In 1986, Scott Johnson moved to Australia on a student visa to live with his partner. Two years later, his naked body was found at the bottom of the cliffs at North Head in Sydney. While his death was originally ruled a suicide, it didn’t quite add up. But this year, an inquest determined that Johnson was a victim of a rash of anti-gay hate crimes.
Unfortunately, while we now know the sad truth of how Johnson died, we don’t know the identity of his murderer. Coroner Michael Barnes ruled there was insufficient evidence to make an identification. Barnes said:
The inadequacy of the original investigation, the passage of time since the incident and the unreliability of many of the witnesses has made establishing the precise facts more difficult. Nonetheless, I am persuaded to the requisite standard that Scott died as a result of a gay-hate attack. There is however, insufficient reliable evidence to identify the perpetrators.
Johnson was only 27 when he was killed. North Head was a well-known cruising spot, and anti-gay attacks were unfortunately very common in Sydney during the late ’80s and early ’90s. In the inquest, Barnes heard evidence of gangs of gay bashers active in the North Head area.
There were also claims that a gang called the Narrabeen Skinheads had bragged about killing an “American faggot” around the time of Johnson’s death, however, those claims could not be corroborated. There were also claims that soldiers training at the nearby Army School of Artillery would also brag about gay bashing, considering it “fun and games.”
Scott Johnson’s older brother, Steve Johnson, has been instrumental in re-opening the case. Steve didn’t think Scott would have committed suicide. After all, the day before Scott met with his Ph.D advisor, having completed his Mathematics doctorate.
As part of the inquest, the coroner determined the New South Wales Police force did not adequately investigate deaths near “gay beats,” or known cruising areas.
Though we now know that Scott Johnson was murdered, the case is not over. Steve Johnson said:
The inquest produced many leads toward possible perpetrators that should still be pursued. And, in fact, the investigation that has happened until now has been primarily focused on proving the suicide theory, that originated with the police back in 1988. Now it’s time for a homicide investigation.
Featured image courtesy of the Johnson family