Police claimed Kelly Wilkinson was 'cop shopping' when she asked for help. Then she was murdered.

In April 2021, Kelly Wilkinson's life was taken.

Just before 7am on that terrible Tuesday morning, her burned body was found in a suburban backyard of a Gold Coast home.

Neighbours in the suburb of Arundel raised the alarm after hearing shouting at about 6:40am. First responders also found three children, all under the age of nine, who were present at the home when their mother had been killed.

On a lawn two blocks away, police found a 34-year-old man with serious burn injuries who was "semi-conscious". The man was Kelly's ex-husband, Brian Earl Johnston, who was subsequently charged with murder and breaching a domestic violence order.

Almost three years later, he pleaded guilty, appearing before the Brisbane Supreme Court on February 14 via video link to enter his guilty plea — less than a month before his scheduled trial.

This week, Johnston was sentenced to life in prison, though he will be eligible to apply for parole 20 years after the date of his arrest.

The judge said he was limited by law in the sentence he could impose and would likely agree with Kelly's family if they said it was "not enough" for the "horrendous crime".

It has now been revealed that in the days before her death, Kelly visited multiple police stations to tell authorities she was in danger. According to The Guardian, an official police "occurrence" report from the time described her actions as "cop shopping".


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Police said internal investigations have identified "no allegations" in relation to the term, though conceded that there had been a "failure" in their dealings with Kelly. 

"Ultimately, it's a failure," said assistant commissioner Brian Codd in 2021. "A woman has died. Somewhere along the line, she had engaged with the system, with us."

According to her sister, Danielle Carroll, 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.'

"She was saying this to the police over and over and nothing was done," Danielle claimed, as per the Gold Coast Bulletin. "There was no support, there was no safeguard."

Now, Kelly's family want answers as to why the system was unable to protect her, despite the evidence that her ex-husband posed such a risk — and they are pursuing an inquest to find out.

Kelly's murderer, Brian Earl Johnston, was formerly a US marine, and had previously been charged with breaching a domestic violence order and his bail conditions. 


Police say Brian tied up his 27-year-old ex-wife before setting her alight.

His former co-worker Bradley Bell was also charged with murder in July 2021 for allegedly providing assistance that was instrumental in the crime. The 28-year-old man is accused of driving Brian to a petrol station to obtain fuel before the pair drove to the victim's home. Bradley's case is due to be mentioned in the Supreme Court in March.

Kelly's murder sparked community outrage, as she had sought domestic violence protection from her ex-husband in the weeks before her death. Queensland Police said she had contacted them on at least three separate occasions and even got domestic violence support workers to reiterate her fears before her death.

At the time, she was the third Queensland woman to die after allegedly being set on fire by an abusive partner in the space of 12 months.

Kelly's father, Reg Wilkinson, described his daughter's death as "totally preventable".

"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," he said to Today.

"I've done a lot of crying. It doesn't get easier. I'm trying to understand how someone could do this sort of thing. It's beyond my comprehension."


Kelly's loved ones have since set up The Kelly Wilkinson Foundation, a maternal wrap-around service aimed at restoring normality for secondary victims of DV and easing the financial burden for families caring for them.

Kelly's sister Danielle took in Kelly's three children at the ages of eight, six and two.

Danielle, who also has five children of her own with husband Rhys, wrote: "Kelly's untimely passing has left an indelible mark on our lives and inspired us to take action in supporting other families who have faced similar heart-wrenching circumstances."


Last year, their local community rallied together and helped raise funds for the family, and construction began on their new home, which will now comfortably fit them all.

"It's so heart-warming to see that people are really stepping up to help our family. It's a fresh start for our family, a space for them to go outside and to have quiet time. We're planning on putting a garden with sunflowers in for Kel. A space for them to just care, be with her, and start fresh," she told Today.

"It's difficult. The more time that goes by, it's really hard. We miss Kel dearly."

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a Queensland-based organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence. If you would like to support their mission to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, you can donate here

Feature Image: Supplied.

This article was originally published on February 14, 2024, and has since been updated.