New $1 million reward offered over Scott Johnson’s gay hate killing at Sydney cliffs
Scott Johnson’s death off North Head was initially considered a suicide. (Supplied: Johnson family)
Police are offering a $1 million reward for information on the death of American mathematician Scott Johnson, almost 30 years to the day after he died during a gay hate attack.
- Scott’s death is among a spate of unsolved gay hate crimes police are investigating
- There have been two police investigations and three coronial inquests into his death
- Police hope the reward will prompt someone to come forward with new information
The 27-year-old’s naked body was found at the base of Manly’s North Head — a known gay beat — on December 10, 1988.
After authorities for years thought the death a suicide, state coroner Michael Barnes last year ruled that Mr Johnson was the victim of a gay hate attack, and that he was either pushed or fell to his death while trying to escape one or more attackers.
NSW Police Commission Mick Fuller today announced the reward would be paid for information that led to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Mr Johnson’s death.
“It’s horrendous to believe that these people are still out in our community existing, living free, while Scott has died a terrible death some years ago,” he said.
“If you know something, if you know who committed this crime, and if you know who was at the scene at the time, there is $1 million on the table to get to the bottom of the truth.”
Mr Johnson’s older brother Steve, who travelled from the United States for the media conference, said the timing of the reward made it a “solemn day”.
“After 30 years I can finally say, Scott, the police are keen to find your killers,” he said.
“Scott, you may not be resting comfortably this week but you have a voice.”
Steve Johnson, who has pushed for justice for decades, said Scott had loved Australia and the people but “unfortunately like many other gay men in the 1980s, he got tragically unlucky”.
‘We should all be embarrassed’
The reward follows two police investigations and three coronial inquests into the case.
The inquests uncovered a reluctance by police to investigate gay crimes at that time, with the initial police investigation and inquest concluding Mr Johnson died by suicide.
Reports later emerged of several deaths at a clifftop gay beat at Bondi, and the final inquest heard that a group of Narrabeen skinheads had bragged about assaulting an “American faggot” around the same time Mr Johnson had died.
The inquest was also told that soldiers at the Army School of Artillery at North Head used to brag about attacking gay men and considered it “fun and games”.
Steve Johnson looks over the cliffs at North Head in Manly, where his brother Scott Johnson plunged to his death in 1988. (Lateline: Emma Alberici)
Earlier this year, NSW Police released the final report into Strike Force Parrabell, which reviewed 86 deaths of gay men between 1976 and 2000.
Of those deaths, 23 remain unsolved, including Scott Johnson’s.
Commissioner Fuller acknowledged the initial police investigation into Mr Johnson’s death reflected community attitudes at the time.
He hoped that changing attitudes towards the LGBTQI community would prompt someone to come forward with fresh information.
“Back in the 80s — if you look at the information that came out of the inquest that Coroner Barnes held and the gay bashing of young men — we should all be embarrassed about that time,” he said.
“And every decade before that it got worse and worse.
“There are many who are embarrassed because they were potentially part of a terrible criminal act, that they were out looking for gay men to bash them on a Friday and Saturday night.”
Steve Johnson said he hoped the reward and fresh investigation would become a model for other unsolved deaths.
“For Scott’s sake, for the sake of all the other gay men who died, for the sake of our community, please tell us what you know.”