Police in New South Wales, Australia, are offering a $100,000 (Australian dollars, $102,500 ,€76,500) reward to anyone with information that will solve the mystery around the suspicious death of a gay man in Sydney 24 years ago.
American-born mathematician Scott Johnson was found dead on the rocks at the bottom of North Head, a scenic cliff at the start of Sydney harbor on 10 December 1988.
The first inquest in 1989 ruled suicide. This was never accepted by Johnson’s family. Johnson had no history of depression and was a successful academic on his way to achieving his doctorate from the Australian National University. He was also looking forward to meeting his newborn niece.
‘At this stage, it is not known whether Scott’s death is a result of suicide, misadventure or murder,’ Detective Acting Superintendent Chris Olen said.
‘With a lack of witnesses and physical evidence, this is a very challenging case. What we need is fresh information to help us solve this case and bring some closure to the Johnson family.’
Johnson’s brother, Steve Johnson, said his family were ‘incredibly gratified’ that the police are committed to investigating his brother’s death and that the NSW government are offering the reward.
‘We understand that police need to look at all the different scenarios, and support them in that effort,’ said Steve Johnson.
‘But we believe in our hearts that Scott was murdered in a hate crime because he was gay. Today we are pleading for people to come forward with any information they have about Scott’s death.’
Johnson’s body was found naked near a cruising area. His clothes were found neatly folded above the cliffs.
A 2004 investigation uncovered a pattern of homophobic violence in the late 80s and early 90s around Sydney’s southern shore but did not look at similar violence north of the harbor.
Steve Johnson has spoken to many gay men who were attacked in the area near where his brother’s body was found, including one who who survived a stabbing in 1986.
The family’s investigation provided enough evidence for a second inquest where NSW Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes said:
‘The possibilities that Mr Johnson was the victim of a gay hate crime similar to those that occurred in Bondi [Beach south of Sydney] or that he fell are also available explanations to the circumstances that surrounded his death.’
Rebecca Johnson, Scott’s sister, said in a statement:
‘Our brother was a gentle, intelligent, loving man. He came to Australia to live with his partner and study mathematics, and died on the day he should have been celebrating completion of his doctoral work. We lost a brilliant intellect and a beautiful person at much too young an age.’
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Michael Gallacher, said:
‘This family has lived for over two decades not knowing what happened to Mr Johnson. They deserve closure. Someone might have the key that unlocks this mystery.’
Anyone with any information they believe may shed light on the circumstances around Johnson’s death should call Australian Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.