Man accused of gruesome murder of gay man found naked at bottom of cliffs pleads not guilty

Scott White was arrested at his home in Sydney on Tuesday, May 12, charged with the murder of Scott Johnson in 1988.

A man has pleaded not guilty to murdering Scott Johnson, a gay US student found naked at the bottom of a cliffside in Australia, in the latest speed bump to a 32-years-long search for justice.

Scott White, 49, allegedly killed Johnson in 1988. New South Wales law enforcement stormed his Sydney apartment and arrested him last year after receiving a game-changing tip-off, detective leads said.

Johnson, 27, was a talented maths student who had moved from the US to Sydney to be with his partner Michael Noone in 1986 after they met as students at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

But tragically, only moments away from completing his PhD, his body was found at the bottom of cliffs in the northern beach near Manly. His neatly-folded clothes discovered on the cliff above Bluefish Point, a well-known cruising spot, by a local fisherman.

Johnson’s death was initially ruled a suicide by coroners, but after the tireless campaigning of his family, a 2018 inquest ruled that he had likely died as a result of a gay hate crime.

Suspect sits emotionless as Scott Johnson family brace for ’emotional day’

White, dressed in prison greens, faced the Central Local Court on Thursday (28 January) over the decades-old cold case. By pleading not guilty, he will now face a trial, according to the ABC News.

He was described by the outlet as stone-faced during the hearing, only saying “yes I can” when asked by magistrates if he could hear the proceedings.

Gay man Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson. (Justice For Scott Facebook page)

Johnson’s death has rattled both his loved ones and investigators for years, with top detectives claiming his death was motivated by White’s “absolute” hatred for gay men.

In 2019, police offered a $1 million reward to anyone who came forward with information that led to a prosecution, and this year Johnson’s brother Steve matched the reward, bringing the total offer to $2 million.

An informant later led the police to the suspect, something investigation-lead and detective chief inspector Peter Yeomans said that, without the evidence supplied, the case “couldn’t have been solved”.

As the case winds its way through the courts, reopening old wounds for his family, Steve said it was a “very emotional day, it’s emotional for me and my family”.