Between 1976 and 2000, there were 88 deaths that police in New South Wales, Australia were considering reclassifying as antigay hate crimes.
Now they have.
According to The New York Times, police officials claimed teenage gangs in Sydney were hunting 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: 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.
Related: “Take Your Pants Off”: Cops Investigate Bizarre Hate Crime Video
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.
Earlier this year, his brother Steve continually put pressure on authorities to investigate the crime as a murder. 28 years later, a new inquest finally overturned the original finding of suicide, but coroners still reached no conclusion regarding the death.
That all changed this week, almost 30 years after Johnson’s body was discovered lying at the bottom of a cliff in Sydney: a coroner ultimately concluded Johnson was the victim of a hate crime.
It was the third inquest into his death since 1989. The first ruled his death a suicide; a second requested police open his case back up as evidence surfaced that gangs had been attacking homosexual men.
Earlier this year, 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.”
Related: Gay man went out to make new friends, wound up left for dead in suspected hate crime
“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.”
In a statement released Thursday, The New South Wales police claimed they’d
“conducted an exhaustive investigation over the past four years and presented all available evidence… Any new information provided to police relating to the circumstances of Mr. Johnson’s death will be thoroughly investigated.”
“It was anguishing losing Scott,” Steve Walker tells The New York Times. “Now I know his final moments were filled with terror, and that’s just like living it all over again.”
I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not. I remember a time when skinheads with baseball bats would hunt gay men down and beat the crap out of them in the gay village on a Saturday night. Cops did nothing to stop it. If you called to report the assault they laughed and hung up. Or they’d be the ones doing the bashing. Times are changing, but there’s still a lot of hate in the world.
Reminds me of the Russian gangs going around hunting gay men and filming it today. Today’s Russia is of that era.
I know suicide might be hard for the family to accept, but leaving his things (particularly the cash) neatly at the top of the cliff doesn’t seem like something kids out to commit a hate crime would do.
I have to agree with you; especially given the premise that they would not have been sought after by the police for this crime. Doesn’t make sense they would try to cover anything up if they didn’t need to.
@am_psi – You have missed the point of the article. Likely, similar logic to yours was used to determine suicide as the cause of death, initially. The point is, a coroner has “ultimately concluded Johnson was the victim of a hate crime”. A coroner is not going to make that determination simply to appease a family member unwilling to accept a relative’s official cause of death.
As many people are pointing out in these comments, gay-bashing was not uncommon in the ’70s and ’80; not even in a gay haven like San Francisco. A lot of people lost loved ones under murky circumstances. Some of those people may finally get the truth.
Notice how two of Mo Bros screenames are on here immediately trying to give cover to bigots that murdered multiple gay men?
Hey Mo Bro, I get that you’re here to shill for Republicans, but you REALLY give away the fact that you are a hired anti-LGBT troll when you’re on here trying to lie to cover up the fact that multiple lgbts were murdered by pretending that the multiple examples of new evidence found don’t exist.
Oh, and it’s cute that Mo Bro’s new screename “Knight” is right there trying to aid you.
It’s funny that they always seem to agree with each other isn’t it. They appeared around the same time with the same politics.
@Mmmrrrggglll: I’m not saying there were no murders, I’m just pointing out that the particulars of this case would make me think it was a suicide, especially if the supposed perpetrators were under the impression that the police weren’t going to give it a lot of attention. I doubt if a bunch of thugs are going to go to all the trouble of making him strip and then neatly arrange his belongs, leaving behind untraceable cash. If the police aren’t going to care why not just take his cash (and maybe his watch) and then chuck him off the cliff? I’m sure many more people jump to their deaths fully clothed rather than stripping beforehand, so the chances of it being ruled a suicide (or an accident) would be about the same..
