Scott Johnson’s brother opens up about 30-year fight for justice

scott johnson steve johnson brother gay hate murder nsw police australian story abc cold case
Photos: Supplied/Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson has told the ABC’s Australian Story program about his decades-long fight for justice for his brother Scott Johnson, who died in an alleged gay hate crime.

When Scott’s body was found at the base of a Sydney cliff in 1988, police quickly decided the 27-year-old American man had died by suicide.


However Steve (pictured, right) was convinced his brother had died as a result of a gay hate crime.

Steve’s three decades of campaigning led to a second coronial inquest in 2012, and an unprecedented third in 2017.

The third inquest found Scott had been chased, frightened or pushed off the cliff because he was gay.

Then on May 12, 2020, NSW Police arrested a 49-year-old Sydney man in an amazing breakthrough. They later charged him with Scott’s murder.

Steve, who lives in Boston, told ABC’s Australian Story to keep Scott’s case alive, he assembled a team of investigators and lawyers, journalists and police officers.

“We called ourselves Team Scott. Gradually, we started to get some attention on my brother’s case,” he told the program.

“Over time, the team grew to ten or twelve people in the United States and Australia.

“Fortunately the case attracted a lot of people who just wanted to help. [They] thought this was important.”

Former NSW Deputy Coroner Jacqueline Milledge was one person who helped behind the scenes. However, she admits she initially believed police could never solve the case.

“You had the complication of it being a cold case,” she told the ABC.

“And you had the unwillingness of the police to admit that perhaps they got it wrong.”

In May, Steve received a three word message from NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller that read, “Offender in custody.”


The “Team Scott” episode of Australian Story will screen on ABC next Monday (August 31).

Scott Johnson case ‘a fight for justice for all of us’

In May, Steve Johnson said Scott had come to symbolise all victims of gay hate violence in NSW.

“Despite the sometimes fierce institutional resistance to investigating the death of my brother, the Australian people have always welcomed me with open arms and embraced this case as a fight for justice for all us,” he said.

“Scott died as so many other gay men did in the 1980s and 90s in a world full of anti-gay prejudice and hatred.”

Steve said he hoped friends and families of other hate crime victims “found solace” in the arrest.

“I hope it opens the door to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths of men who haven’t yet received justice,” he said.

Numerous other suspected gay hate deaths in New South Wales remain unsolved. In some cases, NSW Police are offering rewards for new information.

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.

The inquiry came after the release of two reports examining the spate of unsolved murders.

Last week, ACON unveiled the final design for the Bondi memorial for historical gay hate victims.

Anyone with information on unsolved crimes can 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, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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