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Arrest Made in 1988 Murder of Gay American Chased Off Sydney Cliff

Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson's death was initially ruled a suicide.

An arrest has been made in the case of a gay man killed over 30 years ago.

Police in the Australian state of New South Wales have charged a 49-year-old man with the murder of Scott Johnson, an American living in Sydney who was 27 at the time he died on December 8, 1988.

The suspect, who was questioned at his home in the suburbs of Australia's largest city, will appear Wednesday in court and has been refused bail, the Associated Press reports. His name has not been disclosed.

Johnson's body was found at the base of a cliff in Sydney. He had moved to Australia to be with his partner and was a doctoral student in mathematics at Australian National University in Canberra.

Since then, there have been three inquests into Johnson's demise. The first, in 1988, found his death to be a suicide. However, his brother Steve Johnson eventually called for the case to be reopened. A 2012 inquest reversed the original verdict of suicide but left open the possibility that Scott Johnson's death was accidental. In 2017, the coroner for New South Wales, the state that includes Sydney, ruled unequivocally that he "died as a result of a gay hate attack."

Authorities offered 1 million Australian dollars (the equivalent of $720,000 in the U.S.) for information that could lead to an arrest, an amount that was matched by Johnson's family.

Now that a suspect has been arrested, Steve Johnson grieved that his wife and children "never got to know their uncle," but hopes the arrest offers some comfort to the loved ones of other hate-crime victims.

"He courageously lived his life as he wanted to," Steve Johnson told the AP. "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 door to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths of men who have not yet received justice."

The cliffs where Scott Johnson died 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 at times beat, raped, or robbed the men, sometimes chasing them off the cliffs. Police later admitted the crimes had not been investigated adequately.

"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."

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