In a turn of events that will grab the attention of lovers of ‘cold case’ murder investigation documentaries, NSW detectives have charged a man in connection with a Sydney murder that has remained unsolved for 32 years.
The arrest relates to the 1988 death of Scott Johnson, an American resident of Australia, who fell from a cliff in suspicious circumstances.
The death of Johnson, an openly gay man, has been the subject of three coronial inquests. Initially it was concluded that he had committed suicide. But subsequently the second returned an open finding.
There was then a third inquest and the coroner found that Johnson was the victim of a gay-hate crime and fell off a cliff as a result of actual or threatened violence.
Rewards announced as case is pursued with vigour
Police have investigated the case for years, but without success. There has been ongoing speculation around ‘queer bashing’ that was allegedly carried out by gangs of young men at the time.
There were also allegations that soldiers training at a nearby military base were involved in similar anti-gay activities.
In 2018, the NSW Government posted a $1-million reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of Johnson’s killer or killers. Then, in March 2020, the victim’s brother, Steve Johnson, doubled the reward to $2-million.
Suspect charged and will appear on Wednesday
In the new twist to the case, a 49-year-old man was arrested at Lane Cove on Sydney’s north shore on the morning of Tuesday, 12 May.
Police then searched a nearby home and the man was taken to a local police station, where he was charged and will appear at Parramatta Local Court on Wednesday, 13 May. He has been refused bail.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller praised the Johnson family for their determination, which he said ‘inspired’ his officers in their investigation.
“Making that phone call this morning (to Scott Johnson’s brother) is a career highlight. Steve has fought so hard for so many years and it has been an honour to be part of his fight for justice,” Fuller said.
Hopes that families of other murdered gay men ‘find solace’
Steve Johnson, who lives in the US, has subsequently released his own statement in which he thanked the NSW police and Fuller, who had promised to investigate the death as a homicide after the third inquest.
“I hope the friends and families of the other dozens of gay men who lost their lives find solace in what’s happened today,” he said. “And I hope it opens the door to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths, of men who have not yet received justice.”
Steve Johnson’s full video statement on YouTube can be seen here: