real life

Khandalyce isn't just a body in a suitcase. She was Karlie Pearce-Stevenson's daughter.

If I close my eyes I can imagine them.

A young mother, her blonde-haired daughter. I can see her chubby-little girl body in her pink dress, her hair pulled back in a headband to stop it sweeping across her eyes. I can imagine her mum fixing it a little, tucking away the strands before the photo is taken. Keeping her little girl nice.

I imagine they’ve been shopping together, the little girl struggling to keep up with her mum, her too-small legs tired and aching to hop back in the pram. But the person taking the photo insistent she stands, so she holds onto it gazing toward the camera.

I can see her chubby-little girl body in her pink dress, her hair pulled back in a headband.

They could be any mother and daughter in Australia. Any mother and daughter out shopping, posing for a photo. Except they are not. Except that this mother and daughter now adorn the front pages of every newspaper across Australia today.

This mother and daughter have become famous for their deaths, the little girl known as the body in the suitcase.

At some stage, perhaps not after that photo was taken they were separated. Whether they were alive or already dead when that took place only one person – or a small group of people - knows and for six long years they have been 1,100km apart.

Detective Superintendent Des Bray from the South Australian police on the updates recent developments. Post continues after video...

Video via SA Police News

A stretch of wide brown land, of towns and a mountain range separating this mother and daughter.

There isn't much we know about them but that one image, that one so very normal moment, having her little girl's photo taken brought a lump to my throat.

As the news broke yesterday that the little girl whose remains were found in a suitcase had been identified – and that her mother too was an unidentified murder victim, I was pushing my own daughter on a swing.

My little girl, her voice with the faintest trace of babyhood still present in each dropped “l” or mispronounced “f”  was urging me, almost to the point of annoyance to push her, push her, push me now Mama. Higher.

Khandalyce Kiara Pearce and her mother Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson.

As I pushed her one-handed I read of Khandalyce. I saw Khandalyce’s shy face juxtaposed with a photo of the suitcase her body spent years disintegrating within.

Push me higher Mama my daughter cried as I learnt of how Khandalyce went off the radar after her 18-month old immunsations and there was never another trace of her again.

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I learnt how Khandalyce’s grandmother searched for her but was assured her daughter and granddaughter were alive and well. I learnt of how police finally identified Khandalyce through that photo taken at the shopping centre by a person who remembered the pink dress she had worn. The same pink dress we saw so many times shared by the South Australian police in their search for the identity of the girl in the suitcase.

Khandalyce as a toddler with the quilt in her pram.

A photo just like any mother would have taken of her daughter.

I learned of how her mother, Karlie's remains were found by trail bike riders in NSW’s Belanglo State Forest in August 2010. Along side her were the last of her belongings, a sock, an earring and a t shirt reading 'Angelic'.

Police called her Angel, in reference to her t-shirt and she remained one of the last two unsolved bodies found dumped in the notorious Belangalo State Forest.

Khandalyce would today be nine-years old today.

She should be too old for swings, unlike my daughter. Swings are for babies, not for girls like her. She would probably still wear pink dresses though and clutch her patchwork quilt when she was scared.

"Angel's" identikit picture from 2010.

Can you imagine her too as a nine-year-old? Dancing with friends to the newest Taylor Swift songs. Playing on the local netball team, hoping she gets the Player of the Match trophy, cuddling up her mother on the couch under that patchwork quilt as they watch a movie together.

But Khandalyce will never get a chance to do that.

Instead Khandalyce was brutally murdered and cast aside in a suitcase like a piece of roadside garage 1,100km away from her mother. Instead, Khandalyce had her identity as a little girl stripped from her and she was branded as the body in a suitcase.

As my own fair-headed daughter stamped her feet and demanded more pushing on the swing, Khandalyce lay in a coroner’s office waiting to be finally reunited with her mother. The "little girl in the suitcase" reunited with "Angel."

But she's more than that isn't she? Doesn't she deserve to be remembered as so much more than that?

Some of the belongings found with Khandalyce Kiara Pearce .

We may never get the true story behind what happened to Khandalyce and her mother.

We may never know how this fair headed girl went from being the shy smiling toddler in the photo to the victim of a gruesome crime. How this tiny child become a face now embedded in our culture as “the body in the suitcase”.

Let's hope for the sake of Khandalyce and her mother that their killer, who for five years has gotten away with it, is found. Let's remember her as a little girl with her mother in a shopping centre having her photo taken, as a little girl so loved her mother wrapped her in patchwork quilt in her pram.

For now, while the police do their job this how I’ll think of her. As a little girl, not as a body in a suitcase.

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