Mother-of-three Kelly Wilkinson (left) was found dead with burns to her body in the backyard of a Gold Coast home on Tuesday morning. Her ex-husband Brian Johnston (right) has been charged with her alleged murder
A shell-shocked neighbour of the woman allegedly set alight by her ex-husband has revealed the harrowing moment he found her body – and her three children crying on the front driveway.
The neighbour, who would only give his first name ‘Benny’, said Kelly Wilkinson’s alleged attacker, an ex-U.S. army marine who is now in hospital under police guard, had previously described his fear of being ‘kicked out’ of Australia.
Kelly, 27, had sought a police restraining order against Brian Earl Johnston, 34, before her body was discovered in the back yard of her Arundel, Gold Coast home in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Johnston has been charged with his wife’s alleged murder and breaching a bail condition.
On Wednesday Benny told Daily Mail Australia he often spoke to Johnston when he was still living at the Spikes Court address with Kelly and the three children.
‘The last time I spoke to him, I backed out one day and I saw him in the yard and wound down the window and asked, ‘How are you going Brian?’ He said, ‘I’m getting kicked out.
‘He mentioned there was the chance of him being deported so in hindsight he was in a bad mental state.
‘Now I think I should have hopped out of the car and had a chat to him.’
Local resident Louise Christy sunk to her knees outside the Arundel crime scene on Wednesday afternoon to mourn Ms Wilkinson. Neighbours reported seeing a ‘huge fireball’
Ms Christy broke down (left) to grieve the loss of Ms Wilkinson, a 27-year-old mother of three and was visibly emotional while speaking to media about the tragedy (right)
Benny recalled the moment yesterday when his wife heard the explosion in the backyard of the house next door.
‘There was a huge eruption of a fireball in the backyard,’ he said. ‘My wife heard it. I have hearing aids and didn’t hear a thing.
‘We raced through our garage and there are the three kids on the driveway next door.
‘The children were totally distraught, one of them was in a nappy.
There was a huge eruption of a fireball in the backyard
‘My wife said, I’ll take the kids, you go. I went through the house and out the back and saw this huge fireball.
‘I went around the corner of the house looking for the hose because I thought the house was on fire.
‘The neighbour at the back came with a hose too and it wasn’t until we got the fire down that I saw there was a body in there. I rang the police straight away and waited in the driveaway until they came, which happened quickly.
‘We brought the kids inside. We have a room in there for our grandchildren and the two older children came in and upended the Lego container.
Ex-U.S. Marine and Ohio native Brian Johnston moved to Australia and told a fellow veteran friend he ‘had no one’ there
The couple holding one of their children during a holiday in the US. Johnston (right) is in a serious condition under police guard at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital
‘We fed them, clothed them, and then child safety arrived to take them.
‘We still have their dog Riley in our backyard.’
Police said they had found a melted red plastic jerry can, three knives and duct tape in the backyard of the house.
Benny said the family had been at the house for about 18 months but Brian’s dual cab ute had recently not been seen at the property.
‘He was a normal guy, he loved to talk, sometimes I had to tell him to go home,’ said Benny.
‘We never saw or heard arguments or anything so it was strange. But he was obviously distressed.’
Benny said Johnston had established a successful business on the Gold Coast as a marine hydraulic engineer, even fixing one of the Victorian cruisers that had attempted to evade Queensland’s border closure during the height of the pandemic.
Benny, a retiree, said he saw Kelly walking her kids to school every morning and afternoon, bringing along their youngest in a pram.
‘She didn’t drive. I think they’ve got her a car and her mother was giving her driving lessons before she [the mother] passed away in February.
‘He actually came over and told me that the mother-in-law had died.’
Alleged killer’s ‘worrying’ call to friend
Daily Mail Australia can reveal Johnston served two tours of duty in Iraq with the aviation division of the US Marine Corps – but did not see combat.
A fellow marine said he last spoke to the alleged killer about three weeks ago in a call where he expressed concerns about his life in Australia.
‘Last time I talked to Brian his biggest fear was he had nobody in Australia but his wife and kids,’ the friend said.
‘All his family was in Ohio and she (his wife) was making accusations against him.
‘He told me he was living in his office and didn’t know what to do.’
