In 1988, 27-year-old Scott Johnson was a promising mathematician completing his doctorate.
On the morning of December 10 of that year, Johnson’s naked body was found by two fishermen and one of their sons at the bottom of a cliff in Manly. His death was ruled to be a ‘suicide’.
Thirty years, two police investigations and three coronial inquests later, it was found that Johnson’s death was the result of a gay hate attack. Even in the face of hard evidence that Johnson was likely murdered, the NSW Police Force continued to run a suicide narrative at the third inquest in 2017.
Johnson’s brother, Steve Johnson, spent years lobbying for a reopening of the cold case.
During the 2017 inquest, a witness relayed how they heard a group of men known as the Narrabeen Skinheads bragging about bashing an “American f—-t” they had found naked at the very spot Johnson was found dead, and on the a Friday night during that December in 1988, according to the ABC.
Johnson’s death was one of what is believed to be hundreds of suspicious deaths of transgender people and gay men between the years of 1976 and 2000.
Another high-profile case is that of WIN television newsreader Ross Warren. The 25-year-old rising star was last seen driving along Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, on July 22, 1989. His keys were found by friends on a rock at the base of a cliff at Tamarama's Marks Park, a popular gay beat of the time. His car was found nearby. His body was never recovered.
Warren's mother petitioned the NSW Police Force to investigate but her many letters were ignored until, several years later, a well-meaning police officer, Steve Page, started digging. Page's work led to a coronial inquiry in which Deputy State Coroner Jacqueline Milledge commented on the lack of police investigation into Warren's disappearance. Ms Milledge determined that Warren was likely murdered, his body lost to the sea.
While Sydney has a reputation for being one of the global meccas of the LGBTI community, its dark underbelly of gay hate crimes reveals a scar that has never healed. For hundreds of friends, partners and family members of victims, what happened to their loved ones remains unknown and, too often, these deaths were ruled as suicides.