In a stunning twist in the hunt for the killers, South Australian police announced on Tuesday a woman in a wheelchair had impersonated Pearce-Stevenson in a Centrelink interview in 2010.
Pearce-Stevenson’s bank account was kept open for years after her death and almost $100,000 was spent or withdrawn from it between November 2008 and March 2012.
“People who we believe may be the offenders … have taken over Karlie’s identity,” Detective Superintendent Des Bray told reporters in Adelaide.
“Her telephone, her bank accounts, her Centrelink and family payments.”
Police said the suspects kept Pearce-Stevenson’s mobile phone to deceive family, friends and law enforcers into believing she was still alive.
A female pretending to be Pearce-Stevenson had conversations with family members on several occasions.
“From time to time, the message bank on Karlie’s phone was accessed,” Det Supt Bray said.
“The offenders sent some replies … confirming that Karlie was alive and well.
“Tragically, some of those were sent to family members.”
Through these text messages, the suspects duped family members into transferring money to Ms Pearce-Stevenson’s bank account.
The bank account has been accessed in several cities, leaving a money trail covering Adelaide, Canberra, Alice Springs, Coober Pedy and Port Augusta.
A woman in a wheelchair went to the Australian Central Credit Union in Adelaide in June 2010 impersonating the dead mother, using her identification to update her banking records.
Police believe the same woman attended a compulsory interview with Centrelink in Salisbury in December the same year.
At least one of the people involved in the fraud is believed to be responsible for murdering Pearce-Stevenson and her daughter Khandalyce.
Police have two female suspects and one man in their sights.
They believe the mother and daughter were killed at different times and in different locations in mid to late December 2008 and have confirmed the last sighting was in Charnwood in Canberra.
“We believe that Karlie and Khandalyce were killed at a different time and at different locations,” Det Supt Bray said.
The 20-year-old mother’s body was discovered in the Belanglo State Forest in NSW in 2010.
Khandalyce’s remains were found near a suitcase alongside a South Australian highway 1200 kilometres away and five years later.
A fast-paced, multi-state investigation has been under way for the killers since police linked the two bodies this month with fresh DNA evidence.
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