‘Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?’ by Kathryn McMaster

Who Killed Little Johnny Gill
Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? A Victorian True Crime Murder Mystery

Bradford, late December 1888. Young Johnny Gill leaves his loving family to help milkman William Barrett on his daily round. As his mother Mary Ann bids the lad goodbye, she has no idea she’ll never see her son alive again. When the boy fails to come home at the usual time, his parents become concerned, and though they search the boy’s regular haunts around Manningham, it isn’t until early on the Saturday morning, only a few yards from their house, that his body is finally found.

The killer’s modus operandi bears a marked resemblance to that of recent murders in Whitechapel – a dismembered body drained of blood, intestines draped around the victim’s neck. Gathering witness testimonies, the police soon notice inconsistencies in William Barrett’s version of events and cart him off to gaol, but even while the suspect languishes in custody, the 23-year-old appears strangely unconcerned at his situation. Could the quiet and unassuming Barrett really be the murderer – a clever, scheming sociopath – or is Jack the Ripper at large in Bradford? With conflicting testimonies and taunting letters purporting to be from the Ripper himself, the jury face a drawn-out trial that’s far from simple.

In this fictionalised version of the murder, Kathryn McMaster brings to life the day-to-day reality of the people of Manningham, as well as capably portraying the distress of the Gill family, the difficulties and mistakes in the police investigation and the way public support swayed between the grieving family and the prime suspect. Though at times rather gruesome, the author takes an impartial viewpoint in this fascinating account of one of England’s most brutal and sadistic killings.

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