Phoebe Handsjuk: Melbourne woman’s garbage chute death questions over fresh revelations

New questions have raised about an ‘accident’ that saw a Melbourne woman plunge 12-storeys to her death in her apartment’s rubbish chute.

The bizarre and horrifying death of a Melbourne woman who plunged 12-storeys down a rubbish chute in her apartment building is back in the spotlight.

Police initially suspected Phoebe Handsjuk had taken her own life but the Coroner later ruled a “freak accident” killed the 24-year-old in late 2010.

A cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills saw her climb into the garbage chute in a sleepwalk-like state, falling feet first some 40m to the ground floor and landing in a garbage compactor that almost severed her foot, the Coroner ruled.

The court heard Ms Handsjuk was found dead on the floor of the garbage room in a pool of her own blood, tragically showing she had been flung from the compactor into a bin and managed to turn it over and crawl a short distance before succumbing to her serious injuries.

She shared the apartment with her older boyfriend Anthony Hampel, who came home that night and found a disturbance inside and called police. Coincidentally, Mr Hampel was hit by tragedy eight years later when his girlfriend at the time also died in unfortunate circumstances.

There is no suggestion Mr Hampel is accused of being involved in their deaths.

Last night, a television investigation reconstructed Ms Handsjuk’s supposed final moments and raised questions about the coroner’s findings.

The narrow garbage chute

Channel 9 show Under Investigation delved into the mysterious case on Monday night and conducted an experiment with a replica of the chute in the St Kilda Road apartment building.

A model who’s the same age and same build as Ms Handsjuk then tried to lift herself into the chute multiple times but was unsuccessful.

Eventually, with her arms directly over her head, the model could wriggle her way through the 22cm latch opening.

“One of the major problems apart from the dimensions is that the door comes up against your lower back and jams you in,” Rowland Legg, a retired Victoria Police Detective, told the program.

“Trying to manoeuvre yourself is then not helped by the fact there is nothing to grip onto.”

Another fact to cast doubt on the theory is that investigators originally determined Ms Handsjuk had plunged down the chute with her hands at her side, given the injuries she sustained.

The experiment showed just how hard that would be.

“And on top of that whatever Phoebe had in her system at the time would have made it even more difficult,” Mr Legg said.

The coroner found that Ms Handsjuk would’ve been in a trancelike state from consuming significant amount of alcohol and the potent sleeping pill Stilnox.

Tests showed her blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

Multiple unanswered questions

On the morning of her death on December 2 in 2010, CCTV footage taken in the foyer of the luxury apartment building showed Ms Handsjuk leave with her dog at 11.44am

She returned a short time later.

Exactly what occurred in the hours that followed is unclear, but some time around 7pm, she fell down the narrow garbage chute.

Investigators failed to seize CCTV footage from other parts of the apartment building from the night of her death, former Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy QC told Channel 9.

He also expressed surprise that police didn’t conduct their own reconstruction using the garbage chute to see if their theory about her death was possible.

There were no fingerprints found on the outside of the garbage chute, nor any blood, he pointed out.

Traces of Ms Handsjuk’s blood were found inside the apartment, which the coroner ruled was likely the result of her cutting her finger on a broken glass.

Two wine glasses on the kitchen bench were not dusted for fingerprints.

“It shows the danger in making assumptions when you haven‘t done the investigatory work,” Mr Whealy told the program.

Police also didn’t take her computer or other electronic devices as evidence and later, when her family retrieved them, they discovered Ms Handsjuk’s sent emails were gone.

One of her two mobile phones has also never been found.

“There were a lot of strange contradictions that should have been pursued by weren‘t,” Mr Legg said.

Mr Hampel, then 40, who she shared the 12th floor apartment with, returned home and found the lounge room in disarray.

Ms Handsjuk’s purse, building security fob and keys were on the kitchen bench.

The coroner ruled Phoebe’s death was an accident and that no one else was involved.

“I don‘t believe Phoebe put herself into the rubbish chute,” her mother Natalie told Channel 9. “I don’t believe it was an accidental death.”

Mr Whealy told the program the coroner’s conclusion was hard to understand, saying: “I think in the context where a beautiful, vibrant, albeit troubled, young girl has her life ended at the age of 24, that is not satisfactory and I query whether the interest of justice has been properly served.”

Partner’s second tragedy

Coincidentally, some eight years later, Mr Hampel was caught up in another tragic death in 2018 when his then-girlfriend, Baillee Schneider, was found dead a few hours after she ended their relationship.

There is no suggestion that Mr Hampel, who is an events manager and the son of former Supreme Court Justice George Hampel, and the stepson of County Court Judge Felicity Hampel, was involved in either woman’s death.

On June 24 that year, the 25-year-old was discovered by her parents inside their home in Moonee Ponds, on the floor of the kitchen with a cord tied around her neck.

Ms Schneider’s death was ruled a suicide caused by self-induced asphyxiation – which her parents find hard to believe.

Her father Cameron Schneider told The Age newspaper that her decision to take out a life insurance policy three weeks before was bizarre.

Mr Schneider also pointed out there was nowhere to attach the cord in his kitchen near where her body was found.

“I am satisfied that Ms Schneider while affected by drugs, alcohol, prescription medication and cocaine, upset by relationship difficulties, made an impulsive decision to end her own life,” the Coroner concluded.

The young model and dental assistant, who broke up with Mr Hampel, then 51, that morning, didn’t leave a suicide note.

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