Australian man admits to pushing gay American mathematician from cliff in 1988 hate crime

Scott White, 51, is facing a possible lifetime sentence for the murder of Scott Johnson.

Published: May 2, 2022 1:42pm

Updated: May 2, 2022 3:23pm

An Australian man on Monday admitted to killing American mathematician Scott Johnson over 30 years ago in Sydney by pushed him off a cliff in what prosecutors have described as a gay hate crime.

Scott White, 51, made the admission during a sentencing hearing in the New South Wales state Supreme Court – after pleading guilty in January to the murder of the then-27-year-old American ex-pat living in Canberra.

White will be sentenced Tuesday and faces life behind bars. 

Authorities originally classified Johnson's 1988 death as a suicide. A second coroner, in 2012, could not explain the death.

However, in 2017, a coroner ruled that Johnson "fell from the clifftop as a result of actual or threatened violence by unidentified persons who attacked him because they perceived him to be homosexual."

The coroner also said that gangs of men would ride around Sydney in search of homosexual men to assault, which sometimes resulted in the deaths of victims.

The cliff on which Johnson was last seen alive was a known spot for gay meetups, according to the Associated Press. 

Prosecutor Brett Hatfield said the precise details of the murder were not known and that White’s accounts had varied.

White had met Johnson in a nearby bar in suburban Manly and Johnson had stripped naked at the clifftop before he died, Hatfield said.

Authorities appeared to have gotten a break in the cold case in 2019 when White's ex-wife, Helen, reported him to authorities. She told the court that he had bragged to their children about beating up gay men at the top of the cliff.

Then, in a 2020 police interview White said: "I pushed a bloke. He went over the edge."

He told police that he had lied to authorities earlier when he told them he had attempted to grab Johnson and prevent his fall.

When Helen White asked her husband whether he was responsible for the death, he, according to the Associated Press, allegedly said, "It's not my fault. The dumb (expletive) ran off the cliff."

Helen says she responded by saying, "It is if you chased him." 

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