POLICE now strongly believe the remains of a child found near a suitcase at Wynarka in the Murray Mallee are those of a little girl who could have been murdered up to eight years ago.
It is believed the girl was aged between two to four, possibly with fair hair. She could have been killed as long ago as 2007.
A media conference today was told that meant the girl could have been aged between 10 and 12 if she was still alive.
Major Crime Investigation Branch officer in charge Detective Superintendent Des Bray said forensic testing was still underway.
“While the forensic analysis has not yet provided a conclusive result regarding this child’s gender, we are reasonably confident at this time that these are the remains of a girl who had fair hair and was 90-95cm tall,” he said.
Detectives displayed a mannequin with hair of a similar colour and length, dressed in new versions of items of clothing found with the body, at the media conference.
Det Supt Bray said police had received 223 calls to Crime Stoppers since the remains of the girl were found near a suitcase and items of clothing near the Karoonda Highway about 2km west of Wynarka in the Murray Mallee on Wednesday, July 15.
Investigators believe the suitcase and its contents — including the child — were left at the location by an unknown person behind a bush and that at some stage someone tipped most of the contents out behind a nearby bush and left the suitcase near the roadside.
While the suitcase now appears a grey colour, it was originally black and had since faded.
Det-Supt Bray said the suitcase was first seen after road works were concluded in mid-March, but police were keen to hear from anyone who saw it, touched it or emptied its contents.
“We believe the child died elsewhere and was placed into the suitcase before being left at the Wynarka location,” he said.
“For reasons I’m not going to disclose we are confident that this child was murdered and we would appeal for anyone with information that might assist us to make contact.
“This is a tragic case and we continue to follow a number of lines of inquiry in a bid to identify this child.
“At this time 24 children have been nominated as potential victims, but have been ruled out by investigators who have determined that they are alive and not requiring any further police attention.”
Det Supt Bray repeated previous appeals for a man seen in the area about six to eight weeks ago with a dark suitcase to come forward.
The man — aged about 60, of caucasian appearance, average height, lightly built, clean cut and neatly dressed — was seen by a number of people in the area.
Major Crime detectives attached to Task Force Mallee want to identify him and potentially exclude him from their investigation.
Police said they would not release the identities of those potential victims who were excluded from the investigation.
On Wednesday, Det-Supt Bray said it was imperative that the person who tipped out the contents of the suitcase, which was first discovered shortly after road works were completed in March this year, contacted police.
“Identifying who emptied the suitcase contents behind the bush and when it was emptied is very important to investigators,” he previously said.
“The person who did this is not in any trouble and we encourage that person to come forward and contact us through Crime Stoppers or attend their local police station.”
Last week, police said the child met a “violent and terrible death” before being stuffed into the suitcase.
Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
WHAT WE KNOW
■ A child’s remains were found by a passing motorist near a suitcase on the side of the Karoonda Hwy, near Wynarka, on Wednesday, July 15.
■ The following day, police revealed the child met a “violent and terrible death” and was killed elsewhere before being dumped in the dark grey Lanza suitcase.
■ SA Police assigned 15 detectives and additional Mallee region officers to Task Force Mallee to investigate the child’s murder.
■ Police appealed for a neatly dressed, clean-cut caucasian man in his 60s carrying a dark suitcase in the Wynarka area to come forward. He was spotted on April 13 and May 26.
■ It was revealed passing motorists had looked into the suitcase prior to the discovery of the remains but did not see anything out of the ordinary.
■ Images of girl’s clothing found scattered around the suitcase were released by police. Items included a black tutu, Dora the Explorer shirt and a pink booty with an embroidered butterfly on it.
■ Task Force Mallee inquiries across Australia of missing person lists failed to produce any strong leads and detectives spoke to homicide squads in every state and territory.
■ Detective Superintendent Des Bray informed the media the victim was “most likely” a little girl who could have been killed as far back as 2007.
■ Forensic testing continues on the child’s remains 10 days after being discovered.
■ Police remain hopeful the mystery will be solved.