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Reward Offered in Probe of Gay Man Chased Off Australian Cliff

Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson was one of many gay and bi men believed to have been thrown off a cliff near Sydney.

Police in Australia are offering a reward of AU$1 million (the equivalent of $720,000 in the U.S.) for information that will lead them to the killer of Scott Johnson, a gay man forced off a cliff 30 years ago.

The reward, announced Sunday, is 10 times what was previously offered, The New York Times reports.

Johnson was 27 when he died December 8, 1988. His body was found at the base of a cliff in Sydney. He was an American who had moved to Australia to be with his partner and was a doctoral student in mathematics at Australian National University in Canberra.

The cliffs were known to be a gathering spot for gay men, several of whom were killed by being pushed or otherwise forced off the cliffs by groups of young people in the 1980s and '90s. The attackers sometimes beat, raped, or robbed the men, sometimes chasing them off the cliffs. Police later admitted the crimes had not been investigated adequately.

Johnson's death was initially ruled a suicide. His brother, Steve, eventually called for the case to be reopened. A 2012 inquest reversed the original verdict of suicide but left open the possibility that Johnson's death was accidental. But last year the coroner for New South Wales, the state that includes Sydney, ruled unequivocally that he "died as a result of a gay hate attack."

"I have never believed Scott killed himself," Steve Johnson, a technology entrepreneur, wrote in The Advocate in 2014. "Scott was one of his generation's brightest academic stars, with a promising future. He was out to our family and living happily in Australia with his Australian partner. The day before he went missing, he had received news that he had finished the final proof for his mathematics Ph.D -- a day for celebration, not suicide."

Police have reopened the investigation, and they expect the increased reward will spur witnesses to offer information. "Scott's death is possibly one of the most challenging investigations I've seen -- and it's believed one of the greatest hindrances has been an unwillingness for witnesses to come forward," Mick Fuller, the police commissioner for New South Wales, told the Times.

Steve Johnson said he was "very encouraged" by the reward. "The million-dollar reward is speaking to the community that the police are taking this seriously and they need people's help," he told the paper.

Scott Johnson was a highly intelligent man who "just effortlessly understood things," his brother said. "He was also the most modest person I've ever known." Steve Johnson added that he thinks Scott's killers are still alive and probably residing in Sydney.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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