The murder mystery of Karlie and Khandalyce began in April 2015, four months before the “body in the suitcase” find on an outback highway would grip the country.
Denise Edwards and her friend Monica Martin were walking their dogs in the tiny town of Wynarka when they noticed a well-dressed stranger.
Lying 150km east of Adelaide with a population of eight people, Wynarka is no place to hide and the neat man carrying a suitcase, aged about 60 with grey hair, stood out.
Edwards, a grandmother who runs a beauty product and fashion business, has a “sixth sense” about people.
She told news.com.au on Friday the man did not want to make eye contact or be noticed and “it was an odd place for him to be walking”.
The sighting would lead to the solving of two murders, and ultimately see their perpatrator, Daniel Holdom, given two life sentences.
A Sydney court erupted in applause today as the brutal double murderer was sentenced for killing toddler Khandalyce Pearce and her mother Karlie Pearce-Stevenson.
The 44-year-old pleaded guilty in July to the murders of the girl and her mother, whose bodies were found 1200km apart, and is expected to die in jail for his crimes. But the mystery of the neat stranger carrying the suitcase remains.
MYSTERY ‘WELL DRESSED MAN’
He cannot pinpoint the date, but at some point before the body two-year-old Khandalyce was found dumped in a suitcase, Denise’s husband Barry noticed a suitcase abandoned on the dirt shoulder of the road.
The Karoonda highway in South Australia’s Mallee country is a truck route between the South Australian grain belt and Port Adelaide.
“I used to travel that road nearly every day,” Barry Edwards, who then ran Wynarka Transport with Denise told news.com.au.
“One day I saw this case on the side of the road and thought it had probably fallen of the back of a ute or a trailer.
“It was there for a while and then it disappeared and then it reappeared.
“I don’t know how the guy who found it did find it because there are trees all on that side.
“The whole thing is a real mystery.”
On Wednesday July 15, 2015, a man from the nearby town of Tailem Bend stopped his vehicle on the highway and picked up the battered suitcase.
JAWBONE POKING THROUGH CLOTHING
He found a jawbone poking through fabric.
Police would determine the suitcase’s contents – partially preserved human remains and a wardrobe of clothing – belonged to a caucasian girl with long fair hair, 90-95cm tall.
That the girl appeared to have died at another location and her remains dumped would
spark a four state murder probe and link to another body found in a lonely spot.
That forensic investigation culminated today as with Daniel Holdom was sentenced for murdering the murders.
Horrific details have emerged of what Holdom did to Khandalyce after murdering Ms Pearce-Stevenson.
He dumped the 20-year-old’s body in the Belanglo Forest near Goulburn NSW – serial killer Ivan Milat’s killing ground – in December 2015.
Khandalyce would have only days to live before she, too, was murdered.
Her body was dumped 1200km apart from where motorbike riders found her mother’s skeletal remains in 2010.
BODIES WERE 1200KM APART
But it would take months before s startling breakthrough by forensic laboratories linked the unidentified Khandalyce with the other baffling crime, the “Angel of Belanglo”.
The female skeleton had been so named because it was found near jewellery, a sock and a T-shirt with the words “Angelic” on it.
In July 2015, detectives descended on the town and the Edwards’ house.
The mystery of the body in the suitcase attracted a media swarm which quadrupled Wynarka’s population, and amateur sleuths from around the country joined the inquiry.
“It was scary and very confronting,” Denise Edwards said.
“Some many people saw the man (with the suitcase) but he never came forward.
“I was too scared to walk in the spot on my own.”
Police photographed and released images of each piece of clothing and scrap of fabric found with the suitcase girl’s remains.
Among a pink Dora the Explorer outfit and Big W brand items were a white fur-trimmed coat, a black sequined tutu dress, and a pink slipper with a butterfly motif.
AMATEUR SLEUTHS IDENTIFIED THE ITEMS OF CLOTHING
Posters on sites such as websleuths.com promptly identified them.
The suitcase brand was Lanza, a pair boxer shorts belonged to a Holden Commodore boys pyjama set and the black tutu dress came from Cotton On.
Members of the public pored over a badly degraded patchwork quilt, recognising patches of fabric sold at Spotlight outlets some years before.
Meanwhile at Sydney’s Forensic and Analytical Science Service (FASS), scientists had extracted a DNA profile from a tibia (lower leg) bone of the “Angel” found at Belanglo.
Karlie Pearce-Stevenson remains had lain in the forest.
‘WE KNOW WHO THE DEAD LITTLE GIRL IS ‘
In October 2015, a caller to Crimestoppers suggested the girl in the suitcase at Wynarka could be a toddler from Alice Springs called Khandalyce Kiara Pearce.
The little girl was known to have been living there with her mother Karlie, who had left town with her daughter in 2008 looking for work.
