With his clothes folded neatly into a pile and student I.D. left out along with other miscellaneous items, young gay teen Scott Johnson fell to his death from a cliff in Sydney, Australia. The year was 1988.
An area known to have high suicide rates, combined with police who had harsh views of gay people, left the case closed for decades. Thirty years later, it reopened with a coroner ruling Johnson’s death as a hate crime — and he may not be the only one.
According to the New York Times, police in the state of New South Wales are investigating the deaths of 88 men between 1976 and 2000 to determine if they were anti-gay hate crimes. Police say that a dozen of those men were either found at the bottoms of cliffs or at sea.
The Times reports that during the 1980s and 1990s killing gay men was allegedly a leisure sport that went unnoticed in Sydney. Police claim that gangs of both men and women would hunt gay men pushing them off of cliffs.
Gangs were able to get away with the crimes and cases were overlooked as being potential homicides due to Sydney’s history of having a hostile culture between the police and the gay community.
Currently, 30 cases remain unsolved and the killings haven’t been tied to gang relations.
“We can now see that predators were attacking gay men,” Ted Pickering, the police minister for New South Wales in the ’80s, told the Times. “And they were doing it with the almost-certain knowledge that the police would not have gone after them. That was the police culture of the day.”
Despite the lack of police involvement in most of these cases, families of the victims had their suspicions for quite some time.
Steve Johnson, 57, was confident that his brother’s death was no suicide, noting there were no signs of unhappiness when he passed.
“He would have been a first-round draft pick for any University in any part of the world,” his brother said according to The Times. “He had no reason to be stressed or unhappy. This was my brother, the person I was closest to, my soulmate.”
WIth the new evidence that has been brought by the current inquests, hopefully these men will get the justice that they rightfully deserve.