Since NSW homicide detectives arrested a man as part of an investigation into the murder of Scott Johnson last week, police are now appealing for new information in other unsolved suspected “gay hate” crimes.
Last week, NSW police arrested Scott Phillip White and charged him with the murder of Scott Johnson in 1988.
Johnson’s body was found on the morning of Saturday 10 December 1988 at the base of a cliff at Blue Fish Point, near Manly’s North Head on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Johnson, an American-born mathematician who was based in Sydney, was just 27-years-old when he was murdered. His death is now the most high-profile gay hate crime in Sydney’s history.
Strike Force Welsford detectives arrested 49-year-old Phillip White at Lane Cove at around 8:30 am last week, before a search warrant was executed at a nearby home.
Speaking after the arrest, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner, Tony Crandell said that there are now at least 23 unsolved murders that occurred at Sydney’s notorious gay-beats during the 1970s through to the 1990s.
Crandell noted that the breakthrough discovery had given him hope that arrests are now possible in many similar unsolved cases.
“There are other cases that are around Alexandria… that we attribute to gay hate crime [that] 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.”
Many of these fatalities were thought to be accidents or suicides at the time of investigation, with many pointing to a police force that failed to properly investigate due to blatant homophobia. This was confirmed when a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into gay hate crimes last year found that “pervasive prejudices” within the NSW police force led to failures of justice for many victims.
However, the tides are now turning as many are now revisiting potential historic gay hate crimes, particularly the murders of Ross Warren and John Russell – so here’s what we know.
Ross Warren, a successful newsreader for WIN TV in Wollongong, was last seen on 22 July 1989 while driving along Oxford Street, Darlinghurst after drinking with his friends.
His car keys were found two days later on a rock ledge below a cliff at Marks Park, Tamarama. A well-known gay-beat, Marks Park now has a memorial dedicated to those who were the victims of historic gay hate crimes.
While police believed Warren had staged his own disappearance, and then later thought he had fallen into the sea, his body was never found.
However, in 2005, then-NSW deputy coroner, Jacqueline Milledge scorned the “grossly inadequate and shameful” investigation and noted that she believed Warren to be “a victim of homicide”.
“To characterise it as an ‘investigation’ is to give it a label it does not deserve,” Milledge concluded in 2005.
Later in 1989, John Russell, a barman working in the eastern suburbs, was also found dead at the clifftop in Marks Park on 23 November 1989.
In 2015, NSW police announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction and now consider his death a “probable gay-hate crime”.
Police have also issued a $100,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of those responsible.
As more information is gathered for Warren and Russell’s murders, Police are now digging deeper back into the past for other unsolved cases.
27-year-old French national and suspected victim of historic gay hate crimes, Gilles Mattain, was also last seen walking along the coast at Tamarama on September 15, 1985.
Strangely, his friends did not report his disappearance until 2002.
However, in 2005 a coronial inquest found he may possibly have died after being thrown off the cliff at Tamarama.
A $100,000 reward is also on offer for information regarding his death.
An inquest initially declared Olsen accidentally drowned. However, police now believe he was the victim of a gay-bashing before his death.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller affirmed last week that gay hate crime victims had been failed by police and apologised for “the mistakes of the past”.
Fuller also noted that last week’s arrest will hopefully encourage people with further information 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 here.