be described as polar opposites. Phoebe was this free spirited, artistic type of woman who didn’t want to feel tied down and owned by anyone. Ant was a type A personality, very rigid and regimented and liked things done his way. Phoebe for instance loved having a space to do her art in Ant’s home, but Ant’s cleaner would say that they were under strict instructions to clean the home to make it look “as though no one lived there”. 

Not long before Phoebe’s death, she would confide in friends that Ant was controlling and that she didn’t always feel as though she had a voice in their relationship. Phoebe’s drinking habit combined with Antony’s incessant need for the apartment to be neurotically clean at all times caused many fights between the pair. Phoebe complained that Antony was too controlling, put her down and made her feel stupid.

Phoebe left Antony four times in the six weeks before her death, but he begged her to return and she did, every single time.

 She had shared with her grandmother Jeanette that she wanted to move away to Mallacoota in country Victoria (where Jeanette lived), get a new job, get sober and perhaps even go to India to volunteer.

The day before phoebes death, Phoebe was still asleep at 9am when Ant left the apartment to go to work. She had been out the night before drinking and taking drugs. Ant took Phoebe’s iphone with him, saying that he was getting it repaired.

This is a point of conflict in the investigation, as her iphone was used to send a weird text from Phoebe at around 10:30am that same day (when it was apparently in Ant’s possession). The message was sent to a group including Len and Natalie (her parents), Tom and Nikolai (her brothers), Ant, her boss, her grandmother Jeanette and her mother’s boyfriend Russell.

“Hi family. I am in bed and about to sleep and when I WAKE I will transform into the most incredible human bein you’ve ever seen … (not). I will go to hospital. It’s safer there and I hear the special tonight is tomato soup … Delicious! Nutritious! I love you all very much but not enough to send an individual text. Sorry about that, but time is sleep and I must b on my way … … Merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream. xo”

Perturbed by the strange message, Jeannette rang Ant on his mobile at 10.35 a.m. and asked him if Phoebe was all right. He said he hadn’t seen the message and had left Phoebe sleeping peacefully that morning, but he’d swing by and check on her, as his office wasn’t far from home.

He claims that he went back to the apartment at about midday to check on Phoebe and saw her sleeping at the time. He says that during this check in, Phoebe let him know that she took two Stilnox (aka Ambien) pills. He claims he took the rest of the Stilnox bottle with him so she couldn’t take more.

These types of luxury high rises have very tight security as you might imagine. This means that any type of access to the building must be done with a fob pass that records the times you come and go to the building. The problem with Ant’s story is that there is no record of him being in the apartment at 12.

In actual fact, records would show that Ant never came back into the apartment until 7:33pm that evening.

The other person who was in the apartment that day, and that was Sally Teller, the cleaner. At 2:17pm, she arrived to clean the apartment for her regular Wednesday clean. She said Phoebe was asleep when she arrived, so she cleaned the other side of the apartment first before knocking on the bedroom door. She said Phoebe came out wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

Sally noted that Phoebe wasn’t normally in the apartment when she was cleaning, so she asked Phoebe if she was alright, was she sick or something or did she need anything, Phoebe flashed her dazzling smile saying she was fine. Sally noted she didn’t seem under the impression or drunk at the time and she didn’t seem depressed.

After Sally finished cleaning up around 5pm, Phoebe went back to bed wearing an eye mask.

When Ant returned home at 7:33pm that night, his records of events is that they stayed in, he ran her a bath and gave her a massage, he cooked dinner and he showed her the tickets he booked for them to go on a trip to Paris.

Phoebe spoke to her father Len that night and said she was still feeling hungover from a bender the night before. She said to him that she really wanted to stop doing it (drinking and doing drugs). This would be the last time that Len spoke to his daughter.

Ant says he left Phoebe in bed the next morning, when he got up at about 8:30am to go to the gym. At 9:45am, we know that she used the computer and sent an email.

There was a fire alarm that went off in the Balencea building at 11:43am, and we see Phoebe and her dog evacuating on security footage. She appears to be walking fine on the CCTV footage and didn’t appear to be acting drunk. At 11:50am she was able to get back into the building and that is when the last picture of Phoebe is taken.

