Police botched investigation into gay man William Rooney’s death


Wollongong man William Rooney (left) and partner Wayne Davis
William Rooney (left) and partner Wayne. Image: Supplied

New South Wales’ LGBTIQ gay hate crime inquiry has privately questioned a convicted serial rapist over the cold case death of gay Wollongong man William Rooney, after a bungled police investigation nearly 40 years ago.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes last week examined the cold case deaths of William Rooney, Paul Rath and Richard Slater.

William “Bill” Rooney (above left) died six days after he was seriously injured behind a toilet block in Wollongong’s CBD on Valentine’s Day in 1986.

The 35-year-old’s “pants and underwear were lowered… and his fly was unzipped”, Counsel assisting Meg O’Brien said. Crime scene photos showed what appeared to be a “concrete rock” nearby.

The inquiry heard police and medical examiners made errors after the man’s death. Police failed to conduct tests for sexual assault in hospital, or during the post-mortem after he died.

Officers also failed to secure the crime scene, the inquiry heard. Two hours later a retailer hosed down the laneway before investigators could recover forensic evidence.

A post-mortem found Rooney received the injuries from a three-metre fall, but the inquiry heard that examination was “deficient”.

The inquiry heard on the available evidence, it can’t be determined whether Rooney’s head injuries were the result of an assault or an accidental three-metre fall, ABC News reported.

Convicted rapist questioned about William Rooney death

After the attack, William Rooney’s partner Wayne (pictured above right) said Rooney had talked with a “well-known” gay-basher named Leslie John Harrison, whose alibi investigators failed to verify.

In the following three and a half years, there was a series of attacks on 12 men around the Wollongong area, the inquiry heard.

The first was three weeks later. One attack in 1989 occurred on the other side of the same laneway where Rooney had been found.

“Many of these attacks… involved a similar modus operandi, in which victims suffered a blow or blows to the head (or the threat of such a physical assault) prior to being sexually assaulted,” O’Brien told the inquiry.

In 1992, Mark Anthony Scerri was convicted of sexually assaulting three Wollongong men. However Mr Scerri was also acquitted of a string of other attacks, including one in which the victim alleged Scerri told him, “I’ll kill you like I killed the p____er in the laneway.”

In 1991 and 1993, police sought to charge Scerri with Rooney’s murder, but has insufficient evidence to prosecute. The inquiry was told Mr Scerri remains a “primary person of interest” in the crime.

This month, the inquiry questioned Scerri for the first time on Rooney’s death in a private hearing.

Police shortcomings in Paul Rath death investigation

Last week the inquiry also examined Paul Rath’s death in June 1977. His body was found at the bottom of cliffs in Sydney’s northern beaches.

In a report, police declared Rath accidentally fell and there were no suspicious circumstances, which Counsel assisting William de Mars said was an “extraordinary” claim.

Mr de Mars said there was a “concerning combination” of the location being a gay beat and Mr Rath’s trousers being pulled down.

He said the police probe into the man’s death was “limited” because officers at that time weren’t motivated to investigate if a death may have been a gay hate murder.

The “uncertain state of the evidence” meant it was now not possible to determine the circumstances of his death.

Richard Slater assaulted at Newcastle gay beat

The inquiry also examined the fatal 1980 bashing of grandfather Richard Slater in a “cowardly attack” at a Newcastle gay beat.

The 69-year-old, whose family did not believe he was a gay man, died three days later.

Another local man, who was gay and died in 1986, was in the vicinity and likely targeted Richard Slater in a robbery, the inquiry heard.

If he was responsible, the inquiry heard Slater’s death was “likely to have involved the targeting, or ‘discriminatory selection’ of someone presumed to be gay” and therefore involved LGBTIQ bias.

“There is clear evidence that, correctly or not, he acted on the understanding that Mr Slater was using the toilet as a beat,” counsel assisting William de Mars said.

While the man was charged, prosecutors ultimately dropped the case. Inquiry head Commissioner John Sackar said there was “no doubt Mr Slater died as a result of a cowardly attack upon him.”

The LGBTIQ hate crime inquiry continues on Tuesday. Commissioner Sackar is due to deliver a final report in August.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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