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After 30 Years, Gay Man's Death Now Prompts $1 Million Reward

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Dec 11, 2018

Since 1988 the death of a young American mathematician named Scott Johnson in Australia has haunted his younger brother, Steve — and Steve, in turn, has refused to back off, pursuing the truth despite inquests that dubbed Scott's death a "suicide." The case has been featured on Australian television and discussed in the documentary film "Deep Water: The Real Story."

In a fresh, if belated, development, Australian authorities now signal they are taking the possibility that Scott was murdered — the victim of a hate crime — seriously. A reward for information on his death has just been increased by a factor of ten, to a new total of $1 million, reports UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph.

Australian news outlet ABC News also picked up the story, offering a synopsis of the young man's tragic death in December of 1988 when, at the age of 27, he somehow ended up at the bottom of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Scott was 27 at the time. His body was discovered in a state of complete undress, and his clothing was left neatly laid out at the top of the cliff. Authorities simply assumed his death to have been a suicide.

But Steve Johnson never bought that, and neither did Scott's long-time boyfriend, Michael Noone, with whom Scott had been planning to settle in Australia permanently. Steve spent huge sums of money over the years looking into the mystery of his brother's demise, and finally in 2017 — as ABC News reported at the time — an Australian pathologist reclassified Scott's cause of death, saying that it was likely he was a victim of a hate crime.

Meantime, over the years evidence piled up pointing to a series of anti-gay killings, some of them evidently carried out by local teenagers who would toss gay men off cliffs. The documentary "Deep Water" also detailed a case in which several plainclothes police officers chased and brutally beat a young gay man, raising the question of whether police in the late 1980s — and into the 1990s, when the anti-gay wave of assaults and murders was taking place — simply didn't want to pursue crimes in which gay men were the victims.

The police weren't the only ones antithetical towards gays, ABC News reported. The paper recalled that authorities learned how "a group of Narrabeen skinheads had bragged about assaulting an 'American faggot' around the same time Mr. Johnson had died," and also how "soldiers at the Army School of Artillery at North Head used to brag about attacking gay men and considered it 'fun and games.' "

Steve Johnson, who was on hand of the press conference where Fuller announced the increased reward, addressed his dead brother with the words, "Scott, you may not be resting comfortably this week but you have a voice."

The also reported on the increased reward, quoting Fuller as saying, "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."

Steve Johnson told the Times that he was "encouraged" by the hefty sum being offered for information to finally clear up the longstanding questions around his brother's death. "The million-dollar reward is speaking to the community that the police are taking this seriously and they need people's help," Steve told the American newspaper.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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