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There’s Been an Arrest for Murder in 1988 Case of Gay Man Who Fell to Death from Cliff

Police on Tuesday announced that they solved the 1988 death of American Scott Johnson, 27, in Australia. Detectives in New South Wales arrested Scott White, 49, for murder, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Officials say the motive was homophobia. Johnson was gay.

“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,” Commissioner Michael Fuller said in a statement.

Johnson was found dead at the base of a cliff at Blue Fish Point, police said. The area is an estimated half-hour drive northwest from Sydney, where the victim was based. An initial inquest in 1988 determined this was a suicide, but a second one in June 2012 was inconclusive, police said. Finally, in 2017, a coroner said that Johnson “fell from the cliff top as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they perceived him to be homosexual,” cops said.

That coroner, Michael Barnes, brought up reports of gangs committing homophobic assaults near where Johnson was discovered.

“I am persuaded to the requisite standard that Scott died as a result of a gay hate attack,” he said in 2017.

Fuller now says that Johnson’s family were let down for years.

“I do think the plight of young gay men in Sydney, and probably around the world, was a very difficult one and not only were they let down by police, they were let down by the community and probably the media,” he said.

Officers said they executed a search warrant at a nearby home after arresting the alleged killer. Fuller said that there is “certainly one witness” eligible for the $2 million reward on the defendant’s conviction, according to The Guardian. White did not apply for bail, and is next scheduled for court in July.

“He just said, ‘I’ve got two detectives on my case about a murder that happened in the ’80s,'” neighbor Natalie Walster told ABC. She said that he denied doing it.

Dozens of gay men were reportedly killed in Sydney at the end of the 20th century. Johnson’s family pushed for years to keep public and official attention on his death. The victim’s brother Steve supplied half of the reward.

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

[Screengrab via ABC]

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