@ChrisK & @DCguy: I don’t know about other people, but I only have one login name on this or any site, usually containing my initials and a pic of my ugly mug (see left). Mainly you can find my comments under ALM-76 on Disqus because that’s what most sites use now. If I have a strong enough opinion about something to want to leave a comment it tends to be unpopular or at least not what everybody else is already saying in the thread. I don’t need validation of my own opinions, certainly not enough to have to create a second id just to agree with myself. I know it might be hard to believe but there’s going to be more than one person among the 7 billion on the planet that don’t agree with your point of view.
Actually, I might just disagree with DC guy on this. Knight is a religious nut and I don’t see any of your posts containing that. I do think there are a few conservative trolls that have multiple sock puppet accounts so the paranoia is justified.
Then again I’m not on this site that much and maybe DC guy knows something I don’t. Lol
@am_psi – To be fair, I heard about this case some time ago and my reaction at the time was similar to yours now. However, the article is clear, regardless of your opinion (or mine), a coroner “ultimately concluded Johnson was the victim of a hate crime”. That is a fact (if, as reported, it is true – and we should assume so). Neither your opinion nor mine are facts.
As an fyi, I “googled around” and found that the area where this crime occurred was a well-known gay cruising spot. Also, the gentleman of concern was reported to be in good spirits due to recent successes in his life. Is it not possible he may have removed his clothes in anticipation of a sexual encounter and was then waylaid? I think this is the argument that has been made all along, which has been ignored for nearly 30 years, and has lately been upheld as the truth by “a coroner”.
@Mmmrrrggglll: How many people strip totally naked (including their watch) when cruising? It’s been a few decades, but as I recall that was always more of a “pants around your ankles” type of affair. I would think that would go double in an area with an actively hostile police force.
@am_psi – Ok, I don’t do this back and forth generally, especially when I have no vested interest or even feel the need to be proven right, so this will be the last I have to say on the topic. I initially responded to your post, because what you wrote struck a chord with me. I thought the same thing as you when I first heard of this case. I came to realize that opinion, right or wrong, is not relevant to this article. The point is the official manner of death has been changed from suicide to homicide 30 years on. Neither your opinions nor mine are relevant to that fact. Now, if you want to make the argument that you believe changing the manner of death was inappropriate or even flat out wrong, I believe you would be on surer ground – as far as relevancy is concerned. However, I think justifying that belief goes way beyond merely stating that suicide is hard to accept. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say acceptance of suicide (or lack thereof) has nothing whatsoever to do with a public official making a change to a public record with information such as the manner of death.
Your original post is an opinion that is irrelevant in this matter. Your comment denigrates public discourse by willfully ignoring the facts, positing belief as truth and distorting the topic at hand with misdirection. In short, it is not helpful.
I lived in Sydney at the period of these deaths,and it was common knowledge among the gay community that these were murders by gangs of youths. The police at the time were openly homophobic and there was no effort to solve these crimes.
Poor guys. I can’t find the right words…It’s horrifying, revolting and so unfair.
What a karma for the (young) killers.
New South Wales is the least gay-friendly state in Australia. It had the highest no vote in the recent same-sex marriage survey.
Gee Jaxton that must have been a two minute google search to get that disjointed tid bit from the tabloids. I bet you didn’t research it to find out why that might have been. Yes there was a high No vote but no it is not the most homophobic state in Australia. Do your research.
That’s because NSW has the largest number of first generation immigrants who grew up in countries with very homophobic culture.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the murders of gay people were dismissed as unworthy of being investigated not just in Australia but also throughout much of the U.S. and Western Europe.
New South Wales voted no to gay marriage in higher numbers than any other state. Kind of disproves the GLBTQ propaganda that New South Wales and its capital Sydney are gay-friendly, doesn’t it?
In higher NUMBERS…..yes, because it’s also the most populous state in Australia.
Isn’t it horrible living a world that hates you for who you are.. The stress of it. Now imagine if you can’t hide who you are. We are living in a time when hate is on the rise. It starts with the most obvious who are hated then expands to rest of us. We can sit back and watch because it’s not us this time or we can speak up now before it is our turn.
Australian TV did a great 4 part Crime drama based on these murders called “Deep Water”. The pressure this added may have forced the investigation a bit wider open.
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