In a coronial inquest, the mysterious death of a young woman who fell 40 metres down a garbage chute was found to be the result of a freak accident, in which the woman had placed herself inside the compactor. The ‘unsatisfactory’ police investigation has been blown apart by experts who have performed an experiment which proves it would have been virtually impossible for her to climb into the chute on her own.
The body of Phoebe Handsjuk was found next to a wheelie bin after she tripped 12 storeys in a luxury high-rise apartment in Melbourne, where she lived with her older boyfriend Antony Hampel. A 24-year-old woman fell feet first down the garbage compactor and bled to death in the dark after desperately crawling out of a bin for help after her right foot was almost severed.
The Victoria Police determined that she had committed suicide on December 2, 2010 while the coroner determined that her death was a ‘freak accident’. Her family disagreed with the findings of the coroner.
Earlier in the day, when a fire alarm went off in her apartment, she left with her dog and spent her final hours drinking until she was three times over the legal limit. There is still some mystery surrounding Ms Handsjuk’s baffling death more than a decade after she was found in the garbage chute.
Even after 11 years, the manner in which she managed to get herself into the garbage chute hours later remains a mystery. A model of the same age and build was tested by Channel Nine’s Under Investigation to determine if she could be lifted into an exact replica of the chute with the assistance of a model of the same age and build.
The woman was eventually able to climb inside the 22cm latch after several unsuccessful attempts, but only with her arms directly above her head. Upon examination of the scene, detectives concluded that given the nature of her wounds, she must have had her arms by her side at the time of her fall.
Due to the small space, it would have been impossible for her to bring her arms from above her head to her side, thus casting doubt on their theory.
The police did not conduct such an experiment, with an inquest stating that Ms Handsjuk appeared to be in a state of sleepwalk after taking a cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills and inexplicably climbed into the chute. She fell feet first down the garbage compactor and bled to death in the dark after her right foot was nearly severed.
The Under Investigation program conducted an experiment with a model of the same age and build to see if she could lift herself into an exact model of the chute – with the woman only managing to lift herself with her arms above her head and with great effort.
The body of Phoebe Handsjuk (left) was discovered on the ground floor after she plunged 12 stories from a luxury high-rise apartment in Melbourne where she lived with her older boyfriend Antony Hampel (right).
Due to the difficulty of lifting a sober individual into the chute, it would appear extremely unlikely that Ms Handsjuk would have had the coordination to do so in her intoxicated state.
Aside from the dimensions, one of the major problems is that the door jams your lower back, so going through it is not helped by the fact that there is nothing to grip onto,’ retired Victoria Police Detective Rowland Legg said. Moreover, whatever Phoebe had in her system at the time would have made it even more challenging’.
As a film alarm went off on the day of her death, her dog and she were captured on surveillance footage leaving the apartment building at 11.44am and returning shortly afterward.
Over the next few hours, she consumed heavy amounts of alcohol and at some point left her apartment before plunging down the tight garbage chute on the 12th floor before 7 p.m. She found her partner’s apartment in disarray and her handbag, apartment keys, and security swipe card still lying on the kitchen counter when she returned home. After taking a cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills, Ms Handsjuk (pictured) inexplicably climbed into the chute.
According to former Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy QC, police never conducted their own experiment to determine how someone would descend the chute. However, this was not the only ‘glaring oversight’ investigators overlooked. On the night of her death, they failed to secure all CCTV footage from the apartment block and did not seize any computers or electronic devices from her apartment. Her family discovered that all her outgoing emails had been deleted when they were finally able to access her laptop.
She had two telephones. It was an iPhone and a Nokia phone, and the Nokia phone has never been located,’ Mr Legg noted. There were many bizarre contradictions that should have been pursued, but were not. A luxury Melbourne high-rise garbage chute collapsed and Ms Handsjuk fell 40 metres to her death in what the coroner called a freak accident.
On the night of her death, the police did not secure all the CCTV footage from the apartment building (Ms Handsjuk was photographed the day before she died). Two glasses were found on the kitchen bench that night that had not been dusted for fingerprints in photos taken from her apartment that night.
Additionally, broken glass and blood were found inside the apartment. The coroner speculated that Ms Handsjuk had broken a glass, cut herself, and then gone to the garbage chute to dispose of the broken glass. However, no shards matching the ones found in her unit were discovered in the trash near her body.
Moreover, the theory does not explain why there were no fingerprints or blood on the handle of the garbage chute. According to Mr Whealy, this illustrates the danger of making assumptions without conducting a thorough investigation. Natalie (pictured with daughter Phoebe) was disappointed that the coroner did not rule in her favor and instead described it as a death due to misadventure.
According to the coroner, Ms Handsjuk had broken a glass, cut herself, and gone to the garbage chute to dispose of the broken glass, but no shards matching what was found in her unit were discovered among the rubbish near her body. She also exhibits bruising on her arms, which suggests that she was grabbed before she fell.
Her mother Natalie expressed her disappointment that the coroner did not rule for an ‘open finding’, instead deciding it was a death by misadventure. ‘I do not believe that Phoebe threw herself into the garbage chute,’ she said. I do not believe that the death was the result of an accident.
She appears to have been put there by someone.”. Mr Whealy agreed that the coroner’s conclusion went far beyond what was supported by the evidence.
I think that when a beautiful, vibrant, although troubled, young woman has her life ended at the age of 24, it is unsatisfactory, and I question whether the interests of justice have been served.
According to Professor Belinda Carpenter, an expert in coronial investigations, the investigation was hampered from the beginning. Although the coroner intended to give closure to the family in this case, they did not receive it. You may reach Lifeline by dialing 13 11 14 for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.