The mystery of a gay man’s death in 1988 has finally been solved after another man admitted pushing him off a cliff.
Scott Johnson, 27, was a US citizen who went to Australia to study for his math doctorate and be with his Australian partner, Michael Noone. His body was found at the foot of cliffs at Manly’s North Head Beach, outside Sydney.
Police were quick to dismiss his death as a suicide. However, Scott’s friends and family never believed this to be the case.
Related: US man offers $660,000 to find killer of his gay brother in Australia
His brother, in particular, fought for over three decades to find those responsible for what had happened. Steve Johnson has paid over AUS$1million ($660,000) of his own money on private investigations into what happened to Scott. He knew his brother as a “proud” gay man, and the area in which he died was a gay cruising spot, where other men had been victims of hate-related crimes.
In 2020, Steve pledged an additional AUS$1million ($660,000) reward to anyone who might come forward with information. This matched a figure already on offer from cops. That AUS$2million bounty reawakened interest in the cold case.
An informant tipped off the police, which led to the arrest of a suspect.
Related: Police arrest suspect in 30 year old case of murder of a gay man
In May 2021, Scott White, 49, was charged with the killing of Johnson. He denied the charges.
This week, White changed his story and admitted his guilt. The admission came Monday but was only revealed today after his lawyers unsuccessfully argued he wasn’t fit to make the admission.
At the time White was arrested, Steve Johnson said his brother was not the only unsolved hate crime from the time: “Scott had come to symbolise the many dozens of other gay men who lost their lives in the 1980s and 90s.”
Speaking to the press today after White’s admission of guilt was made public, Steve said, “I think primarily I’m feeling relief and I am thinking about my brother and that a lot of people cared about him to bring this result today,” reports ABC.
He described his brother as a brilliant mathematician, happy to have finished his doctorate, and as someone who, “could get a job at any university in the world.”
“[We’re] greatly relieved that the accused found it in his soul to confess and plead guilty and put an end to this, so I’m very happy about that.”
White will be sentenced on May 2.
There is a good Australian police drama that covers the many murders of gay men in the 80s and 90s in that area. Called “Deep Water”.
Deepwater is a good watch, but only loosely based on the cases. Watch “The Real Deepwater” which is the actual documentary. I think it is on Amazon. It is especially telling that as late as 2016 the NSW police refused to admit that they botched this investigation and would not call it anything but a suicide. That was in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. And as an added horror, the NSW police had an undercover gang of officers that were caught bashing gays and were never disciplined. I lived in Sydney in 90-91 and it is no wonder we all hated the police. I was harassed one night by an officer who accused me of being a prostitute (I had stopped to talk to an older friend on the street while walking home from an ice cream shop, cone in hand) and threatened to beat the sht out of me. He only backed off when I identified myself as an American.
Wow. With an atmosphere like that the killers operated with total impunity. No wonder they were so brazen about it. I’m sure they cops at the time gave them a wink of approval.
Thanks, charlietex — available via Amazon Prime Video.
Deep Water: The Real Story — Eighty murders, thirty unsolved cases, thousands of assaults. In the 80s and 90s, a murderous, violent epidemic grips Sydney. The attackers are united by contempt and their targets; by their sexual identities. This is the story of how a wave of vicious crime engulfed a community but was invisible to most: a tale of police ineptitude, bungled investigations and a society riddled by homophobia.
Directors Amanda Blue
Starring Shane Brown, Dr. Allan Cala, David McMahon
Genres LGBTQ, Documentary
@chrisk that’s exactly right. When the cops themselves weren’t the bashers, they did nothing about it. One of the murderers was positively identified and they didn’t even bring him in for questioning. They never investigated half the murders. They just called them suicides and closed the books. They destroyed evidence and had secretly recorded confessions that they never acted on. They were complicit.
If it weren’t for this American wanting the truth about what happened to his brother, this case would never have been solved. Fortunately he had them money and the persistence to make it happen. But there are tens and maybe hundreds who never faced any consequences.
The documentary is excellent with several compelling interviews, including from victims. And I’m still waiting to hear what the police there have done about police accountability. It’s not like it’s any better in the U.S. or elsewhere though.
Steve Johnson gets “Brother of the DECADE!”
Good for him for persevering this long to get justice for his brother.
I remember this case from a long time ago and remember how the brother said he was going to pursue the matter if it took him the rest of his life. So happy that he got what he sought and fought for for so long. But I’m sad he even had to do it.
