In Dark Slice of History, Teens Forced Gay Men Off Cliffs

Australian police now probing deaths from as long ago as 1976
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2017 2:43 PM CST
Updated Feb 1, 2017 4:03 AM CST
In Dark Slice of History, Teens Forced Gay Men Off Cliffs
Cliffs at Manly are shown. Johnson's body was found Dec. 10, 1988, at the bottom of the North Head cliffs in Manly.   (Getty Images / LeniseOrmsby)

For nearly two decades, Scott Johnson's death had been labeled a suicide. The 27-year-old's naked body was found Dec. 10, 1988, on a cliff overlooking Sydney's northern beaches, with his clothes folded above. His brother didn't buy it, and in 2005 he developed an alternate theory: An inquest that year reviewed three other cliff deaths from around the same period, and determined there was a good chance they were murders. Upon learning "there were three other cases of gay men that died at cliff sides that had probably been attacked by marauding teen gangs, I collapsed," Steve Johnson told WCVB last month. And, perhaps, not without reason. The New York Times reports Australian officials are now acknowledging that teen gangs attacked gay men for sport in the '80s and '90s, and did force some over cliffs—with relative impunity.

New South Wales police are reviewing 88 deaths—about 30 unsolved—going as far back as 1976 to see if they qualify as anti-gay hate crimes. In parallel, a third coroner's inquest into Johnson's death is underway; the second, in 2012, removed suicide as his cause of death. Australia's ABC points out the only other time a third such inquest has occurred in Australia was with the case of Azaria Chamberlain, the baby taken by a dingo. Johnson, called a brilliant mathematician by those who knew him, had been working on his PhD at Australian National University in Canberra at the time of his death. The Australian notes that the inquest, which will resume in June, heard from two people in December who say Johnson referenced suicide in conversations with them. But the Times notes Johnson's PhD supervisor told the inquest that on the day he was last seen Johnson came to him "happy," sharing a major breakthrough he had made in his work. (Read more unsolved mystery stories.)

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