One foggy morning, just a few days after Christmas, John Gill's mother waves goodbye to her eldest son that morning with no idea that this will be the last time she will see him. Johnny doesn't come home for his lunch and his mother starts to worry about him. The family search frantically for him for three days and nights. They search Manningham, and wider Bradford until someone finds him early on the Saturday morning, just meters from their home. His little body has been hacked up, drained of blood, thoroughly washed, his organs displaced and his intestines are draped around his neck eerily similar to the murders that have been happening in London done by Jack the Ripper. Several letters were sent by Jack stating that he would murder a little boy soon. After the murder another letter was sent stating that he had been up to Bradford. However, was this murder committed by the infamous Jack the Ripper? There are other clues involving Masonic rituals found in a local house at the same time of Johnny's death that point to the possibility that it was. And yet, William Barrett was the last one to see Johnny. The modus operandi could well be a copy-cat murder. In addition, William Barrett isn't saying much.
"Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?" is a fictionalised account of the true murder of a young boy in Bradford, England that is still considered today to be one of the worst British murders in England, despite the fact that it occurred in 1888 of Victorian Times. After the author presents the facts of this fascination English crime fiction novel, will you think William Barrett is innocent? Well, you will have to read the book to find out for yourself.
This time round I wanted to read something a bit different. Browsing through my TBR pile I came across 'Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?' by Kathryn McMaster, a book I had wanted to read for a long time, so I decided now it was time I picked it up.
This book is based on a true horrific story, the brutal murder of a young boy that had taken place in Victorian Bradford, at the time when Jack the Ripper was causing havoc in London.
"Johnny Gill! You come back this minute an' put your coat on. Are you wanting to cop your death out there?"
Little did Johnny's mum, Mary Anne, know how terribly predictive her last words to her son would be. That would be the last time she sees him alive. Johnny was a lovely boy with golden locks and blue eyes. Not yet eight years old, he loved nothing more than spending his mornings with William Barrett on his cart as he completed his daily milk rounds around town. In fact many children enjoyed these adventurous trips. Barrett loved these kids too.
However on 27th December 1888 Johnny failed to return home. Where did he go? What happened to him? He never wandered around town without his mother's consent. Distraught, his parents and their friends desperately search everywhere for the boy, without success. But two days later, Mary Ann's worst fears are confirmed when the savagely mutilated body of Johnny is found very near his own home. Who killed little Johnny Gill? Who could carry out such a horrific deed on his small body? Why?
Chief Constable James Withers takes on this investigation that has sent shockwaves rippling through the whole country. Many suspect Jack the Ripper has come to town from London, but Withers doesn't think so. His prime suspect is Barrett, the last person to have seen Johnny alive. But was it really him? Could this young father who seemed to adore Johnny do such a horrible thing?
Well, I wasn't expecting to be so much engrossed by this story. I ended up devouring half the book in just one sitting, my tea turning cold and my belly grumbling as I skipped mealtime. I literally couldn't put it down. Reading through the many witness accounts and following the police sifting for clues, I wanted to find out who had killed and butchered Johnny and why. I wanted to make sure the killer gets the deserved punishment (hanging). The fact this was a true story made it all the more shocking, terrifying and sad.
It's evident this book required lots of research and I think the author has done an incredible job in reviving this story of which I had never heard. In the afterword the author states that she had retained all of the names of people and places making the story feel even more authentic. She also gives her opinion on the whole story. I agree with many of the aspects she points out. Thanks to her excellent writing, the author takes us back in time, vividly capturing life as it was back then in Bradford. I could clearly visualise the dark cobbled streets, the horse-drawn cabs, the stables, Johnny's parents' utter devastation, the judges and jury assembled in Town Hall. The author even included some original illustrations taken from old newspapers of the time depicting some of the scenes described in the book.
The second half of the book revolves around the court proceedings as Inspector Withers presented his case and lawyer John Craven defended William Barrett, hearing and interrogating all witnesses including the parents. Since we have quite a number of people mentioned, saying what they thought they've seen, I had to try and remember who was who. But was Barrett really the murderer or was he innocent?
For me this was an entirely absorbing read. I can't say it's an enjoyable book as the whole story is so horrific and disturbing, but it's also very faithful to true events and well written. If you love historical mysteries based on not so popular true murder stories, I highly recommend this book. Kathryn McMaster is an author to follow. I'm now looking forward to reading her newly published book, 'Blackmail, sex and lies' also based on a true (as yet unknown to me) story.
Kathryn McMaster is a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and champion of good indie authors. She co-owns One Stop Fiction (www.onestopfiction.com), where readers can download free and discounted 4 and 5 star review books. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her debut novel, "Who Killed Little Johnny Gill?" was very well received.
All her novels are based on true stories, and she melds fact with fiction, writing in the creative nonfiction style.
She lives on her 30 acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy.