SYDNEY (AP) — A child whose decomposed body was found in a suitcase in southern Australia earlier this year is the daughter of a woman whose skeletal remains were found in 2010 in a forest 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) away, police said Wednesday.
The identities of both bodies had long stumped police in two states until they received a tip on a crime prevention hotline two weeks ago. The caller suggested the girl in the suitcase might be a missing 2-year-old named Khandalyce Pearce, South Australia state police said.
DNA tests confirmed the remains were indeed Khandalyce’s. Police then used blood samples from the medical records of Khandalyce’s mother, Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson, to confirm that a skeleton found in a New South Wales state forest in 2010 belonged to the 20-year-old.
Police from both states have now teamed up to try and figure out how and where the pair died. South Australia Police Detective Superintendent Des Bray declined to comment on whether police had any suspects.
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“This is one of the most shocking crimes — shocking and unimaginable — and another family has been torn apart and devastated,” Bray told reporters. “Those people that are responsible for this crime are truly evil and must be quickly caught and held to account for what they’ve done.”
Khandalyce’s body was discovered in July after a driver spotted the suitcase dumped on the side of a highway near the small South Australia town of Wynarka. Police sifted through dozens of missing persons profiles to try and figure out who the remains belonged to, even receiving a call from British police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, who vanished during a 2007 family vacation in Portugal.
Meanwhile, New South Wales police had been working for years to determine the identity of a woman whose bones were spotted by bicycle riders in 2010 in the Belanglo State Forest, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Sydney. The forest is infamous for being a dumping ground for victims of Australia’s most notorious serial killer, Ivan Milat, who was convicted in 1996 of murdering seven backpackers.
An examination of the bones indicated the woman had suffered a violent death. Investigators dubbed her “Angel” after finding a shirt bearing an angelic motif near her remains.
Pearce-Stevenson was a single mother from the Outback city of Alice Springs, Bray said. She and Khandalyce moved away from their family in 2008 and began traveling. Over time, Pearce-Stevenson’s contact with her family became less frequent.
The last confirmed sighting of the two was on Nov. 8, 2008, when they were seen driving along a highway in South Australia, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) north of where Khandalyce’s body would eventually be discovered, and nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) west of where her mother’s body was found.
There was an unconfirmed sighting of the pair a month later in a shopping center in Canberra, Australia’s capital, said New South Wales Police Detective Superintendent Mick Willing.
Bray said police were asking landlords, motel operators and caravan park owners to check their records for any trace of the pair, given they had spent time traveling through several states before they vanished.