Australian Story to revisit suspicious death of maths genius
A dark part of Sydney’s recent past will be revisited with an episode of ABC TV’s Australian Story to take another look at the case of a visiting American maths genius who it is now believed was the victim of a gay-hate murder at the hands of a marauding gang of homophobes who terrorised gay beats on the city’s beachside cliffs.
Originally thought by police to be suicide, the body of Scott Johnson was found at the bottom of Blue Fish Point in Manly in December 1988, only two days after he had finished the last assignment for his PhD in mathematics.
It was only after a coroner’s hearing in 2004 concerning the suspicious deaths of a number of gay men at beats at cliffs overlooking Bondi Beach during the 1980s and 90s that alarm bells began ringing about similar incidents that took place in Sydney’s north. It is now believed there may have been several groups targeting gay men.
Johnson’s brother – who had in the time since Scott’s death become a wealthy internet pioneer – then hired eminent Newsweek journalist Daniel Glick and a retired NSW Police officer, John McNamara, to determine whether he had met a similar fate.
Glick made several trips from the US to Australia and uncovered compelling new evidence suggesting Johnson met with foul play, including testimony from a Dee Why man who had been attacked two years before in the same spot Johnson’s body was found.
Garry Wotherspoon, one of the city’s leading historians on gay culture and who has closely followed the beachside cliff killings for over two decades, told SX that Johnson’s death was seemingly part of a pattern of targeted attacks on vulnerable gay men using beats at a time when homosexuality had only recently been decriminalised.
“Using beats was not free from danger. While police harassment was one problem, the main danger was, and possibly still is, from groups of marauding youths, ‘poofter-bashers’, who often frequent beats and bash men they suspect of being homosexuals,” he said.
“But in the past, it was only rarely that details of this surfaced in the newspapers. Most often, any homosexual man so bashed would simply not report the matter to the police, since to do so would be to draw both unwanted attention to oneself, and unwanted questioning about what one was doing at such a place at such a time.”
It is believed William Allen, Richard Johnson, Raymond Keam, Gilles Jacques Mattaini, Kritchikorn Rattanajurathaporn, John Allen Russell, Wayne Tonks and newsreader Ross Warren were all victims of similar deadly violence on the cliffs overlooking Manly and Bondi and in several inner-city parks.
In June 2012 the NSW Coroner agreed to hold a new inquest into Johnson’s death, overturning the finding of suicide and bringing an open verdict with the matter now with the NSW Police Cold Case Unit.
If you have any information, contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 00.
Australian Story ‘On the Precipice’ airs on ABC1 at 8pm on Monday, February 11.