Tamarama’s Marks Park is full of ghosts.
The beautiful headland south of Bondi Beach is famous for its views, its coastal walkway and its gay beat.
And in the late 1980s, it was also famous among violent, homophobic teenage gangs as a good spot to roll a poofter.
Back then, fag bashing was a sport for gangs of poor, white, unemployed youths, who would beat and sometimes kill men for money or fun.
At least seven men died in this way in Sydney’s eastern suburbs in the late 1980s.
The families of two men killed in Marks Park in 1989 finally got some closure this week, with Deputy State Coroner Jacqueline Milledge ruling their deaths were no accident -“ and also ruling the initial police investigations into their disappearances were grossly inadequate.
Wollongong newsreader Ross Warren went missing in July 1989. The 25-year-old was last seen by a friend in Oxford Street, and was reported missing when he did not keep an appointment.
His friends contacted police before searching the Marks Park area, where they found his car. The next day they found his keys on a rock ledge below the park’s cliffs.
Although his friends continued searching, and his mother made a media plea for information about his disappearance, the police officer in charge of the investigation quickly ruled Warren had probably slipped on the mossy rocks and fallen into the water.
In November 1989 John Russell was a 31-year-old gay man who had just received news of a large inheritance.
One night he left a friend at the Bondi Hotel at 11pm, and was found dead at the bottom of Marks Park cliffs the next morning.
In his hand were hairs -“ not his -“ and on the ground next to him a few coins lay.
Men were known to rattle coins or keys in their pockets as a come on signal to other men.
Despite the strange position of his body, the fact that he had no reason to commit suicide and the hairs found in his hand, police ruled his death was accidental and did not conduct a thorough investigation. The hairs were lost without any forensic examination.
Handing down her findings this week, Milledge called the Ross Warren investigation appalling, grossly inadequate and shameful.
The investigation into John Russell’s death was far from adequate and the loss of the hairs from Russell’s hands was disgraceful.
The cases were re-opened in 2002 by Detective Sergeant Stephen Page, following calls by Ross Warren’s mother, who had been seeking a thorough investigation into her son’s death since 1989.
When Page started looking at the case, he found striking similarities between Warren and Russell’s death, as well as the disappearance of French national Gilles Mattaini in 1985.
Mattaini’s case was included in the coronial inquest, but Milledge was unable to rule on his cause of death.
The coronial inquest heard from young men who had been convicted of similar crimes and had done time in jail.
Two brothers, convicted of killing Kritchikorn Rattanajurathaporn in 1990, were still serving their sentences.
NSW Police also gave evidence of the changes in police culture since the early -˜90s, when gay men and lesbians were generally not comfortable reporting crimes.
Milledge praised the work of Stephen Page in his investigations and recommended all Local Area Commanders make themselves aware of gay beats in their areas, and work out crime prevention strategies.
She also recommended the reintroduction of the in service training program for police Gay Liaison Officers.