Australia

Man arrested over 1988 murder of Scott Johnson

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A man has been arrested by homicide detectives investigating the murder of Scott Johnson, whose body was located near Manly’s North Head more than 30 years ago. The arrest comes after an initial police investigation in 1989 concluded the 27-year-old American mathematician had committed suicide.The body of Mr Johnson was found at the base of…

A man has been arrested by homicide detectives investigating the murder of Scott Johnson, whose body was located near Manly’s North Head more than 30 years ago.

The arrest comes after an initial police investigation in 1989 concluded the 27-year-old American mathematician had committed suicide.

The body of Mr Johnson was found at the base of a cliff at Blue Fish Point on the morning of Saturday, December 10 1988.

A second inquest in June 2012 returning an open finding.

The matter was referred for a third inquest and, in 2017, the then-NSW Coroner Michael Barnes found that Mr Johnson fell from the cliff top as a result of a “gay-hate attack”.

Following the inquest, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller met with Scott’s brother, Steve Johnson, to discuss the case.

A specialist team of detectives under Strike Force Welsford were then selected to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr Johnson’s death.

In March lead investigator Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans confirmed the investigations had narrowed in on a “particular individual” after a $1 million reward was offered in 2018.

The amount was then increased to $2 million in March when Steve agreed to match it.

The Strike Force Welsford detectives arrested a 49-year-old man at Lane Cove about 8.30 this morning. A search warrant was then executed at a nearby home.

The man has been taken to Chatswood Police Station and charges are expected to be laid later today.

Police have also begun a forensic search at North Head this morning, which they expect to complete in a number of hours.

Comm Fuller said he had personally notified Steve, who lives in the US, of today’s developments.

“Making that phone call this morning is a career highlight – Steve has fought so hard for so many years, and it has been an honour to be part of his fight for justice,” the Comm said.

“While we have a long way to go in the legal process, it must be acknowledged that if it wasn’t for the determination of the Johnson family, which inspired me and the Strike Force Welsford team – led by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

In a statement, Steve said it was an emotional day for his family and said his brother had symbolised those who lost their lives due to homophobia-inspired violence. He thanked NSW Police for their work over the years.

“It’s emotional for me, emotional for my family, my two sisters and brother who loved Scott dearly, my wife and three kids who never got to know their uncle,” he said.

“(They didn’t have the chance to) admire him because of his brilliance but also because he courageously lived his life as he wanted to.

“I hope the friends and families of the other dozens of gay men who lost their lives find solace in what’s happened today and hope it opens the doors to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths of men who have not yet received justice.”

A 2018 police review of 88 suspicious deaths between 1976 and 2000 revealed 27 men were likely murdered for their homosexuality, with cases peaking in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

– With AAP

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