An intense review of 88 suspicious deaths between 1976 and 2000 has found that 27 were almost certainly homphobic murders . On top of that, another 23 deaths from the same period are still under investigation, as NSW Police believe their perpetrators could still be walking the streets.
The review, undertaken by a team of 10 investigators dubbed Strike Force Parrabell, released their report on Wednesday. The report finds that for much of the last century, Sydney's police, media, and public looked the other way when members of the LGBTIQ community died or went went missing under suspicious circumstances.
Gay men were regularly found dead at the bottom of Sydney’s cliffs, or slain in parks that doubled as beats. The 80s were a particularly bloody time as fears around HIV triggered more attacks while diminishing public sympathy. According to the reporting by the Guardian, Sydney was seeing up to 20 assaults every day by the early 90s, but most of these crimes went unpunished.
“It’s an ugly part of our history,” Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell, the police's spokesman for Sexuality, Gender Diversity, and Intersex, told the Sydney Morning Herald. “It needs to be acknowledged and we need to do everything we can to make sure no one is ever again fearful for their life because of who they are.”
One of the men affirmed to have been murdered was 27-year-old mathematician, Scott Johnson. His naked body was found at the base of Blue Fish Point in 1988, with his clothing found neatly folded on the top. The area around North Head was a known gay beat, often targeted by young guys who wanted to affirm their status in gang hierarchies.
For most of 30 years, police had classified his death as suicide.
It’s now understood that NSW Police are considering a formal apology over their handling of all suspicious cases.