Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our website.

How wife of ‘gay hate’ killer Scott White got him jailed over Scott Johnson death

How wife of 'gay hate' killer Scott White got him jailed over Scott Johnson death 2

The former wife of a gay-hate killer has been commended for ‘courageously coming forward’ and sacrificing her own safety to help end an 34-year mystery and long fight for justice.

Scott Phillip White, 51, was jailed for a maximum of 12 years and seven months on Tuesday over the murder of US mathematician Scott Johnson, 27, whose naked body was found at the bottom of a cliff on Sydney’s northern beaches in December 1988. 

Advertisement

For more than three decades, Mr Johnson’s death was dismissed by police as suicide before White was charged with murder after a lengthy campaign by the victim’s loved ones.

Three months after White blindsided his legal team in January by changing his plea to guilty, his ex-wife Helen bravely took to the stand to testify against him in the NSW Supreme Court on Monday.

Ms White was one of the first people Mr Johnson’s family singled out for their assistance in helping bring her ex-husband to justice, in the wake of Tuesday’s sentencing. 

Advertisement
Scott Phillip White has been sentenced over the 1988 death of US mathematician Scott Johnson (pictured)

Scott Phillip White has been sentenced over the 1988 death of US mathematician Scott Johnson (pictured)

Helen White (pictured right on Monday) was praised by Mr Johnson's family for coming forward to testify against her ex husband

Helen White (pictured right on Monday) was praised by Mr Johnson’s family for coming forward to testify against her ex husband

‘We have someone new to thank, his ex-wife Helen White who courageously came forward,’ his brother Steve told reporters outside court.

Advertisement

‘She sacrificed our safety to do that and to bravely testified in court yesterday.’

White was raised in a homophobic family before he came out as gay years later, the sentencing process revealed this week.

Mr Johnson’s death may have remained unresolved if it wasn’t for Ms White’s decision to testify against her ex.

Advertisement

The court heard how Ms White wrote an anonymous letter to police in 2019 after watching a TV show about gay-hate murders.

She had confronted her husband twice about Mr Johnson’s death during their 16 years together in 1998 and again 10 years later, having previously heard him ‘brag’ about ‘bashing poofters’.

White told the court shortly before the couple split in 2008, she read a newspaper article in a about Johnson’s death and asked White if he was responsible.

Advertisement

‘He said the only good poofter is a dead poofter, to which I said, ‘So you threw him off the cliff’. And he said, ‘It’s not my fault the dumb c*** ran off the cliff’,’ Ms White told the court.

Scott Johnson's family (pictured after Tuesday's sentencing) paid tribute to his killer's ex-wife Helen White who courageously came forward

Scott Johnson’s family (pictured after Tuesday’s sentencing) paid tribute to his killer’s ex-wife Helen White who courageously came forward

Scott Phillip White (pictured) will spend at least eight years behind bars over Scott Johnson's murder 34 years ago

 Scott Phillip White (pictured) will spend at least eight years behind bars over Scott Johnson’s murder 34 years ago

Advertisement

After seeing the gay-hate murder program, Ms White decided to do research and came across news of a police strike force set up to investigate Mr Johnson’s death, which offering a $1 million reward for new information that led to a conviction.

Ms White penned an anonymous letter to police detailing what White had told her  and her former husband was charged with murder the following year.

On Monday, Ms White denied suggestions by White’s legal team she had made up the conversations with her then-husband.

Advertisement

She also refuted claims she went to police because the $1million on offer, claiming she never heard about the reward because she lived interstate at the time.

NSW Police haven’t confirmed whether a reward was paid to Ms White.  

White isn’t eligible for parole until August 2030.

Advertisement

Mr Johnson’s brother, sister-in-law and two sisters travelled from the US this week to give harrowing statements about the impact Scott White had on their family and the ‘beautiful man’ he destroyed.

‘I think what we got this week was fairness,’ his brother said outside court.

‘We have a long list people to thank for making today happen and that the killer is in jail and will be spending a good while in jail.’

Advertisement
Scott Johnson's body was found at the bottom of a cliff on Sydney's northern beaches in 1988

Scott Johnson’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff on Sydney’s northern beaches in 1988

Scott Johnson's family put on a united front as they leave the NSW Supreme Court after Scott Phillip White was sentenced over the mathematician's murder on Tuesday

Scott Johnson’s family put on a united front as they leave the NSW Supreme Court after Scott Phillip White was sentenced over the mathematician’s murder on Tuesday 

Mr Johnson said it will be very sad to leave Australia and has vowed to return.

Advertisement

‘I hope I’m not back because of this case but I do hope my family and I return because I love this country and Sydney,’ he said.

He said the three decade fight and countless trips from the other side of the world to bring his brother’s killer to justice went for ‘way too long’.

But he believed Scott would be proud and would have done the same for him.

Advertisement

‘I think most brothers and sisters would have done the same for their loved ones,’ he said.

‘It was a stubborn case, it just took a long while but I’m really glad we’ve finally come to this conclusion.’ 

White showed no emotion in the court dock as Justice Helen Wilson handed down his sentence on Tuesday.

Advertisement

Justice Wilson found that he had punched Mr Johnson at North Head in a hostile act, causing the doctor to fall to his death.

