Man admits to murdering LA mathematician found at the base of a cliff in Sydney 34 years ago

An Australian has admitted to murdering a Los Angeles mathematician who was found at the foot of a cliff in Sydney 34 years ago in a hate crime against gays initially dismissed as a suicide.

Scott Johnson’s naked body was found at the foot of the North Head cliff on December 8, 1988, and the 27-year-old’s death has long been a mystery.

The gay hate crime was initially dismissed by police, who concluded that Mr Johnson, a Los Angeles-born mathematician who lived in Canberra, had taken his own life.

According to a new police investigation, Scott White was charged with murder in 2020 and has previously denied the crime.

But at a pre-trial hearing in Sydney on Monday, White repeatedly yelled at the court that he was guilty of pushing Mr Johnson off a cliff 34 years ago.

The naked body of Scott Johnson (pictured) was found at the foot of the North Head cliff on December 8, 1988 and the 27-year-old's death has remained a mystery for 34 years

The naked body of Scott Johnson (pictured) was found at the foot of the North Head cliff on December 8, 1988 and the 27-year-old's death has remained a mystery for 34 years

The naked body of Scott Johnson (pictured) was found at the foot of the North Head cliff on December 8, 1988 and the 27-year-old’s death has remained a mystery for 34 years

On Thursday, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge accepted the guilty plea and dismissed arguments by White’s lawyers that he was unable to make the confession.

After declaring his guilt, White apologized to his lawyers, telling them he appreciated their work but “can’t handle it,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

The court heard that on other occasions White had expressed intentions to plead guilty, but his attorney said this was at moments of high stress and he later took legal advice that he had a strong case and would proceed with the trial should.

White is due to be sentenced on May 2 and faces a possible life sentence.

His attorney, Belinda Rigg, reportedly hinted that White intends to appeal his conviction.

Mr Johnson’s brother Steve of Boston had worked tirelessly to seek justice for his brother, reportedly spending up to $1 million on an investigator trying to prove his death was the result of foul play.

After White pleaded guilty, Steve told reporters outside of court that “he [White] deserves what he has to him’.

He added: “It’s a very sad, tragic thing that he did.”

After a new inquest, Scott White (pictured taken into custody) has been charged with the 2020 murder.  At a pretrial hearing on Monday, White yelled in court that he was guilty

After a new inquest, Scott White (pictured taken into custody) has been charged with the 2020 murder.  At a pretrial hearing on Monday, White yelled in court that he was guilty

After a new inquest, Scott White (pictured taken into custody) has been charged with the 2020 murder. At a pretrial hearing on Monday, White yelled in court that he was guilty

He said it was “not easy” to prove the death was murder, but his faith has now been “restored”.

Steve added that his brother, who was a PhD student at the Australian National University, is a “proud” gay man and his best friend.

‘[My brother] was brilliant, but more humble when he was brilliant, so you’d never hear him say that,” Steve said.

‘The last conversation we know he had was with him [university] Professor… as far as his professor was concerned, my brother could get a job at any university in the world.’

Police had initially concluded that Mr Johnson had taken his own life, although it was discovered that his wallet was missing from his clothing, which was neatly folded near the cliff top.

A 1989 inquest – a court-like procedure following unusual deaths – ruled that the openly gay man had taken his own life, while a second coroner in 2012 could not explain how he died.

During the initial investigation, police are said to have incorrectly told the first coroner that North Head is not a gay neighborhood – an area frequented by gay men for sexual relations.

Mr Johnson's brother Steve (pictured) from Boston sought justice and reportedly spent up to $1 million on an investigator to prove his brother's death was the result of foul play

Mr Johnson's brother Steve (pictured) from Boston sought justice and reportedly spent up to $1 million on an investigator to prove his brother's death was the result of foul play

Mr Johnson’s brother Steve (pictured) from Boston sought justice and reportedly spent up to $1 million on an investigator to prove his brother’s death was the result of foul play

Mr Johnson’s family requested a third inquest, and state coroner Michael Barnes ruled in 2017 that Mr Johnson was killed in a gay hate crime.

The coroner concluded that Mr Johnson “fell off the cliff as a result of actual or threatened violence at the hands of unidentified people who attacked him because they believed him to be homosexual”.

Mr Barnes found that gangs of men had roamed various locations in Sydney looking for gay men to attack, resulting in the deaths of some victims while some people were also robbed.

North Head, where Mr Johnson’s body was found, was a well-known gay club that was attacked by gangs in the 1980s, according to 9News.

The latest inquiry also reportedly heard that police had failed to investigate a number of hate crimes against gay people that were taking place in Sydney at the time.

The inquest is said to have heard soldiers from the North Head Army School of Artillery brag about attacking gay men, calling it “fun and games”.

Following the coroner’s 2017 ruling, a new police investigation — Strike Force Welsford — was set up led by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans, ABC reported.

After White pleaded guilty, Steve told reporters outside of court that

After White pleaded guilty, Steve told reporters outside of court that

After White pleaded guilty, Steve (right, pictured with his brother) told reporters outside court that “he [White] deserves what he has come to him’

Steve Johnson (pictured) said in 2020 after White's arrest that it was

Steve Johnson (pictured) said in 2020 after White's arrest that it was

Steve Johnson (pictured) said in 2020 after White’s arrest that it was “a very emotional day” in a video message shared by police

In 2018, the new investigation offered a one million Australian dollar (US$729,500) reward for information leading to a conviction.

This was later doubled to $2 million in 2020, with the additional reward being offered by Mr Johnson’s brother Steve – reportedly the first of its kind in New South Wales.

White, previously unknown to police, was arrested at his Sydney home after a tip was received just two months after Steve, a tech entrepreneur from Boston, doubled the reward.

At the time, police said the reward helped her break through, and an unnamed whistleblower would be entitled to the reward once White was convicted.

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Yeomans, who led the investigation, said the case “could not have been solved” without the whistleblower’s evidence.

At the time, Steve Johnson said: “This is a very emotional day”.

He previously said he arrived in Sydney 36 hours after learning of his brother’s death.

“When I arrived at the police station, Manly Police Station, it was clear that the police had already assumed it was a suicide,” Steve told ABC’s Australian Story.

Police conduct a search of a headland on May 12, 2020 following an arrest made in connection with the death of Mr Johnson.  Police originally dismissed his death as a suicide in 1988

Police conduct a search of a headland on May 12, 2020 following an arrest made in connection with the death of Mr Johnson.  Police originally dismissed his death in 1988 as a suicide

Police conduct a search of a headland on May 12, 2020 following an arrest made in connection with the death of Mr Johnson. Police originally dismissed his death as a suicide in 1988

“And I said, ‘Impossible.’ He had just finished his PhD, which he had been working on for five years.”

In the years that followed, Steve hired an investigative journalist, and lawyers and others joined the cause to find answers, naming themselves “Team Scott.”

Among the leads the team pursued was whether Blue Fish Point was a well-known gay location where strangers in the gay community met for sex.

Also unanswered was why Mr Johnson’s clothes lay neatly folded in a heap on top of the cliffs.

Steve previously said the arrest of his brother’s alleged killer was important not only to his family but also to the broader gay community.

“Scott symbolized the many dozens of other gay men who lost their lives in the 1980s and ’90s,” he said.

The arrest proved that “times have changed” and recognized “that we all deserve equal protection and justice before the law,” Steve added.

Last year the New South Wales government announced an investigation into hate crimes committed against members of Sydney’s gay community between 1970 and 2010.

This post first appeared on Dailymail.co.uk

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