‘Kelly was scared for her and her children’s lives’

 

KELLY Wilkinson told her family she was scared for her and children's lives.

She even told police after laying serious assault allegations against her estranged husband Brian Earl Johnston.

Within weeks she would be dead.

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview, Kelly's family have spoken about the 27-year-old's life, her personal battles with ex-US marine Brian Earl Johnston and the "failures" of the domestic violence system.

Queensland Police on Thursday admitted they failed to protect Kelly and announced an internal review would be held into the mother-of-three's alleged murder.

Kelly Wilkinson's family sisters Emma Wilkinson, Natalie Wilkinson, Danielle Carroll and her husband Reece Carroll, and Kelly's dad Reg Wilkinson. Picture: Tertius Pickard
Kelly Wilkinson's family sisters Emma Wilkinson, Natalie Wilkinson, Danielle Carroll and her husband Reece Carroll, and Kelly's dad Reg Wilkinson. Picture: Tertius Pickard

Police confirmed Kelly made contact with police twice in the weeks before her death alleging her husband had breached a domestic violence order made in late March.

Father Reg Wilkinson and sisters Danielle Carroll, Natalie and Emma Wilkinson also revealed she left Johnston in America five years ago, only for him to follow her to the Gold Coast.

Kelly died about 6.40am on Tuesday after being set on fire in the backyard of her Arundel home. Johnston has been charged murder, breaching a domestic violence order and breaching bail.

Sister Danielle said Kelly suffered "months, years of abuse. She came forward and said 'I am scared for my life, I am scared for my children's life. We are not safe'.

Kelly Wilkinson sisters Natalie Wilkinson and Danielle Carroll and her husband Reece Carroll. Picture: Tertius Pickard
Kelly Wilkinson sisters Natalie Wilkinson and Danielle Carroll and her husband Reece Carroll. Picture: Tertius Pickard

"She was saying this to the police over and over and nothing was done. There was no support, there was no safeguard."

Her sister Emma said a few days before Kelly's death, the mother of three just wanted the nightmare to be over.

"A few days before it happened, she was messaging us saying that maybe she should just go back and stay with him because it would be easier for her and kids," Emma said.

"She was done. She was being harassed by him almost every day …"

"She just said, 'I don't know if I can keep doing it. Maybe I should just stay it would be easier'."

Emma said the family urged her to stay strong.

"She would say 'I'm not going to stop, I'm going to fight, and I'm not going to stay with him. Sometimes I feel like they are pushing me just so I will give in'," Emma said.

The sisters told the Bulletin about how Kelly was "sunshine and happiness" and it was only recently she opened up about the past 10 years of her life.

She met Johnston, an American, online and went to the US to meet him. They married soon after when Kelly was just 18.

Kelly Wilkinson's dad Reg Wilkinson. Picture: Tertius Pickard
Kelly Wilkinson's dad Reg Wilkinson. Picture: Tertius Pickard

Danielle said about five years ago, Kelly returned to Australia in an attempt to get away from Johnston, but he followed.

Johnston had spent years in the US Marines and had completed two tours but saw no combat.

The family said it was when she returned to Australia with her two children that they realised Kelly's marriage was not as happy as it seemed.

"She was such a private person and didn't want to burden any of us with what was happening and I guess that was her fear of speaking out and people not believing," Natalie said.

When the girls' mother Karen passed away about seven weeks ago, Kelly decided to open up.

"She confided in mum and mum knew," Danielle said.

"We only lost mum seven weeks ago and she thought, 'mum is the only one who knows', and said 'I need to speak up and say something now'.

"We knew she wasn't happy, but we didn't know the extent."

Over the past few weeks the sister found out more and more about what Kelly was going through with Johnston.

They claimed Johnston was controlling - including monitoring what she wore, her hairstyles - stopped her from getting a driver's licence and a job, and kept her from family and friends.

The family said she had no money.

A couple of months ago they separated. Johnston was living in Logan.

"She was just starting to become who she was, who she wanted to be and discover what she wanted, and what she liked, who she could be," Emma said.

