Sydney Cliff Deaths: 88 Cases To Be Possibly Reclassified As Anti-Gay Murders

A new inquest into a death of a man visiting Australia nearly three decades ago may lead to police reclassifying his and 87 other Sydney cliff deaths as anti-gay hate crimes.

The naked, battered body of openly gay mathematician Scott Johnson, 27, was initially discovered at the bottom of a cliff near North Head Sanctuary in Melbourne’s Sydney Harbor on December 10, 1988, by a teenage fisherman on a spearheading mission, the New York Times explains. Johnson’s clothes and belongings, including a digital watch, his student ID, and a $10 bill, were said to have been located inside of a plastic covering somewhere above the rocky region where his body was located. It was assumed by both medical officials and a corner that the matter of death had been suicide.

“Fatal leaps from the cliffs around Sydney into the fierce sea below were not uncommon,” the NYT reports adds, “then or now.”

sydney cliff death
The body of gay mathematician Scott Johnson, 27, was located at the bottom of a cliff near North Head Sanctuary in Sydney on December 10, 1988. [Image by NSW Police]

Almost from the outset, the outcome of the investigation into Johnson’s Sydney cliff death was one that his family, including his older brother Steve, was never truly comfortable with mostly due to what was going on in Scott’s personal world on the day his life ended.

“He was a brilliant, idealistic young man,” Steve shared with ABC News last December. “The day he died, he had just finished the final proof for his math Ph.D. He had just gotten off the phone with his professor who had congratulated him.”

Additionally, those who were close with Scott say that despite a previous rumored suicide attempt (a former lover from Australia once claimed that Johnson tried to leap from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in the early 80s, so says ABC News Australia), he was not a depressed or negative person, which made the ruling of his death all the more confusing. Beginning a year after his passing, family members implored police to open up a second inquest into his death, but the coroner refused to rescind his findings, legally blocking the Johnsons from properly uncovering the truth.

Now, more than 28 years later and millions of dollars spent by Steve, a former technician for AOL, to start his own look into the sad matter of his brother’s passing, police on the continent now believe that Steve may have been a victim of a wave of anti-gay hate crimes that were carried out by homophobic gang members.


In 2005, after reading about the findings of 87 other gay men who were reportedly either pushed or coerced to their deaths by teenage members of a loosely-aligned group that targeted “gay beat” areas — places where gay men often congregate in secret — Johnson began using his own funds to launch his own investigation into Scott’s untimely passing. In 2012, the suicide ruling was officially overturned, but the coroner still would only allude to the possibility that Scott’s passing wasn’t one by his own making.

“During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Australian authorities say [that] gangs of teenagers in Sydney hunted gay men for sport,” the Times piece expresses, “sometimes forcing them off the cliffs to their deaths. But the police, many of whom had a reputation for hostility toward gay men, often carried out perfunctory investigations that overlooked the possibility of homicide, former officials and police officers say.”

The final arrest in connection with the anti-gay Sydney cliff deaths occurred in 2013, with no other seizures of criminal associated with such crimes occurring since. Additionally, Sydney police cannot publicly comment on open investigations, which means that for the time being, Johnson’s family is still waiting to learn if Scott was one of the many men whose Sydney cliff death was actually murder.

“This was my brother, the person I was closest to, my soul mate,” Steve remarked during the start of the latest Sydney death cliff inquest into Scott’s passing last December, while also sharing that his brother was planning to make Australia his permanent home for the sake of his then-lover. “He had no reason to be stressed or unhappy.”

[Featured Image by RStelmach/iStock]