explainer

Australia was shocked by the death of Kelly Wilkinson. Within days, there were two more.

The following contains details of domestic abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.

This afternoon, the Gold Coast community will farewell Kelly Wilkinson, whose burned corpse was found in her own backyard last week. 

Police say Ms Wilkinson’s three children, all under the age of nine, likely witnessed her death. Two blocks away from the murder scene, the 27-year-old’s estranged husband, 34-year-old Brian Earl Johnston, was found semi-conscious with burn injuries. 

He has since been charged with her murder, breaching a domestic violence order and breaching bail conditions for other serious charges. 

Reg Wilkinson, her father, told 7News his daughter’s death was “totally preventable”. Gold Coast police also confirmed it was their “failure” that they did not do more to protect the young mother when she asked for help. 

Ms Wilkinson’s callous death shocked the local community and the country, not only for its brutality but also because of its parallels to the death of Hannah Clarke, who last year was burned alive by her estranged husband alongside her three children who also died.Hannah Clarke, on the left, was killed last February along with her three children. Kelly Wilkinson, on the right, was killed last week allegedly at the hands of her estranged husband. Images: Facebook. 

The similarities are stark: Two young mothers, set alight by their estranged husbands who broke domestic violence orders to allegedly murder them in front of their respective three children, in the state of Queensland. Ms Wilkinson’s children did not die, unlike Ms Clarke’s, but they will no doubt be scarred by what they woke up to that Tuesday morning. 

In the days since Ms Wilkinson’s death, two more women and a child have died in domestic and family violence incidents in Australia.  

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On Wednesday afternoon, 38-year-old Henry Shepherdson jumped off a tourist attraction in South Australia with his daughter strapped to his chest. He was found dead at the base of the Whispering Wall, while the baby girl died about 15 minutes after.  

Her name was Kobi Shepherdson. She was nine months old. South Australia police have confirmed it was a murder-suicide.

Court documents show there is a history of Shepherdson committing domestic violence crimes against Kobi and her mother. 

In fact, according to The Advertiser, the father appeared in the Adelaide Magistrates Court just hours before the murder-suicide, seeking permission to have contact with his family. He had been banned from contacting or being within 200 metres of his family after he was arrested for domestic violence-related offending last December.

In a heartfelt post on Facebook, Kobi's aunt Leisa Shepherdson Casey paid tribute to her niece. 

"We are completely devastated. My heart is heavy and my tears are dry, robbed in the most cruellest way of my beautiful niece Kobi," she wrote. "Auntie Leis loves you little poppet. You'll be forever in my heart."

Kobi was nine months old when she was killed by her father last Wednesday. Image: South Australia Police.

Then, on Friday, news broke of another murder-suicide. Within four days, it was the third fatal incident of family and domestic violence.

At 10.20am on Friday, officers were called for a welfare check to a unit in the suburb of Labrador, Gold Coast. 

There, the body of a 53-year-old man was immediately found and the body of a 48-year-old woman was later discovered in a furniture chest inside the apartment.  

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Police believe the woman died at least a week prior, while the man died more recently, they said. 

“There is some indication of the male person being responsible for the death of the female person,” Gold Coast District Detective Inspector Chris Ahearn said on Saturday. “We believe she’s been murdered at this stage. There’s some suggestion to point toward that.”

Police added that the woman suffered a medical condition and that her male partner of 10 years was also her carer. 

“It’s a tragic event, we’re pouring substantial resources into our investigation of it because we are intent on getting answers into how and why these two people have died,” Inspector Ahearn said.

Watch: The hidden numbers of women and violence in Australia. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

The three fatal incidents point to the emergency of the epidemic that is family and domestic violence. 

In Australia, one woman is killed by violence every week. Plus, the pandemic has seen an increase in both the prevalence and severity of domestic violence in this country, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology

This afternoon, as a community grieves the loss of an innocent 27-year-old mother, Australia ought to remember that Kelly Wilkinson’s death is not an isolated incident.

Even amidst the pandemic, there is an epidemic of vicious domestic violence against women and children across the land, and the results are tragic. 

If this post brings up 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. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.