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Man charged with murder of gay American in Sydney after 32 years

Man charged with murder of gay American in Sydney after 32 years

  • But Scott Johnson was just one of the unsolved deaths and disappearances during an ‘epidemic of violence’.
Scott Johnson.

Australian police have charged a man with the murder of a gay American in Sydney almost 32 years after his death.

This week New South Wales police charged the 49-year-old man with the murder of Scott Johnson who died in December 1988.

Meanwhile the LGBT+ community is calling for the police to investigate more unsolved deaths and disappearances of gay men and transgender women from the 70s to the 90s.

The current arrest and murder follows a three-decade long quest for justice by LGBT+ people and Scott Johnson’s family.

Long quest for justice for Scott Johnson

US-born mathematician, Scott Johnson, 27, was living in Sydney at the time of his death in 1988. He’d moved to the city to complete his PhD and be with his partner, Michael Noone.

But he died after falling from a beach cliff top at a gay cruising spot.

Scott’s naked body was found floating in the water at Blue Fish Point, near Manly’s North Head, Sydney on 10 December, 1988. His clothes were at the top of the cliff above.

A botched police investigation at the time ruled he took his own life. But three subsequent coroners’ inquests disagreed with police findings. Then, in 2017, a new inquest ruled Scott had died in a homophobic attack.

NSW Coroner Michael Barnes ruled it was ‘highly unlikely’ he died by suicide.

Police now agree he died ‘as a result of actual or threatened violence’ because he was gay.

In March this year, Steve Johnson added AU$1million (US$643,000 €595,000) to the reward to find justice for his brother. That brought the reward total up to AU$2million.

Speaking about the arrest, Steve Johnson said:

‘I hope the friends and families of the other dozens of gay men who lost their lives find solace in what’s happened today and hope it opens the door to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths of men who have not yet received justice.’

The New South Wales police have not revealed if they will now pay any reward.

However, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said he was pleased to finally be able to tell Steve Johnson about the arrest:

Making that phone call this morning is a career highlight. Steve has fought so hard for so many years, and it has been an honour be part of his fight for justice.

‘Epidemic of violence’

ACON, an LGBT+ group in the state, welcomed the arrest. However, they want the police to investigate more unsolved deaths and disappearances.

Police believe 27 men were likely murdered for their homosexuality between 1976 and 2000. A report says cases peaked in the late 1980s and early 90s.

ACON said: ‘The deaths and disappearances of gay men and transgender women and the epidemic of violence in Sydney and NSW during the 1970s to 1990s has left a traumatic legacy.

‘There were dozens more cases from this time and many remain unsolved leaving dozens of families and loved ones without answers or resolution.’