For more than 30 years Ursula Barwick’s family thought she had disappeared when in fact the 17-year-old Quirindi local had been killed in a car crash, but the fatality was recorded under a different name.
Ursula Barwick went missing in 1987 when she boarded a train from Tuggerah Station to Sydney. In the weeks after she disappeared police received reports that she had been sighted in Kings Cross, but what her family did not know is that she had adopted an alias – Jessica Pearce – after moving to Sydney from the Central Coast.
At an inquest into her death on Friday, NSW Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee confirmed crash victim Jessica Pearce was indeed Ursula Barwick.
Her father, Peter, stepmother, Elizabeth, and brother, Andrew, embraced and cried after the findings were delivered at Glebe Coroners Court.
Ms Barwick died in a head-on collision on the Hume Highway near Tarcutta in October 1987 but was buried under the name Jessica Pearce.
The confusion was partly due to an acquaintance identifying the body as "Jessica Pearce" in the morgue.
"To have this confirmed we're very, very sad - it is quite final," cousin Melissa Pouliot said outside court on Friday.
"Hearing those words is quite distressing but we are very happy we are able to move forward from this point.
"We have been on such a rollercoaster for over 30 years but particularly in these last four years because the investigation did move quite rapidly in a lot of different directions."
This year is the 32nd Christmas the family have had since Ms Barwick went missing and the 14th since they lost Ursula's mother Cheree.
"We wish Aunty Cheree was here with us today ... that was part of the drive to not give up and to keep pushing for this," Ms Pouliot said.
The deputy state coroner said families usually gathered together at this time of year.
"Therefore, it is most distressing to know that Ursula's family have, undoubtedly for so many years, been left with an absence that cannot be filled, and a sense of uncertainty that would not be eased," he said.
"It is even more painful to know that for Cheree, that devastating sense of uncertainty about what happened to her daughter was never able to be lessened."
Missing persons Senior Constable Adam Marsh in 2010 was provided with records on the death of "Jessica Pearce" and identified a number of similarities with the circumstances surrounding Ms Barwick's disappearance.
After seeing a photo of Ms Barwick in 2015 he emailed his findings to a sergeant who passed on the information.
Two police officers took on the case and using information from those who survived the car crash, post-mortem photographs and other records it was established they were the same person.
Three years ago her family fronted the media to renew calls for information into her disappearance during Missing Persons Week.
An inquest into the death of "Jessica Pearce" was held in 1998 in Wagga Wagga but was suspended due to doubts over her true identity.
Australian Associated Press