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Detectives make breakthrough in girl-in-the-suitcase mystery

DNA tests conducted on the remains have found a link.
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South Australian detectives have made a startling breakthrough in the girl-in-the-suitcase mystery, linking the bones of a young girl found beside a South Australian highway earlier this year to the bones of a young woman found in the NSW Belanglo State Forest in 2010.

Police have identified the two as mother, Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson and her daughter, Khandalyce Kiara Pearce. The two are from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.

DNA tests conducted on the remains have found a link and police suspect they both died horribly violent deaths.

The breakthrough follows earlier reports today that the woman found in the Belanglo State Forrest – the site of serial killer Ivan Milat’s shocking backpacker killings during the 1990s – may have links to Margaret River in Western Australia, where she may have visited either as a backpacker or itinerant worker.

NSW police ruled out any link to Milat following the discovery of the woman’s skeletal remains near an area known as Daly’s Pool in Belanglo, south of Sydney, by trail bike riders in August 2010.

The little girl’s skeletal remains were discovered inside a suitcase outside the rural township of Wynarka in July this year.

Police have released details of the breakthrough, which is provided in full below.

Sketches of woman (and t-shirt found beside her) discovered in Belanglo State Forest.

Police have made a breakthrough in two suspected murder investigations in New South Wales and South Australia, identifying ‘Angel’ and the ‘child in a suitcase’ as a young mother and her daughter.

NSW Police Force established Strike Force Hixson in August 2010 following the discovery of the skeletal remains of a young woman at Belanglo State Forest.

The unidentified woman was named ‘Angel’ by detectives as she was located with a t-shirt with a distinct ‘Angelic’ motif across the front.

South Australia Police established Task Force Malee in July 2015 following the discovery of the skeletal remains of a little girl in a suitcase on Karoona Highway, Wynarka.

The pair has been identified as Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson and her daughter, Khandalyce Kiara Pearce, from Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Karlie was a single mum and had moved away from her family with Khandalyce between 2006 and 2008, intending to travel and work.

Investigators have confirmed Karlie was last seen driving a car with Khandalyce on the Stuart Highway near Cooper Pedy, NT, on Saturday 8 November 2008.

At that time, Karlie was aged 20, and Khandalyce was aged two.

A joint-agency operation, involving Homicide Squads from South Australia, New South Wales, Northern Territory, and ACT Police, has been established.

NSW Police Homicide Commander, Detective Superintendent Mick Willing, said the pair were last seen in late 2008 and reported missing in late 2009.

“Karlie’s mum had reported them missing on 4 September 2009, and it is understood she withdrew the report on 9 October 2009 after she was reassured Karlie was safe and well, but did not want family contact at that time,” Det Supt Willing said.

“Police were told Karlie was sporadically in contact with her mother, but the contact became less frequent over time, and sadly, Karlie’s mum has since passed away.

“Even after this time, the extended family believed Karlie and Khandalyce were safe and well living interstate.

“As you can imagine, the girls’ family and friends are devastated. They have asked their privacy be respected at this difficult time, while they grieve the loss of two young lives,” Det Supt Willing said.

SA Police head of Major Crime, Detective Superintendent Des Bray, thanked the community for their support so far with the investigation.

“Both SA and NSW detectives have had excellent support from the community to help identify Karlie and Khandalyce, including nearly 1300 Crime Stoppers calls for each case,” Det Supt Bray said.

“In addition, we have received great support from our law enforcement colleagues across the country and from a number of government agencies in our respective states.

“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,” Det Supt Bray said.

Det Supt Willing said the NSW and SA Homicide Squads are working closely to complete the picture of Karlie’s life, particularly since the birth of Khandalyce in 2006.

“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,” Det Supt Willing said.

“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,” Det Supt Willing said.

Det Supt Bray echoed the appeal to the community for information, adding that Strike Force Detectives are committed to finding those responsible for the deaths.

“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,” Det Supt Bray said.

“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 need assistance from people throughout Australia who may have seen this young mum and her little girl travelling around at any time over the past 10 years,” Det Supt Gray said.

Police are urging anyone with information in relation to this incident to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page.

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