No one knows what happened between then and 6pm. Sometime in between this time frame, Phoebe ends up in the garbage chute.

At 6:05pm Ant arrives back at the apartment, it was in disarray and Phoebe was not there although her keys and her purse are on the kitchen counter. There was glass on the carpet and the apartment looked a mess, which was uncharacteristic of the home. There was blood on a desk and computer mouse.

There was a fire alarm that went off in the Balencea building at 11:43am, and we see Phoebe and her dog evacuating on security footage. She appears to be walking fine on the CCTV footage and didn’t appear to be acting drunk. At 11:50am she was able to get back into the building and that is when the last picture of Phoebe is taken.

No one knows what happened between then and 6pm. Sometime in between this time frame, Phoebe ends up in the garbage chute.

At 6:05pm Ant arrives back at the apartment, it was in disarray and Phoebe was not there although her keys and her purse are on the kitchen counter. There was glass on the carpet and the apartment looked a mess, which was uncharacteristic of the home. There was blood on a desk and computer mouse. Several Post-it notes containing strange scribbles were stuck to the kitchen counter. The cleaner had wiped the benches down the previous day, so the notes were new. He went into the bedroom and found what he later called a ‘shrine’ on the bed, consisting of a photo of himself and Phoebe, a photo of her cat, and rambling notes, as he later described them. There were candles burning, and Phoebe’s hair-straightener was on the floor, plugged into a socket in the bathroom.

At 6:51pm Phoebe’s dad, Len, tries to call her on her iPhone. Len’s account of things is that Ant answered that call. Ant’s account differs. He says he didn’t hear Phoebe’s phone ring, but he called Len from his phone. So two different stories, but it would appear that Len was going off his actual phone account where there’s a record of the call.

During this conversation, Ant told Len that Phoebe wasn’t in the apartment. Len suggested that Ant report her missing, but Ant wasn’t keen on the idea. He said, ‘They don’t listen until 48 hours have passed, and she’ll be back by then.’

Instead of calling police to let them know of the state he found his apartment in and his missing girlfriend, Ant decided to order a takeaway dinner delivery for one.

When the delivery driver for the takeaway arrived at around 8pm, he said to Ant “What’s going on here, there’s police everywhere downstairs”.

At the same time he was ordering dinner, a cleaner discovered Phoebe’s body in the garbage room and called the police.

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. Upon hearing the police were downstairs, Ant then went down to let them know that Phoebe was missing.

An ambulance had been called at 7.20 p.m. and arrived seven minutes later. The paramedics’ presence added to the confusion in the relatively small foyer and the corridor to the rubbish compactor room.
Kristie Cooke, one of the paramedics, ran to the focus of all the action – a doorway along the corridor, where an inert body was visible.
The police officer guarding the door told her the room was a crime scene and she wasn’t permitted to enter. This went against all Kristie’s training and instincts, but the police were in charge and wouldn’t let her in. She observed from the doorway that a female was lying on her back with cuts to her right thigh and hip and with her right foot in an unnatural position, leading Kristie to believe there was a fractured ankle. She noted the body ‘showed generalised cyanosis [a bluish tinge], no spontaneous respirations and appeared deceased’.
 
Kristie wasn’t happy about being prevented from trying to assist. She lost a lot of sleep about it in the months to come. In fact, no medically trained person attended to Phoebe after she was discovered. No one laid hands on her to see if she was still warm or checked to see if she was actually dead.
 
The first people to enter the room after it was declared a crime scene were the crime scene specialists, who arrived some hours later. They revealed that, going by the blood trails, it was likely that Phoebe had survived the fall and crawled around trying to get out of the room.
Going upstairs to the 12th floor where the trash shoot was located, they found blood on the door handle as well as on the floor of the trash room. A detective also noticed dirty boot or shoe prints leading away from Ant and Phoebe’s apartment. These footprints were never photographed or followed up on.
Phoebe’s laptop was also not taken by authorities for another two months and not analyzed for 2 and a half years. Later, Phoebe’s family would check her gmail account to see that all of her emails had been deleted and it was too late to recover them. 
The police also did not recover the CCTV footage from the apartment building before it was recorded over. Phoebe’s Grandfather, Lorne Campbell asked to get the hard drive from the building to have it professionally analysed to see if any footage could be salvaged BUT the hard drive had been stolen. Conveniently.  
Police at this point, clearly had made up their mind that Phoebe’s death was a suicide. Instead of using evidence to build a case that made sense, they forced evidence to fit their narrative and ignored anything that didn't fit. Just like the daniel Robinson case I had covered last week, the family is left to push for justice.
 