Pictured: A family photo of Ms Wilkinson from 2016 showing her smiling during a trip to Niagara Falls
The friend said Johnston had met his wife in Ohio after his time in the military and he understood they had separated.
‘Brian was struggling with the fact Kelly did not want to be with him,’ the friend continued.
‘He only expressed concerns about how much he missed Kelly and his kids and they were everything to him.
‘He said they were all he had over there. My concern was making sure he knew it would be OK and he was strong enough to get through all this (the separation).’
The friend said he was struggling to come to terms with the allegations against his mate.
Alleged killer’s family in mysterious GoFundMe
Kelly Wilkinson’s body was discovered in the back yard of her Arundel home on the Gold Coast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Police were called to her home at 6.40am after reports of an explosion and screams coming from the home.
Johnston was found two blocks away on a front lawn in a ‘semiconscious state’. He was charged with murder on Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s alleged attack came seven years after the couple shared photos of their wedding, surrounded by their loved ones.
The estranged couple on their wedding day. Ms Wilkinson’s mother Karen died in February in a tragic double blow for the family
Other photos showed Mr Johnston holding one of their children next to Ms. Wilkinson during a holiday in the US, and Ms Wilkinson smiling during a trip to Niagara Falls.
Ms Wilkinson’s mother Karen, who died in February in a tragic double blow for the family, had also shared images on Facebook of her daughter and her young family visiting his native Ohio.
On April 6, exactly two weeks before the alleged murder, Mr Johnston’s sister Kelly Kruft created the ‘Help Brian and his Children’ GoFundMe page.
‘I’m Kelly, Brian’s sister. This is all I know to do to help my brother currently since he is in Australia! He needs our help! Please and Thank you! God Bless,’ was the only message on the fundraiser, which did not say why he needed help.
A day after creating the crowdfunding page, which featured a photo of Johnston’s three children, Ms Kruft took to Facebook to plead for donations.
‘We are asking for your help and most definitely your prayers please! I can’t go into details currently but Brian needs his family and friends!!!!’ she wrote.
On Tuesday night, Ms Wilkinson’s heartbroken sister Danielle Carroll lashed out at Ms Kruft for posting about the fundraiser.
Ms Kruft took down her Facebook page late on Tuesday night after being bombarded with thousands of abusive messages directed to her brother, but the GoFundMe page is still active.
Ms Wilkinson’s body was found in the backyard of her Gold Coast home early on Tuesday morning
Police were called to the area at 6:40am and immediately cordoned off the street
The house where police say Johnston was found unconscious with burns to his hands and airways
A separate GoFundMe was created by Ms Wilkinson’s sister Natalie on Tuesday afternoon asking for help in paying for the funeral of her ‘beautiful angel’.
‘Unfortunately Kelly has passed away… we are trying to raise money to pay for the funeral, the kids schooling and all other costs,’ she wrote on the page.
The GoFundMe has already seen donations totalling more than $50,000 in less than a day.
Ms Wilkinson’s sister asked for friends and family to ‘help the children’ through the difficult period.
Several people responded to Ms Wilkinson’s sister’s post, expressing their condolences and devastation at the news.
Det. Insp. Ahern said he did not know if the man was the father of the children and could not comment as to whether he was known to police for earlier domestic violence incidents
Police examined bins in Spikes Court in case the man had left anything as he fled the scene
‘Thinking of you and your family,’ one friend replied.
‘Oh babe… my heart reaches out to you all… If u need anything we are only a call away,’ another said.
‘I am so so so sorry Natalie,’ another said.
Johnston was formally refused bail during a brief mention at Southport Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
His solicitor Chris Hannay said Johnston was expected to apply for Supreme Court bail in the coming months.
Mr Hannay said outside court that he had met with Johnstone on Sunday, less than 48 hours before he allegedly attacked and murdered Ms Wilkinson.
‘On Sunday, I got some instructions from him in relation to some other fairly serious matters that he has been charged with, and I haven’t spoken to him since,’ Mr Hannay said.
Johnstone did not appear distressed or agitated for the weekend conference, Mr Hannay said.
‘Obviously, no one expected this to happen, but everyone thought that they were just chugging along as a normal process.’