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Police are looking into a spate of unsolved ‘gay hate’ killings after 32 year search for Scott Johnson killer ends in arrest

Lily Wakefield May 19, 2020
Gay man Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson. (Justice For Scott Facebook page)

Police are looking into a spate of unsolved Sydney “gay hate” killings, after a man was finally charged with the murder of US student Scott Johnson.

In 1988, Johnson’s body was found naked at the bottom of a cliff in New South Wales.

His death was initially ruled a suicide, but after the tireless campaigning of his family, a 2018 coroner’s inquest ruled that he had likely died as a result of a gay hate crime.

Finally, 32 years after his death, Scott Price, 49, was arrested at his home in Sydney and charged with Johnson’s murder May 12.

Arrest in Scott Johnson murder investigation has ignited hope for further convictions.

Scott Johnson was not alone. It has been estimated that around 80 gay men were murdered in Sydney by homophobic gangs, with many pushed off cliffs, around the same time.

According to the Star Observer, New South Wales police assistant commissioner Tony Crandell said that there are still at least 23 unsolved murders that took place in well-known coastal gay beats near Sydney, spanning from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Many of them were initially ruled suicides or accidents, as institutional homophobia blocked further investigation.

He said that after the breakthrough in Johnson’s case, he was hopeful that more information on the unsolved murders would come to light.

Scott Price was arrested at his home in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12, charged with the murder of Scott Johnson in 1988.
Scott Price was arrested at his home in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12, charged with the murder of Scott Johnson in 1988. (NSW Police Force/ Twitter)

Crandell said: “There are other cases… that we attribute to gay hate crime [that] have not been solved.

“Ross Warren [and] John Russell are two cases that come to mind.

“I’m very hopeful that cases like this reverberate through the community and we can get more information. We need more information in order to pursue these cases.

“As the Commissioner said, they are not closed, they are not frozen. We will work on them. Anybody out there who committed such offences should be looking over their shoulder.”

Ross Warren disappeared in 1989. His killer is still at large.

Ross Warren was a newsreader in Wollongong who disappeared in 1989. His car keys were found on a rock ledge below a cliff at Marks Park, Tamarama, which was a gay beat at the time.

It was initially decided that he had staged his own death, and later that he had fallen into the sea, as his body was never found.

It was not until 2005 that Jacqueline Milledge, then the New South Wales deputy coroner, said she believed he was “a victim of homicide”.

Last year, the state’s Upper House committee found that at the time of Warren’s disappearance, police chose to “sideline” the investigation.

Ross Warren disappeared in 1989. (NSW Police)

John Russell, a barman, was found dead in 1989, on a clifftop in the same park where Warren’s keys were discovered.

In 2015, police issued a $100,000 for information leading to a conviction. His death is now considered a “possible gay-hate crime”.

Other unsolved cases thought to have been homophobic murders include Gilles Mattain, 27, who was also last seen walking along the coast at Tamarama, and Cyril Olsen, who was assaulted and fell into Sydney Harbour in 1992.

Police commissioner says authorities will “never give up”.

New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller apologised last week for the “mistakes of the past” in investigating the deaths and disappearances of gay men.

He said: “Please don’t underestimate how one small piece of the puzzle can lead police to solve some of the most terrible crimes in our state’s history.

“The NSW police force will never give up… There is no such thing as an unsolved crime.”

More: arrest, Australia, cliff, deaths, disappearances, gay hate, investigation, murders, New South Wales, police, Scott Johnson, unsolved

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