Rowland Legg, a former crew chief with the Victorian homicide squad, told Fairfax Media how he would have run the investigation differently if he had been in charge on the night.
Unlike the police who ran the investigation, he would have: allowed ambulance officers to check Phoebe’s body to help establish a time of death; collected the CCTV footage from the high-rise apartment building’s 14 cameras; secured the mobile phones, SIM card and computers of both Phoebe and Ant; searched the bins in the garbage room where she died; DNA-tested blood found on the computer mouse and desk in the couple’s luxury apartment, and on the door of the garbage room; and secured the three potential crime scenes in the building.
 
While Rowland Legg did not directly criticize the police in charge of the investigation, he did point out that none of those things were actually done.
Phoebe’s grandfather Lorne Campbell was a retired Detective Sergeant. After seeing how poorly the investigation was being carried out, he began to ask questions of the police and to make his own enquiries.

Senior Detective Brendan Payne and Lorne Campbell have worked for over two years, in an attempt to unravel the unexplained mysteries surrounding her violent and tragic death.

He went to see the garbage chute at her apartment. He was staggered by how small the disposal hatch was; it measured only 37cm by 22cm and was more than a meter above the floor. There’s no way Phoebe could have climbed inside in her condition, he says.

She was uncoordinated after only two drinks, but toxicology reports revealed she had taken the prescription sedative zolpidem, known as Stilnox, and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 – more than three times the legal driving limit. Her family an friends had said that Phoebe was a lightweight with her alcohol. I doubt after that much alcohol and having a seditive, that she wouldve be agile enough to enter the chute on her own.

Then there were no fingerprints on the chute door or steel surrounds, which appeared to have been wiped clean.

Lorne was a police officer for more than 30 years so when homicide detectives decided within five days that Phoebe had likely committed suicide, he started his own investigation.

To see if Phoebe could have climbed into the chute, he attached safety harnesses to two of her friends and tested them on a replica. They were sober and athletic, but could only climb in with great difficulty.

TV show 60 Minutes Australia duplicated this experiment in the below video (between 12:57 and 15:25) during their story on Phoebe. The whole video is a great watch.

He also pointed out faults in the police investigation, such as the failure to examine CCTV footage, the failure to seize computers in the apartment or to test two drinking glasses left in the kitchen.

Police also failed to take samples of mysterious, large shoe prints leading away from the apartment. “They just missed so much,” he says.

When someone dies in Victoria, immediately after a death, Victoria Police will start gathering information to form an initial report for the coroner. A forensic pathologist will undertake an examination of the deceased.
The coroner may order further investigations to help establish identity and cause of death.
The forensic pathologist will provide a Medical Examination Report to the coroner. This report may take up to several months, but sometimes longer. Once an autopsy is done, the coroner will also present their findings.
Based on all the information and evidence gathered, the coroner will decide if the death requires further investigation. via an inquest. In Phoebe’s case, the coroner determined that an inquest into Phoebe’s death would go ahead.
Frustratingly, at the inquest, it was decided at the last minute that instead of hearing oral evidence, the coroner asked them all to prepare written submissions instead. After some hard work and media engagement by the family (including the 60 Minutes footage showing the re-enactment of one of Phoebe’s friends trying to fit down the chute), the coroner finally agrees to an open inquest. The date is set for May 1, 2013.
On October 9th, the coroner declared the inquest as being closed. The coroner ruled out suicide and essentially said it was death by misadventure in their findings, which have been published online.
Kristina and Antony Hampel are the children of Professor George Hampel, a long-time Supreme Court judge, and the step-children of sitting County Court judge, Felicity Hampel.
Krissy Hampel avoiding a conviction on drug trafficking due to potential "embarrassment to her family"
Krissy Hampel's Facebook post in 2016 saying, "I only hope one day that the truth will come out"

Loose ends and unexplained coincidences
The following comes from the Phoebe’s Fall Podcast site who did a brilliant job of reporting all the facts in this case. Likewise, they did a really great job of summarizing all the elements of this case that leave us with questions. Full credit for this section goes to them – please listen to Phoebe’s Fall if you’ve not done so.
A list of strange things in Phoebe’s case:

Investigation
Ambulance officer not allowed to touch Phoebe’s body
At least one of three potential crime scenes not properly secured
Not all blood found in apartment DNA tested
Blood on door of refuse room not DNA tested
No CCTV recovered on night of death and hard drive of CCTV later went missing
Ant’s iPhone not seized on night of Phoebe’s death
Computer not seized on night of Phoebe’s death
Early assumption by police of suicide
Suicide assumption meant no access granted to Phoebe’s Gmail records

Phoebe
Incredulity that if Phoebe was to kill herself, she’d choose the garbage chute
Went down the chute feet first
No fingerprints on the surrounds of the chute
Jeans were around her knees; uncertainty over when this happened
Hair straightener still plugged in
Phone charger still in her bag
Sunglasses were on her head
Phoebe’s Nokia phone never found
Phone number of mystery person on a piece of paper in her pocket. Not handed to police for seven months

Ant Hampel
Confusion and differing accounts regarding repair of iPhone in the days leading up to Phoebe’s death
Coincidental phone call made to Phoebe’s father, Len Handsjuk, on the night Phoebe died
Unexplained call from, then back to, a Perth number on the night Phoebe died
Record showing a call from Ant to Phoebe’s Nokia phone on day she died connected for 13 seconds. Ant says he cannot explain it and is adamant they did not speak.
How did Ant’s family and friends get into the building on the night? They generated no swipe records
iPhone SIM card later went missing after detective told Ant to keep it (claims he gave it to a colleague?)
Ant Hampel’s opposition to an inquest

Inquest
Coroner rejected the recommendation of his counsel assisting
Coroner made firm judgments about the role of Stilnox based on speculation
Coroner granted, then rejected access to computer hard drive
Hard drive of building CCTV footage went missing after application at inquest to retrieve it

Nine years after Phoebe’s fall another of Ant Hampel’s young beautiful girlfriends would be found dead in a suspicious way.

Baillee Schneider was a beautiful, vibrant 25 year old woman from Melbourne, Australia. Her social media accounts show stunning photos of Baillee and her gorgeous friends on tropical beaches in their swimwear, living their best lives.  She had a full social life and she was studying to become a clinical aesthetician.

When her parents returned home, they walked into the kitchen and found Baillee slumped against the skirting boards on a cupboard in the corner.  She had a gold cord tied around her neck. She was dead. 

A toxicology report showed Baillee had three times the legal driving alcohol limit and traces of cocaine in her bloodstream at the time of her death. Her parents found a half to three-quarter finished bottle of red wine when they discovered their daughter’s body.


We see it time and time again, how a person's less-desired qualities about them are used to define their value as a human being. This completely happened in Phoebe's case with her substance abuse and mental illness. I don’t understand why police go into these cases with already formed opinions. If you want to be lazy. Do. Not. Be. in. Law. Enforcement.

 
Community Matters.  Local Podcast found Brandon Lawson’ sbody… 

Tease:  Next week… 

Next week we will be discussing the mysterious death of Erica Alonso.

On February 14th, 2015 — Valentine’s Day — and the last night that Erica would be seen alive. She and her on-again, off-again boyfriend left for a popular nightclub in Costa Mesa: Sutra Lounge. By the next morning, she had vanished. Her abandoned Honda Civic would be found two miles from her home, covered in dust, parking violation tickets, and her purse left inside. Her body would only be found two months later, discarded in the Cleveland National Forest.

 Come back next week for a more in depth dive into the case of 
In the meantime, stay safe, be kind and QUESTION EVERYTHING.