He was 15 when he murdered him.
My family lost a gay uncle to “suicide” in the 90’s in Seattle, but he had been stabbed repeatedly to death in his bathtub. We always suspected murder, but the family was too ashamed to push the investigators. The most we did was get the police to change the cause of death from “suicide” to “undetermined”.
I have such happy childhood memories of the 90’s, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for gay men. Not only did the government not care about the HIV/AIDS epidemic killing the gay community, but they didn’t even care about murders of gay people. A world where everyone wants you dead was what Straight people purposefully tried to create.
I couldn’t be prouder that we have overcome the silence and the Closet to make today better than yesterday, and to make tomorrow better than today
Also back then it it was legal to murder gay men. Just say they made you feel uncomfortable aka the gay panic defense and any jury would let them off easily.
Such a hideous time back then. Many of the same shitheads are still there today but it is getting better as they die off and society moves towards equality.
Chrisk – The hatred of gays will never die off. There are new haters born every minute. And some are gay themselves.
The good ol days weren’t that good, the great Obama was right. Thank God we had a president who supported gay marriage. And before the trolls start, Obama came out for gay marriage BEFORE he was elected a second term. Brave
And we can thank Uncle Joe for doing it first! Sometimes Joe’s mistakes are actually quite useful.
Obama was ALWAYS pro gay, his “questioning” period was to keep the evil republicans from destroying his campaign because of his pro gay ideas. Republicans would use gay against Obama and keep him from winning the election, because they did not want a pro gay President.
Three murders are haunting to me to this day. They, at least 2, occurred in the 80s. One I believe was in the 90s.
A teacher who used ASL and signed at his church picked up a guy from an adult bookstore/theater. I knew the teacher through my gay cousin, lovely man. He was murdered.
A guy met a man through cruising, I believe. He was strangled, had the word “f*g” carved in his abdomen and set ablaze. Still unsolved.
A guy I knew from a bar, he and his partner were driving in a cruisy area. A man with a gun approached their truck. He shot the partner in the head killing him, got in the truck and had the guy I knew drive around with his dead lover next to him. Never solved.
We do have a friend, very fortunate, slashed so awfully, he drove himself to the hospital bleeding profusely. He luckily made it to have over 200 stitches.
Wtf is wrong with people? It’s monstrous. They were very carefully taught and had psychopathy obviously.
Its not only gay and lesbian haters but some gays themselves who are dangerous. I was in a relationship that started off great in every respect. After a few months living together everything turned violent. He stabbed me in the back collapsing my lung and then became angry I wasn’t walking fast enough from where he parked to the entrance of the ER. Why didn’t I leave? I did on several occasions only to have him seek me out and physically force me to come back to him. Thankfully, I ended up in the hospital again and was transferred to another facility and he never found me. I lived in fear many years he would find me. However one night my current lover and I were eating in a restaurant not far from where this person lived when I met him. I looked at my lover and stated;” you know if ***** walks in here right now I’m going to get up and beat the shit out of him.” My lover replied with a huge smile on his face; ” I’ve been waiting a long time to hear that.”
this was an excellent docudrama.
As an older out gay man, I tear up with the death/ murders of any of us, and it is still happening, to us around the world let alone in ? countries you would think safe
Goes anybody remember the case of the ‘doodler’ from the mid 70’s This guy met his victims in various San Francisco gay bars lured them back to his place and after drawing their caricactures, stabbed them many times and left the victims for dead. One guy a German tourist survived yet the SFPD never caught the bastard. Who knows if the creep us still alive today. And there was the case of Andrew Cunnanan who murdered Gianni Versacci who trolled San Francsico’s gay bars in the 1990’s and there are sadly many more cases like this
After moving back from Australia, I lived in DC. I had two gay friends murdered there. One was killed by a serial killer he picked up in a bar. The other was killed in his apartment. That one was never solved.
And even today, there are jurisdictions where the gay panic defense is still effective.
There is a sizable section of right wing America that would like nothing more than to make our lives illegal again.
After the NSW Government Parliamentary Committee was set up it has finally been announced that there will be a Judicial Inquiry to these hate crimes/murders and hopefully bring the offenders to justice. . For more details see the Star Observer issue in November and also there is a Greg Callaghan podcast called Bondi Badlands which is very well done and informative on this grim history.