‘[White] did a violent act and that act is the direct cause of Dr Johnson leaving the clifftop in terror,’ the judge said.

The fatal assault was done with reckless indifference to human life, with White throwing the punch near the unguarded edge of a high coastal cliff and then fleeing the scene without notifying the police after Dr Johnson disappeared over the edge.

Advertisement

Justice Wilson found there was not enough evidence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to show the murder was a gay hate crime, however, because White had met Dr Johnson at the Brighton Hotel and the pair had willingly gone to the gay beat together.

Justice Wilson acknowledged the outcome would ‘unlikely to end the grief … it may bring some peace’ for Dr Johnson’s grieving family, who have spent the last 34 years fighting for justice.

Johnson's body was found at the bottom of the North Head Manly Walk in Sydney in 1988 and for nearly three decades his death was dismissed by police as a suicide

Johnson’s body was found at the bottom of the North Head Manly Walk in Sydney in 1988 and for nearly three decades his death was dismissed by police as a suicide

Advertisement

‘It was a terrible death … Mr Johnson must have been terrified, aware he would strike the rocks below and conscious of his fate,’ she said. 

Justice Wilson found the attack was not planned and could have been driven by ‘self-loathing’.

White was raised in a homophobic family before he came out as gay years later, the sentencing process revealed this week. 

Advertisement

White, was facing life behind bars but received a reduced sentence based on his recent guilty plea, cognitive impairment and a dysfunctional upbringing.

Originally from Los Angeles, Dr Johnson had been a doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra when he met White at a Manly hotel before the pair went to North Head.

Scott Johnson's brother Steve, (right) arrived at the NSW Supreme Court on Monday with his sisters, Terry, left, and Rebecca and his wife Rosemarie (second right), where the family gave harrowing statements

Scott Johnson’s brother Steve, (right) arrived at the NSW Supreme Court on Monday with his sisters, Terry, left, and Rebecca and his wife Rosemarie (second right), where the family gave harrowing statements

Advertisement

At a hearing on Monday, White barrister’s Belinda Rigg SC argued her client should receive a lesser sentence because he had only turned 18 at the time, saying that sentences for murder were significantly lower in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

White’s intellectual impairments meant he had suffered stress, anxiety and panic attacks while in custody. 

During the 1980s, White was a gay man who had lived with his homophobic brother and alcoholic parents, Ms Rigg said.

Advertisement

She also told the court White now identified as gay and had told police he went, at Mr Johnson’s suggestion, to North Head on the night of his death.

It comes as Mr Johnson’s shattered family spoke of the horror, terror, tragedy and heartbreak that the past 34 years have brought.

Sister Terry Johnson said White had taken away decades from her brother’s life.

Advertisement

‘The hateful person who killed Scott has been walking free on this earth for the past 33 years. Thirty-three years that he took away from my baby brother. I believe [White] deserves life in prison.’

Another sister Rebecca Johnson talked about how society in the 1980s had also let down teenagers who thought violence against gay men was acceptable.

‘Parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and classmates, authority, culture, somehow Mr White’s world reinforced that violence and even killing was OK and maybe that gay men weren’t human. That is a profound tragedy,’ she said on Monday.

Advertisement
'The wailing is a reliving, it's a howl of death and despair and loss and grief that signifies that a piece of us has departed. It never goes away,' Steve Johnson (pictured right with Scott) told the court about his brother's death

‘The wailing is a reliving, it’s a howl of death and despair and loss and grief that signifies that a piece of us has departed. It never goes away,’ Steve Johnson (pictured right with Scott) told the court about his brother’s death

Scott Johnson's family have spent the last 34 years fighting for justice. Pictured is his brother Steve hugging his wife outside the NSW Supreme Court on Monday

Scott Johnson’s family have spent the last 34 years fighting for justice. Pictured is his brother Steve hugging his wife outside the NSW Supreme Court on Monday

Steve Johnson described his brother’s death as too awful to be true, saying his mother had reacted with a wailing cry at the news.

Advertisement

‘The wailing is a reliving, it’s a howl of death and despair and loss and grief that signifies that a piece of us has departed. It never goes away.’

Dr Johnson’s partner Michael Noone also gave a statement describing the sheer horror of receiving a call from the police about the death of a loved one.

The victim statements were heard after White’s former partner Helen White took the stand and described a conversation with him in December 1998 about his ‘poofter bashing’ of the 1980s.

Advertisement

‘He said the only good poofter is a dead poofter, to which I said, ‘So you threw him off the cliff’. And he said, ‘It’s not my fault the dumb c*** ran off the cliff’,’ she said.

Scott Johnson, a Los Angeles native, was a doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra before being killed

Scott Johnson, a Los Angeles native, was a doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra before being killed 

White’s defence team unsuccessfully tried to reverse the guilty plea the day it was made. 

Advertisement

An appeal of White’s conviction was filed last month and could be heard Court of Criminal Appeal ‘towards the end of this year’, Justice Wilson said.

While the initial police inquest in 1989 found Mr Johnson’s death was a suicide, the case was reopened in 2012. 

Another inquest returned an open finding in June 2012, but a third in 2017 found Mr Johnson fell from the clifftops as a result of violence by an unidentified attacker who perceived him to be gay.

Advertisement

About The Author