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Sydney Man Arrested for 1988 Murder of American Gay Man

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 1, 2021

An Australian man has been arrested for the 1988 murder of an American gay man in Sydney, Daily Mail reports.

Scott White, age 49, was arrested in May 2020 after police received a tip. White has pled not guilty to the murder of Scott Johnson, who was found naked at the bottom of a cliff with his clothes neatly folded in a pile at the top.

A 1989 inquest ruled Johnson's death a suicide. A second inquest in 2012 could not determine the cause, while a third inquest in 2017 ruled Johnson had been killed in a homophobic hate crime.

The third inquest determined that Johnson fell from a cliff in Manly, a popular beach front in Sydney, "as a result of actual or threatened violence" by an unidentified attacker who perceived Johnson as gay.

Initially, police offered a $1 million reward. The reward was later doubled to $2 million with the additional money offered by Johnson's brother Steve, an American tech entrepreneur, who said after White's arrest, "this is a very emotional day."

Steve Johnson arrived in Sydney 36 hours after learning of his brother's death, telling ABC's Australian Story, "it was clear when I got to the police station, the Manly police station, that the police already assumed it was a suicide. And I said, 'impossible.' He'd just finished his PhD that he'd been working on for five years." He hired investigative journalists, lawyers, and more — dubbing themselves "team Scott" — in order to solve his brother's murder. The team followed several leads, one of which was whether Blue Fish Point, a secluded area near Manly and Shelley beaches, was a gay cruising area.

Steve said the arrest of his brother's alleged killer is important for both his family and the larger gay community, saying "Scott had come to symbolize the many dozens of other gay men who lost their lives in the 1980s and 90s.

"Times have changed... all of us deserve equal protection and justice under the law."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.