Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

He's just seven years old. He's your son. You wave goodbye to him one morning and then he disappears into the swirling English fog. Gone. Gone forever.

Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? is an historical crime fiction murder mystery, based on a true story that took place in Bradford, England during the Victorian era. In December, 1888, several days after Christmas, seven-year-old John is seen off by his mother at her front door as he gets into the milk cart with William Barrett, a local milkman who has just recently been employed in this capacity by the dairy company in nearby Manningham Lane. This is the last time his mother will see him alive.

Without giving too much away, John Gill is found dead and horribly mutilated a few days later. He is so badly mutilated in fact, that the injuries are considered to be on a par with those of Mary Jane Kelly. Her murder was said to have been committed by Jack the Ripper in the Whitechapel district of London.

Chief Constable James Withers of the Bradford Police Force has the unenviable task of trying to establish if Jack the Ripper is involved or whether William Barrett is the killer, in whose company John Gill was last seen.

The problem with John Gill’s murder for James Withers and his team is enormous. Every bit of evidence that is gathered has been compromised in some way, and he starts losing hope that there will ever be a successful conviction.

There is also a possibility that Jack the Ripper could have travelled up from London to Bradford to commit the dreadful deed. After all, a letter was written on January 15, 1889, supposedly by Jack the Ripper, stating, “I ripped up a little boy in Bradford.” And another was sent the following day, “I am still in London after my trip to Bradford.”

Suspicion also falls on the recently formed occult group in Bradford during October of that year, called the Horus Temple. They are a chapter of the Order of the Golden Dawn that regularly meets at a local Bradford hotel. This is a group that invites the already infamous Alistair Crowley to their inaugural meeting. Were they guilty of performing human sacrifices, and was Johnny Gill one of their victims?

It also does not escape the notice of one of the detectives that Johnny Gill has been killed on Innocent’s Day, a religious day commemorating the slaughter of male children at the hand of King Herod. In addition, the body is discovered just meters from his home. Was this a place that was carefully chosen by someone with local knowledge to shock and upset?

The book provides a window into the world of the poor during the Industrial Revolution. It explores the dark side of human nature and how a sociopath manages to create murder and mayhem, and who always seems to be one step ahead of Chief Constable Withers and his men.

The reader is taken on a roller-coaster of emotions as they are swept along with compassion for the parents and having high hopes for the detectives to successfully bring the criminal to justice. However, in 1888, police procedures and knowledge of forensic science are rudimentary. Juries are also exposed to persuasive newspaper reports and public opinion. But, there is also a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence mounting by the hour.

Will justice prevail, or will the guilty walk free?

“Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?” is a page-turning murder mystery that has been well-received to date, reaching the best seller status on the UK Amazon site within the first week of its release.

How I Discovered the Story

I first came across this story on Wikipedia, listed as one of the worst murders in England’s history. I was fascinated right from the start, but even more surprised to find that very little had been written about the murder. There were discussions in forums, a blog post or two, and several authors had included the story in a collection of short stories. But no one had ever dedicated a complete book to the murder. The more I read about the story in old newspaper articles and on the internet, the more I felt drawn to the story. I finally felt compelled to write this book in order to honor John Gill’s memory, and that of the Gill family.


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Kathryn McMaster is the pseudonym for Kathryn Bax. McMaster is a family name and Kathryn is very proud of her Scottish ancestry. She writes from her small farm in Italy where she now lives, after retiring from education having worked in the field for more than 30 years.

She started off her career after receiving a double degree in English Literature and Psychology from the University of Natal, Durban, followed by a teacher’s diploma the following year. After getting married, she followed her cost engineer husband around the globe living in South Africa, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, where she taught English as a Second Language to adults in the Oil and Gas industry after successfully completing a TESOL diploma from Trinity College, London.

However, Kathryn never lost her interest in Psychology, and over the years completed a course in Criminal Profiling and also embarked on a Masters in Forensic Science, specializing in Investigation.

She has now hung up her travelling shoes and immerses herself fulltime in her writing. She is currently researching her second novel based on the triple murders at sea aboard the Herbert Fuller in 1896. Learn more at kathrynmcmaster.com.

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