Shameful toll: Three dead in 61 days since state’s DV pledge
A former US marine allegedly set his estranged partner on fire in front of the couple's terrified children in a Gold Coast back yard in the latest domestic violence horror to rock Queensland.
Police will allege Brian Earl Johnston, who remains in an induced coma in a Brisbane hospital, went to the home of his former wife Kelly Wilkinson on Tuesday morning and set her alight, with flames leaping so high neighbours from nearby properties could see the inferno above the backyard fences.
Ms Wilkinson, a 27-year-old mother-of-three, is the third alleged victim of domestic violence in just 61 days, with the first occurring just days after the State Government announced the formation of a taskforce into coercive control.
The taskforce was announced just before the February 19 anniversary of the death of Hannah Clarke and her three children, who were killed when set alight by her estranged partner.
In horrific scenes with eerie similarities to that horrific crime, neighbours saw flames and smoke over the back fence of an Arundel property shortly after a loud argument just after 6am on Tuesday.
Hannah's father Lloyd said yesterday he wanted new coercive control laws fast-tracked in Queensland.
Johnston, 34, was born and raised in the US and had served in the Marines.
Police found three knives at the property and an army camouflage duffel bag containing rope and duct tape, as well as a trail of blood leading to a nearby street where a severely burnt Johnston, carrying a knife sheath, was later arrested by police.
A petrol jerry can was also found at the scene, almost completely melted.
It is understood the couple had been married for nine years and lived long-term in the US before returning to Australia, but the relationship turned sour.
They attended a Christmas party on the Gold Coast in December with their children.
Ms Wilkinson sought help from police just three weeks ago.
Johnston faces several charges, including murder and breach of bail, stemming from unrelated allegations made by Ms Wilkinson in February.
It could take up to nine months for post-mortem examinations to return analysis on the cause of Ms Wilkinson's death.
Police have taken statements from the shattered children, detailing the horrific scenes they witnessed.
While he has been placed in an induced coma in the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, doctors expect Johnston to make a full recovery.
His defence lawyer, high-profile Gold Coast solicitor Chris Hannay, had been engaged to act for Johnston on other matters just two days before the tragedy.
Johnston was charged with murder late Tuesday night and after a brief mention in Southport Magistrates Court, where the case was adjourned until June, Mr Hannay said he was shocked by Ms Wilkinson's death.
"Obviously, no one expected this to happen," he said.
Detectives have scoured CCTV footage, including from the business where he worked as a marine tradesman, in a bid to piece together Johnston's movements before the tragedy.
Tributes poured in for Ms Wilkinson, with a GoFundMe campaign started by her sister Natalie surging past its target of $50,000 as it last night approached double that figure.
It is the second devastating blow to rock the family this year after Ms Wilkinson's mother died just eight weeks ago.
Yesterday, even complete strangers were reduced to tears in a city that has endured more than its share of shocking deaths in recent years.
In September 2015, Tara Brown, 24, was bludgeoned to death with a fire hydrant by her ex-boyfriend.
A week later Karina Lock, 57, was shot dead by her ex at a suburban McDonald's restaurant in broad daylight.
In February, Robyn Beever, 82, was allegedly murdered by her husband of over 60 years.
Also in February, the burnt body of Logan woman Doreen Langham, 49, was found in the rubble of her apartment just hours after she rang police for help.
Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman yesterday announced a $2.5 million funding package to be divided among 23 projects to help fund domestic, family and sexual violence survivor services.
Ms Fentiman said women's lives depended on these crucial services.
"Every death from domestic and family violence is unacceptable and a tragedy," Ms Fentiman said.
"My deepest sympathies go out to the family of Kelly and in particular her three young children. Enough is enough."
She said the State Government had invested over $500 million into domestic violence programs in six years, but "We know that there is more work to be done".
Hannah Clarke's father Lloyd, who started the anti-domestic violence charity Small Steps 4 Hannah, said the alleged murder "brought back some demons we thought we'd gotten over".
"I never thought this would happen 14 months later," Mr Clarke said.
"These poor three children are now motherless for an act of violence that is totally unexplainable."
Originally published as Shameful toll: Three dead in 61 days since state's DV pledge