Mr Hampel was found not to be responsible for either death and The Age is not suggesting otherwise.
In a finding published on Tuesday morning, Deputy Coroner Caitlin English said a review by experienced homicide detective Acting Senior Sergeant Paul Rowe of the circumstances of Ms Schneider’s death found that it was due to self-inflicted asphyxiation in the family home.
Detective Rowe’s review found forensicevidence that suggested her death, on June 23, 2018, was caused by suicide.
Ms Schneider’s parents had pushed for further investigation in part because of how they found their daughter lying on the kitchen floor.
The couple on Tuesday thanked Ms English and Detective Rowe for the extra investigative efforts to explain what had happened.
Mrs Schneider said it was difficult to expose her daughter’s life to scrutiny but it was the only way to determine the truth. She encouraged other families concerned that early assumptions might be being made in the investigation of a death of a loved one to speak up. “If you feel something’s not right then please make a noise,” she said.
Police had always believed that suicide was the most likely explanation for Ms Schneider’s death.There was no sign of forced entry or an altercation inside the house. Mr Hampel was attending an event in the city at the time of Ms Schneider’s death.
Ms English noted that Ms Schneider’s parents had raised questions about the initial scenario presented by police who attended the scene She agreed that there were “unusual aspects” to the case.
But she said she accepted the opinion of experienced forensic pathologist Matthew Lynch, who believed the circumstances, while “not entirely clear”, were not suspicious.
A toxicology report showed Ms Schneider 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 on the kitchen floor after returning from the shops.
Ms English said Ms Schneider’s parents were aware of their daughter’s involvement in Melbourne’s party scene and were concerned about her consumption of drugs and alcohol.
But they also respected her privacy and had convinced her to move back into their house for a more stable environment. She had recently enrolled in an course in applied medical science at university in a move her father, Cameron Schneider, described as her “getting her life back on track”.
Despite this, she still encountered difficulties and weeks before her death had received a deep cut to her arm in an incident that attending police believed may have been a suicide attempt.
Neither parent ever met Mr Hampel and both have said Ms Schneider kept her relationship with him extremely private. Mr Hampel made two statements to police to assist the coronial investigation and stated he did not consider he was in a serious relationship with Ms Schneider.
However, it appears Ms Schneider believed differently and had described him as her boyfriend to her mother, Sabine Schneider.
Ms English said Detective Rowe’s review “noted it was evident from the material in the phone records that the two had a personal relationship which included frequent communications and at least two trips away together”.
It could be further adduced from their communications that the pair had been involved in a disagreement or break-up in the hours before Ms Schneider’s death.
On the night before her death, Ms Schneider told her mother that she was going to attend a private gathering with Mr Hampel. But she instead went to a Melbourne strip club where she had been working as a dancer.
Witness statements show Ms Schneider left the club around 1:30am and attended a party at the Toorak unit of Melbourne events promoter Keith Ridgway. She left around 8am Saturday morning.
Mr Ridgway and Mr Hampel had worked closely for several years through the A-Live events company. Mr Hampel was not at the party and Mr Ridgway was not involved in Ms Schneider’s death in any way.
Ms English extended her sympathies to Ms Schneider’s family and noted the increased rate of suicidal behaviour and completed suicides among people with alcohol use disorders.
Alcohol was also a factor in the death of Ms Handsjuk, with Coroner Peter White ruling after a long-running 2014 inquest that the young woman accidentally died after getting herself inside a small garbage chute hatch feet first and under the effects of alcohol and prescription medicine.
Mr White’s finding was controversial because it went against the advice of his counsel assisting, Melbourne barrister Deborah Siemensma, who urged he make an open finding because there was insufficient evidence to rule out suicide, foul play involving other parties or accident.
Ms Handsjuk’s final weeks, the inadequate initial police investigation and the coronial process were explored in The Age’s 2016 podcast series Phoebe’s Fall.
In 2018 the Andrews government changed the law to make it easier for families to appeal what they believe to be a wrong coronial finding. The Handsjuk family’s inability to mount a legal challenge to Mr White’s finding, as highlighted by Phoebe’s Fall, was the catalyst for the reforms.
Support for anyone who may be distressed is available via Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; beyondblue 1300 224 636. For more information about suicide prevention, visit the Life In Mind Australia website.
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Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.