One of Sydney’s longest standing murder mysteries has been solved after a man admitted to pushing a gay American mathematician off a cliff in 1988.
Scott White has admitted to murder more than 33 years after pushing mathematician Scott Johnson from a cliff in Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches.
White confessed on Monday but it was kept secret until now because his barrister unsuccessfully argued he wasn’t fit to make that admission.
Mr Johnson’s brother Steve had relentlessly pursued justice for his brother and reportedly spent up to $1million on an investigator to prove his death was the result of foul play.
Scott Johnson (pictured) was 27-years-old and had just finished his maths PhD when he was found at the bottom of cliffs in Manly
Speaking after the verdict, he said proving the death was a homicide ‘wasn’t easy’ but his faith had now been ‘restored’.
He added his brother was a ‘proud’ gay man and was his best friend.
‘[My brother] was brilliant, but more modest than he was brilliant, so you would never hear him say that,’ Steve Johnson said.
‘The last conversation we know he had was with his [university] professor … as far as his professor was concerned, my brother could get a job at any university in the world.’
Detectives stormed White’s Sydney apartment in May 2020 and arrested him for the crime after receiving a tip-off.
An original inquest in 1989 ruled the death was suicide, a second in 2012 could not confirm the cause, and a third inquest, however, ruled Mr Johnson was killed in a gay hate crime.
Detectives stormed the Lane Cove apartment of Scott White (pictured in handcuffs) in May 2020 and arrested him for the crime after receiving a tip-off from an informant
The third inquest in 2017 found that Mr Johnson fell from the cliff on Sydney’s northern beaches ‘as a result of actual or threatened violence’ by an unidentified attacker who perceived him to be gay.
This was followed by a $1million reward being offered by police for information which led to a conviction.
This was later doubled to $2million with the additional reward offered by Mr Johnson’s brother Steve, an American tech entrepreneur.
Detective chief inspector Peter Yeomans, who led the investigation, said that without the evidence from the informant the case ‘couldn’t have been solved’.
At the time, Steve Johnson said ‘this is very emotional day’.
Steve Johnson (pictured) said in 2020 the arrest marked ‘a very emotional day’ in a video message shared by police
He previously said he arrived in Sydney 36 hours after he heard of his brother’s death.
‘It was clear when I got to the police station, the Manly police station, that the police already assumed it was a suicide,’ Steve told ABC’s Australian Story.
‘And I said, ”Impossible”. He’d just finished his PhD that he’d been working on for five years.’
Over the following years Steve hired an investigative journalist, and lawyers and others joined the cause to find answers, calling themselves ‘Team Scott’.
Scott Johnson (left), a Sydney-based American national, was found at the base of a cliff at Blue Fish Point, near Manly’s North Head, on December 10, 1988. His brother Steve (right) spent decades fighting for justice
Among the leads followed by the team were whether Blue Fish Point was a known gay beat, where strangers in the gay community would meet for sex.
Also unanswered was why Mr Johnson’s clothes were neatly folded in a pile at the top of the cliffs.
Steve said the arrest of his brother’s alleged killer was important not only for his family but also for the wider gay community.
‘Scott had come to symbolise the many dozens of other gay men who lost their lives in the 1980s and 90s,’ he said.
The arrest proved ‘times have changed’ and it recognised ‘that all of us deserve equal protection and justice under the law’, Steve added.
Police conduct a search of a headland on May 12 after an arrest was made in connection with Scott’s death