My recent article ‘A journey into the ancient land of sun and ocean’ published by Curious explores Sydney as you’ve never known it before. Beyond the Opera House and Bondi beach, I strolled the trail From Manly to North Head. I immersed in the bushlands of native flora and fauna, beautiful towering cliffs decorated with sandstones and lapis lazuli ocean in the background.
This coastal track includes towering cliffs, magnificent headlands and historic military sites and is one of Sydney’s most spectacular. Walking along the beach arc towards the beautiful Shelly Beach. I began my walk to North Head. I walked uphill towards Shelly Beach parking lot and strolled through the bushland of Sydney Harbour National Park.
But in the beauty of the land, lies a terrible crime that once lurked in the dark history of Sydney. It is the murder of an American Scott Johnson. He was the victim of gay-hate crimes that happened in 1988. Scott Johnson was a few among other mysteries of possible gay-hate crimes that occurred in the 80s notoriously known as ‘poofter bashing’.
The 80s Sydney was nothing like today’s Sydney. People frequented pubs and bars. The cultural blend of the outdoorsy, alcohol and petrolhead thrived through Sydney’s streets. But the eighties are also the time when prejudice and judgment often ended up with unspeakable violence against the LGBTQ community. It was the darkest decade in Sydney history that often, the victims of violence and abuse never came up to surface due to the stigma.
The stigma and oppression of the LGBTQ community impacted on gay men to do their business underground, in some odd places. So the outdoor bushy spots were the hook-up place for gay men pre-internet era.
Scott Johnson was a bright, PhD student majored in mathematics at the University of Cambridge. At the time before his death, he almost finished his post-graduate degree. In 1986, out of a love interest, he moved to Sydney, Australia.
On December 10, 1988, a fisherman found the body of Scott Johnson, a 27-year-old American, near Manly’s bluefish point, known to many as the secret spot with the best ocean view in Manly accessible only during the low tide. Police initially claimed that his death was a case of suicide.
The Johnson’s brother, Steve, disputed the police claim and launched a campaign for decades-long to bring his brother to justice. Steve Johnson was known to have worked with his brother on the algorithm to make it possible to send photos over the internet. Steve Johnson sold the design to AOL that made him wealthy enough to back up the one million reward for anyone who had information to the prolonged mystery surrounding his brother’s death.
The first coronial inquest that the mathematician committed suicide. His brother Steve Johnson initially believed in the inquest. But it was the 1980s, and gay hate crimes in Sydney East had made Newspaper headlines. Thirty-two years later, the second inquest came unfruitful due to the impossibility to determine whether it was a murder, suicide, and misfortune event. His brother decided to dig in more into it.
The murder of Scott Johnson had kept in the dark for 32 years by his convicted murderer. Due to the lack of witness, and physical evidence, it took five years for police to admit that Scott Johnson was actually the victim of gay-hate crime. Scott White, 49 years old, was charged with the murder of Scott Johnson in May 2020. He was 18 years old when he met Scott Johnson in a hotel in Manly. He pushed Scott Johnson off the cliff.
NSW police had made terrible mistakes in investigating potential gay-hate crimes happened in the eighties. Under SBS investigation by a journalist Rick Feneley, NSW Police Force admitted they had made serious mistakes while reinvestigating gay-hate murders. 30 unsolved deaths have a strong connection to gay-hate crimes.