An Australian judge has handed down a nine-year prison sentence to an individual found guilty of manslaughter, finally bringing a measure of solace to Steve Johnson, a resident of Cambridge, and his family. This decision came after decades-long effort from Steve to unravel the mysteries surrounding the tragic death of his brother Scott Johnson in 1988.
Steve’s unwavering determination to find justice for his brother is the focal point of "Never Let Him Go," a four-part documentary series co-directed by Jeff Dupre and Jacob Hickey from ABC News Studios, available on Hulu.
Scott’s naked body was discovered at the base of a 200-foot cliff in Australia. When Steve arrived at the police station in the aftermath of the discovery, he was met with a question from an officer that would reveal the challenges ahead: "Did you know that your brother was homosexual?" Scott had been found at a location known as a gathering spot for gay men.
“I think he was used to telling parents and family members that and having them tuck their hat and go away. And I said, ‘Yes, I did know he was homosexual. What happened?’”
According to him, police “apparently didn't even reach the conclusion” that it was a suicide and had returned to the police station without collecting evidence. Steve argued that police assumed it was suicide simply because his brother was gay.
Steve knew something was wrong. “I just couldn't imagine him doing this without saying goodbye, leaving me a clue,” he said.
Steve’s first daughter was born around that time and said his brother “kept her announcement card under his pillows” because he was looking forward to meeting his niece.
Steve recalled how one of his students, who spent 20 years in Scotland Yard (British Police), said he had “never heard of a naked jumper.”
“And that clinched it for me ... I was sure that it wasn't a suicide,” he said.
Steve's unwavering quest for truth gained regained momentum 17 years later when he learned of similar cases involving gay men found dead at the base of cliffs in Australia.
“Two men had been killed by gay hate assailants and they had been at a party where gay men meet each other to go have anonymous sex," he explained. "So this connected a lot of dots.”
He went back to Australia over 20 times and even hired a private investigator and journalist. That work uncovered a scenario Steve had never imagined: gangs that attack gay men.
“The police certainly hadn't offered it [as an explanation]. Unfortunately, none of Scott's friends offered it either. …It's just dangerous to be known to be out and I think a lot of Scott's friends just wanted to not be part of a story. So this is the first I had heard of a gay beat [a location for gay sex] and gay hate assailants.”
He expressed his gratitude to the media for amplifying his story and pressuring officials to reopen the investigation. For example, there was a whole season opener of “Australian Story” from ABC News in 2013 dedicated to Scott’s story, which propelled Steve’s cause forward.
Steve said this experience had twists and turns for the last 30 years.