A DNA profile from the Wynarka suitcase girl’s remains were matched to Khandalyce’s medical records, specifically a blood sample taken after her birth.
With the two-year-old identified, attention turned to the girl’s missing mother, who had not been seen alive since 2008.
DNA from Ms Pearce-Stevenson’s medical records matched the Angel of Belanglo’s tibia sample.
A joint investigation by homicide detectives from South Australia, NSW, the Northern Territory and the ACT was set up.
Karlie and Khandalyce were last seen driving a car on the Stuart Highway near Coober Pedy in South Australia on Saturday, November 8, 2008.
Ms Pearce-Stevenson’s mother had reported them missing on September 4, but withdrew the report after receiving reassurance they were safe and well.
Karlie’s mother died from cancer not knowing where they were, or that assurances of their wellbeing had been made by Daniel Holdom via a female agent.
Police interviewed Holdom, known as “Shrek” for his physical bulk and heavy forehead.
They examined his mobile phone records for December 2008, around the time they believed Karlie had died violently in Belanglo.
Banking records would also reveal that Holdom had extracted $70,000 from Ms Pearce-Stevenson’s bank account.
Initially Holdom told police he had last seen Ms Pearce-Stevenson and her daughter when he dropped them at a Canberra motel in late 2008 before he got back with his ex-girlfriend.
Holdom changed his story twice, saying he had seen them in an Adelaide motel, and that his friend has dropped them at a bus stop.
KILLER CHANGES HIS STORY
A witness told police Holdom was lying and that he had killed Karlie and Khandalyce, and that police had “found her top” and “no-one knows who she is”.
After Holdom pleaded guilty in July this year, his violent past was exposed.
A drug addict, he had sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl, attempted to strangle a woman, and stalked another.
In 2008, before he murdered Karlie and Khandalyce, he was driving the vehicle which crashed, putting his then girlfriend in a wheelchair and killing her two children.
It is believed after stomping on Karlie Pearce-Stevenson’s windpipe and then defiling her remains with foreign objects and trophy photographs at Belanglo.
He then collected Khandalyce, suffocated her and dumped her body in the suitcase on the roadside at Wynarka.
LONELY OUTBACK HIGHWAY STILL HAUNTED
Denise Edwards told news.com.au that police believed Holdom left the suitcase by the road near her town.
Which means the mystery of the well-dressed man with the suitcase in Wynarka’s main street a few months before the discovery of Khandalyce’s remains.
Ms Edwards feels very connected to Khandalyce and affected by her treatment at the hands of the monster, Holdom.
“I still have nightmares and thought about that person,” she said.
“I cannot help but think the mother (Karlie) died trying to protect her little girl.
“(Khandalyce) was probably put in that suitcase still barely alive.”
Ms Edwards said a makeshift memorial remained on the Karoonda Highway for the girl in the suitcase.
“I’ll always think of her whenever I drive past,” she said.
“It still affects you. It brings such sadness.”
APPLAUSE AT DOUBLE LIFE SENTENCE
A Sydney court has erupted in applause as brutal doubled murderer Daniel Holdom was given two life sentences for killing toddler Khandalyce Pearce and her mother Karlie Pearce-Stevenson.
Holdom murdered the toddler after killing 22-year-old Ms Pearce Stevenson in December 2015, and dumping their bodies in different states.
The bodies of the girl dumped in a suitcase in outback South Australia in 2015 and her 22-year-old mother found 1200km apart, sparked a national murder investigation that led to Holdom’s arrest.
The 44-year-old pleaded guilty in July ahead of what was expected to be a lengthy trial for the two murders.
In the NSW Supreme Court on Friday, Holdom’s lawyer made a failed last-minute bid to withdraw his guilty plea for toddler Khandalyce’s murder.
Ms Pearce-Stevenson’s body was found in the Belanglo State Forrest, near Sydney, in 2010, but unidentified until DNA tests on her daughter’s remains linked the two.
Justice Robert Hulme rejected Holdom’s eleventh-hour application.
Justice Hulme described Holdom’s murder of Ms Pearce-Stevenson as one of “extreme gravity and appalling depravity”.
Holdom had stomped on her body, violated it “in a callous and sadistic way” and afterwards taking trophy images of the deceased.
Victim advocate Michael O’Connell read a statement on behalf of the families of Karlie and Khandalyce, saying Holdom’s “brutality will haunt us forever”.
Mr O’Connell described “the heartbreaking and daunting journey on which we were thrust due to Daniel Holdom’s despicable crimes”.
“No sentence will ever bring closure. He murdered a young mother and her child. He stole their whole lives from them, and from us,” the statement read.
“We live daily without Karlie and Khandalyce and will do for the rest of our lives. His brutality will haunt us forever. Nothing done to him will bring Karlie and Khandalyce back or repay the toll on us.”