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Child's skeleton found in suitcase was daughter of murdered woman found 1,100 km away

The baby girl’s mother’s remains were found five years ago on the far side of the country.

Comp3 Karlie Pearce-Stevenson (l) and her then two-year-old daughter Khandalyce Source: New South Wales Police

POLICE IN NEW South Wales, Australia, have made a major breakthrough in a pair of crimes that stunned the nation.

In July this year the remains of a two-year-old baby girl were discovered in a suitcase on the Karoonda Highway, near Wynarka and close to Adelaide. Until now the identity of those remains had been a mystery.

Now DNA evidence has provided certain proof that the baby girl was Khandalyce Kiara Pearce, the daughter of Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson who disappeared sometime around late 2009. Her remains were discovered in Belanglo State Forest, near Sydney, 1,100 km from her daughter’s final resting place, in August 2010.

She had died violently.

While mother and daughter were finally identified through DNA testing, investigators have said that the initial breakthrough came through two calls to the police from the public.

aus6 Karlie Pearce-Stevenson Source: New South Wales Police

aus3 Khandalyce, pictured wearing a babygro found near her remains Source: New South Wales Police

aus8 The resting places of mother and daughter, Belanglo State Forest near Sydney and the Karoonda Highway near Adelaide, are 1,100 km apart Source: Google Maps

One caller mentioned a missing person’s report filed by Karlie’s mother in 2009, while another supplied a photograph of a girl they thought could be linked to the bones in the suitcase, which then helped investigators track down government and medical records.

“You could say that initially we were looking for a needle in the haystack but we didn’t know what the haystack was,” said Detective Superintendent Des Bray, head of the South Australian Police major crime unit, as he described the investigation spanning the vast continent, two states and a territory as “challenging”.

This is one of the most shocking crimes imaginable; one that has not only devastated a family, but also had a terrible impact on the wider community.

Police are hoping to finally solve the two murders in one swoop, now that the link between the bodies has been identified.

Karlie Pearce-Stevenson was last seen by her family in her home town of Alice Springs, central Australia, in 2008. Aged 20, the single mother departed her home town with her two-year-old daughter Khandalyce and began travelling around the country.

aus1 Khandalyce Kiara Stevenson

aus4 The suitcase that baby Khandalyce's remains were found in near Adelaide

As contact with her family became more sporadic her mother issued a missing person’s notice for her daughter in 2009. This was cancelled in September of that year when it became known that Karlie was well and did not wish to be in contact with her family. Karlie’s mother has since died.

The last known photo of Karlie dates from 2008. The last official sighting of mother and daughter was in November 2008 when she and Khandalyce were seen driving together on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory.

Her remains initially unidentified when discovered in 2010, Karlie was initially dubbed ‘Angel’ by investigating detectives in reference to a t-shirt with a distinct angelic motif across the front found at the scene.

Her remains were discovered within the killing radius of backpacker serial killer Ivan Milat – however he can not be responsible as he was jailed prior to Karlie’s murder.

New South Wales homicide commander Mick Willing said that Karlie’s family, even after all this time, still believed that she and her daughter were alive and well.

The family are not being treated as suspects in the investigation.

Police from four different jurisdictions – New South Wales, South Australia, Northern Territory, and Australian Federal Police – are now working to try and establish what Karlie’s life and movements were like between 2008 and 2009.

“It is with everyone’s assistance we have reached this very important breakthrough, but it is important to note the identification is only the beginning of the investigation,” said Bray.

Those responsible for these horrific crimes remain amongst us in the community, and they must quickly be caught and held to account for their actions.

“We are appealing for assistance from the community to help us identify their friends and associates as they travelled throughout Australia, as well as landlords, motels, caravan parks or campsites where they stayed during this time,” said Willing.

Anyone who owns or operates these businesses is urged to check their records and help us piece this puzzle together.

“We have numerous lines of inquiry to follow, and while we will do our best to keep the community informed, we need to first establish fact from fiction and ensure we avoid speculation, which could damage our investigations,” he added.

With AFP

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