An investigation into the death of a gay American mathematician in Sydney in 1988 has been reopened after a coroner recorded an open verdict yesterday.

Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes overruled the findings of a 1989 inquest which found the 27-year-old committed suicide after he was discovered dead at the bottom of cliffs near Sydney’s northern beaches.

Scott Johnson’s naked body was found by fishermen at the foot of cliffs at Manly’s North Head – a known gay beat – while the 27-year-old’s belongings were discovered 10 metres back from the cliff edge.

New evidence presented at the Coroner’s Court raised the possibility that Johnson was murdered and that his death may have been linked to a series of gay hate killings in Sydney around the same period.

A 2005 police investigation, Operation Taradale, revealed men had forced to their deaths from cliffs near Bondi in the late ’80s.

Taradale was started to investigate the disappearances or bashing murders of six gay men in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs from 1987 to 1990.

Among them was Wollongong newsreader Ross Warren, whose body was never found.

His car was found in a Tamarama street and a few weeks later his wallet turned up on a rock ledge at the bottom of a cliff.

There were up to 10 more deaths at Sydney beaches involving gay men in the years around Johnson’s death, this week’s inquest heard.

Forbes has ordered cold case detectives to immediately re-examine Johnson’s case.

“The possibilities that Mr Johnson was the victim of a gay hate crime similar to those that occurred in Bondi, or that he fell, are also available explanations,” she said in court.

Detective Senior Constable Timothy Wilson told the inquest he had since ruled out suicide as a cause of Johnson’s death and couldn’t distinguish between misadventure or homicide.

The reexamination of the case has been helped by an investigative journalist employed by Johnson’s wealthy brother, Steve, a Boston-based internet entrepreneur, AAP reports.

Johnson studied at Cambridge University and collaborated with professors at Harvard in the US. He worked at NASA and was in the middle of completing his PhD in mathematics from the Australian National University in Canberra.

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