Between 1976 and 2000, there were 88 deaths that police in New South Wales, Australia are considering reclassifying as antigay hate crimes.
According to The New York Times, police officials claim teenage gangs in Sydney would hunt gay men for sport, sometimes pushing them off cliffs to their deaths.
These gangs were young men and occasionally women who prowled around for potential victims to harass. But initial investigations were often “perfunctory,” since, at the time, the police held openly hostile views of gay men.
One such case is the death of Scott Johnson (pictured) in 1988, an American citizen whose body was found at the foot of a cliff in Sydney, in an area notorious for suicides.
At the top of the cliff, Johnson’s clothes were discovered folded neatly in a pile alongside his watch, student ID, and a $10 bill. The overall consensus was that Johnson had killed himself.
His brother Steve continually put pressure on authorities to investigate the crime as a murder, and 28 years later, a new inquest finally overturned the original finding of suicide, but coroners still reached no conclusion regarding the death.
Last month, Steve Johnson told WCVB that upon discovering “there were three other cases of gay men that died at cliff sides that had probably been attacked by marauding teen gangs, I collapsed.”
There will be new evidence heard in June, and Steve Johnson hopes it will inspire other investigations into these deaths, regardless of the outcome.
“There was clearly a pattern to these deaths,” says Margaret Sheil, whose brother Peter was also found dead at the base of a cliff in 1983.
Today, it is extraordinary to think that we would not have had an open discussion about what happened. And if we had, it might have prevented it happening to someone else.
“We can now see that predators were attacking gay men,” says Ted Pickering, the police minister for New South Wales in the ’80s.
“And they were doing it with the almost-certain knowledge that the police would not have gone after them. That was the police culture of the day.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Tomsen, a criminologist at Western Sydney University, doesn’t think the review is any sort of adequate response.
“It may be tempting for the police to concentrate on merely relabeling crimes rather than doing fresh detective work to solve them,” he says.