true crime

Scott "fell" to his death 30 years ago. Then police realised there was more to the story.

It was December 10, 1988, when Scott Johnson’s naked body was found at the base of Manly’s North Head.

The talented mathematician was just 27 years old.

The PhD student, who was originally from the United States, was completing his doctorate in Sydney.

For years after his body was found, authorities thought Scott’s death was the result of a suicide.

Then, in 2017, state coroner Michael Barnes ruled that Scott was a 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.

On Sunday, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, announced a $1 million reward would be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Scott’s death.

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“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.”

The $1 million reward follows two police investigations and three coronial inquests into the case.

In June this year, a landmark review of 88 deaths in Sydney between 1976 and 2000 found that one third were gay hate crimes. In light of the Strike Force Parrabell findings, which took 10 criminal investigators and three years to collate, NSW Police have said they will consider issuing a formal apology.

Nicholas Stewart, Partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers and LGBTI Co-Chair of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, worked on a simultaneous report prepared by LGBTI health organisation ACON pro bono for three years.

Speaking to Mamamia at the time, Stewart said he believes the victims will finally get their apology.

“We really need an independent body to look at this period in our history and examine how police conducted themselves but also how the justice system intertwined,” he explained.

The question Stewart said he keeps coming back to is: “Why wasn’t more done?” and ultimately, he thinks he can answer it.

“It was just gay men being murdered and no one cared. Murders were written off as suicides or unexplained.”

Steve Johnson travelled to Australia to attend the press conference on the 30th anniversary of his younger brother’s death. He 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.”

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