Danielle told the Bulletin: "She could finally dress how she wanted, she could finally speak how she wanted, she was finally just starting to get glimpses of that happiness within."

Kelly was also regularly contacting police, the sisters said.

Kelly Wilkinson died after being set alight in the backyard of her Arundel home. Picture: Facebook
Kelly Wilkinson died after being set alight in the backyard of her Arundel home. Picture: Facebook

A domestic violence order was put in place at the end of March. Johnston is accused of breaching that when he saw Kelly on the day of the alleged murder.

Danielle said the family had made statements to police about what they knew of the relationship and also regularly attended the police station with her.

"One of the last things she was told (by police) was 'the DVO has been put in place, we just need to give him space'," Danielle said.

Natalie said she drove Kelly to the police station "almost every day" to make reports but "nothing ever moved forward".

At the time of Kelly's death Johnston was on bail for other serious charges, which cannot be revealed for legal reasons.

The fact he was on bail did not surprise the family.

"I wasn't surprised at all," Danielle said.

"That's the way the system works."

Emma Wilkinson hugs her dad Reg Wilkinson. Picture: Tertius Pickard
Emma Wilkinson hugs her dad Reg Wilkinson. Picture: Tertius Pickard

Kelly's family have long been frustrated with how the domestic and family violence prevention system works and the protections offered to the young mother.

"There just seems to be a lot for the after and there just needs to be so much more before. There are no proactive solutions," Natalie said.

Father Reg said he felt Kelly's death was "totally preventable" if Kelly's pleas for help had been taken seriously.

"It starts at the top, not at the bottom - if DVOs are broken, put them in jail.

"If they are saying I need protection, give them protection - don't fob them off as a crazy woman."

Emma said: "They need safe houses, they need to be given just a little bit of money … she had no money.

"Look at this system, why does this keep happening?

"This isn't the first, it won't be the last.

"Why is this system not protecting her?"

Kelly's last few weeks were filled with fighting to be safe but she also spent the time trying to help her family recover from her mother's death.

Reg said Kelly was making sure he was okay, cooking meals for him to take to work and checking on him.

"I'm just devastated. I love all my girls. No one more than the other and she was sort of like my son growing up that I never had," he said.

He described her as a strong girl who was incredibly loyal and would always have the back of a loved one.

She loved sunflowers and the colour green.

In her spare time she would craft with her kids making wooden models.

Danielle described going into Kelly's home on Wednesday night - just a day after her death.

"Walking into her house last night, I felt this complete emptiness and I have never felt like that walking into her house. It was just so silent."

It was there Danielle found a bright yellow shirt with the words "Bee kind" and a picture of a bee. Danielle wore the shirt on Thursday.

"This was her - sunshine and happiness," she said.

The family had one message for those going through situations like Kelly - to keep fighting and if police were not helping, keep asking until you found someone to help.

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP WILKINSON FAMILY

KELLY Wilkinson's three children - all under nine - are being given many hugs of reassurance as the family struggles to explain her death to them.

The children are living with Kelly's sister Danielle Carroll, her husband Reece Carroll and their five children under 11.

For Kelly the kids were her life and would spend the time doing craft projects including making wooden models and painting.

Since Kelly's death on Tuesday the family are doing all they can to ensure the three kids can stay together.

"We just love them so much and want to keep them together," Ms Carroll said.

Mr Carroll agreed the "best place" was with family.

Three additional children to an already large family has meant mounting costs.

Mr and Ms Carroll live in a three-bedroom home. They are also in need of a new car to help move the eight children around.

"We will also have the ongoing counselling costs," Mr Carroll said.

The family is facing funeral costs just eight weeks after Kelly's and Ms Carroll's mother, Karen Wilkinson. She was 55.

They are asking the public for help and have set up a GoFundMe page.

In just two days more than $120,000 has been raised by the community.

Ms Carroll said any money raised would be used for Kelly's funeral and the ongoing costs of raising three additional children.

To donate visit: https://au.gofundme.com/f/help-kellys-children

lea.emery@news.com.au

 

Originally published as EXCLUSIVE: 'Kelly was scared for her and her children's lives'