Hope for other ‘gay hate’ cold cases after Scott Johnson murder charge

NSW gay hate crime cold case ross warren Cyril Olsen and John Russell
Ross Warren, Cyril Olsen and John Russell.

After last week’s arrest of the alleged killer of gay man Scott Johnson, police have appealed for new information in other unsolved suspected “gay hate” cases from the same era.

From the late 1970s through to the early 1990s, more than 80 gay men disappeared or were murdered in NSW, many at coastal parks in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

Numerous other gay men were also hospitalised after serious assaults at the hands of gangs targeting them at the time.

It’s believed many deaths were mischaracterised as suicides or accidents at the time. Today, almost 30 still remain unsolved and sadly numerous perpetrators have escaped justice.

Last week, NSW Police arrested Scott Phillip White and later charged him with murdering Scott Johnson in 1988 in a major breakthrough.

Speaking after the arrest, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell said the murder charges gave him hope arrests are possible in many similar unsolved cases.

Crandell said there are at least 23 unsolved murders that occurred at known Sydney gay beats, with many more likely.

“There are other cases that are around Alexandria… that we attribute to gay hate crime have not been solved,” he said.

“Ross Warren [and] John Russell are two cases that come to mind.

“I’m very hopeful that cases like this reverberate through the community and we can get more information. We need more information in order to pursue these cases.

“As the Commissioner said, they are not closed, they are not frozen. We will work on them. Anybody out there who committed such offences should be looking over their shoulder.”

Ross Warren, John Russell, Gilles Mattaini and Cyril Olsen

Ross Warren was an up and coming television newsreader in Wollongong. He disappeared from the Marks Park gay beat in the eastern Sydney suburb of Tamarama.

Warren was last seen driving along Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, on the night of July 22, 1989, after drinking with friends.

A friend found his car keys two days later beneath the cliffs on the Tamarama side of Marks Park. His car was found nearby.

Police concluded Warren accidentally fell into the sea, and never recovered the man’s body.

But in 2005, then-NSW Coroner Jacqueline Milledge blasted the “grossly inadequate and shameful” investigation into his death.

“To characterise it as an ‘investigation’ is to give it a label it does not deserve,” she said at the time, concluding Warren was murdered.

NSW Police now consider Warren’s death a “probable gay-hate crime”. In 2015, they announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

Later that year, John Russell was working as a barman in the eastern suburbs. He was last seen alive drinking with friends at a Bondi hotel on November 23, 1989.

The next day, his body was found at the bottom of the cliff top at Marks Park, Tamarama.

There is also a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Earlier, 27-year-old French national Gilles Mattaini was living at Bondi. He was also last seen walking along the coast at Tamarama on September 15, 1985.

Friends didn’t report his disappearance until 2002. In 2005, a coronial inquest found he may have died after being thrown off the cliff. A $100,000 reward is also on offer for information.

On August 22, 1992, Cyril Olsen was assaulted and later fell into Sydney Harbour at Rushcutters Bay, a gay beat.

An inquest initially declared Olsen accidentally drowned. But police believe he was the victim of a gay bashing before his death.

‘Indifference’ to gay hate violence led to failures of justice

Last year, a NSW parliamentary inquiry into gay hate crime found a “prevailing acceptance of and indifference” to violence against gay men in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Those “pervasive prejudices” also existed within NSW Police and led to failures of justice for many victims, the inquiry found.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said last week victims were let down by police and apologised for “the mistakes of the past”.

He hoped last week’s arrest would encourage people with information on other unsolved cases to come forward.

“Please don’t underestimate how one small piece of the puzzle can lead police to solve some of the most terrible crimes in our state’s history,” he said.

“The NSW police force will never give up… There is no such thing as an unsolved crime.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers confidentially on 1800 333 000 or online.

If this has brought up issues for you, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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