Scott Johnson | Sydney Morning Herald | 14161
Scott Johnson, 27, naked body found at base of North Head near Manly, December 9, 1988. Police announced $100,000 reward in February 2013 after coroner overturned original finding of suicide.
“It was an epidemic,” says Sue Thompson, a lawyer and the former NSW Police Force gay liaison co-ordinator. The epidemic extended to the Manly cliff-tops and the northern beaches and regional NSW, and might add up to almost 80 murders. “Tragically, in those cliff-top murders – often officially called suicides or accidents – the teenage bashing gangs were the experts and police the amateurs. It is time to right that wrong.”
Thompson worked with Steve McCann and Steve Page, two homicide squad detectives who exposed the flaws in the original police investigations that found John Russell, 31, and a 25-year-old television newsreader Ross Warren fell accidentally to their deaths from the Bondi-Tamarama cliffs. In 2005, the then deputy state coroner Jacqueline Milledge found they were murdered and condemned the original investigations as “lacklustre” and “grossly inadequate and shameful”.
During her 12 years in the gay liaison role, Thompson used police intelligence data to record 46 gay-hate murders in NSW between 1989 and 1999. The criminologist Stephen Tomsen supported that with his finding of 50 between 1985 and 1995. These statistics, as sensational as they were, never made big headlines. And they didn’t go close to accounting for the full scale of the gay-hate murder rampage.
Thompson and Tomsen’s tally of close to 80 cases spans from the late 1970s to the 90s. Almost 30 of them remain unsolved. Secret police tapes captured teenagers convicted of killing one man boasting about their involvement in dozens of other gay bashings, but it was not enough evidence to charge them with a single other attack. Former detective-sergeant Steve Page, now in corporate security, says society would not have accepted so many unexplained killings of women, children, teachers or doctors. “We dropped the ball,” he says. But now the gay-hate gangs are approaching middle age. “They’ve been living with the guilt. A few of them might want to relieve that burden and give these poor families some answers.”
Sydney Police issued this statement: “A number of these deaths were investigated by Strike Force Taradale and briefs put before the coroner, whose role it is to determine the cause of death. Investigations into the death of Scott Johnson are being reviewed by the unsolved homicide team. If anyone has any information that could assist police in any of these matters they should contact Crime Stoppers.”