true crime

In 1988, Scott's death was declared a 'suicide'. Today, a man was arrested for his murder.

On December 10, 1988, 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.

But today, 32 years after his death, NSW Police has announced that a man has been arrested by detectives in relation to Scott Johnson’s murder.

NSW Police explained that following lengthy investigations, “detectives arrested a 49-year-old man” in Sydney’s Lane Cove at 8:30 am on Tuesday, May 12. A search warrant was subsequently executed at a nearby home.

The man was taken to Chatswood Police Station, where charges are expected to be brought against him later today. Furthermore, police have today began a forensic search at North Head, where Scott Johnson died.

Commissioner Fuller says he personally notified Scott’s brother, Steve Johnson, who lives in the United States.

“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,” the Commissioner said on Tuesday.

“While we have a long way to go in the legal process, it must be acknowledged that if it wasn’t for the determination of the Johnson family, which inspired me and the Strike Force Welsford team – led by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

It comes after a third inquest in 2017 led to then-state coroner Michael Barnes finding 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.


A team of detectives were then assigned to investigate the circumstances of Scott’s death.

In December 2018, 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.

“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 news today follows two police investigations and three coronial inquests into the case over the past 30 years. In 1989, a coronial inquest found Scott had died by suicide, with another inquest in June 2012 declaring an open finding. As mentioned, the third inquest in 2017 found that Scott had died from a gay hate crime.

In June 2018, 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.

Sign up for the “Mamamia Daily” newsletter. Get across the stories women are talking about today.