True-Crime Doc Tells Story of One Man's Search to Find His Brother's Killer

Jennifer Tisdale - Author
By

Sep. 1 2023, Published 1:13 p.m. ET

Steve Johnson and Scott Johnson smile in a photo
Source: YouTube/ABC News (video still)

Steve Johnson and Scott Johnson

In a trailer for Hulu's true-crime docuseries Never Let Him Go, Steve Johnson says, "It's about finding justice for my brother." That's exactly what he did after Scott Johnson's naked body was found at the bottom of an Australian cliff on Dec. 10, 1988. Although police ruled his death a suicide, the Johnson family thought otherwise.

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Scott's brother Steve was particularly determined to find out what happened to his brother. He ended up dedicating decades of his life to uncovering the truth, which finally paid off when Scott White was arrested and charged with Johnson's murder in May 2020. Where is Scott White now? Here's what we know.

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Where is Scott White now? He's finally in prison.

According to ABC News, White was found guilty for the murder of Scott Johnson and was sentenced to 12 years and 7 months in an Australian prison. He will not be eligible for parole for eight years and three months. "White, 51, pleaded guilty to killing the 27-year-old at a known gay beat at North Head but has already lodged an appeal against his conviction," per ABC News.

The Guardian reported that when White was arrested in May 2020, police commissioner Mick Fuller was the person who called Steven Johnson to deliver the news. "Making that phone call this morning is a career highlight — Steve has fought so hard for so many years, and it has been an honour be part of his fight for justice," Fuller told the outlet.

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"It’s emotional for me, emotional for my family, my two sisters and brother who loved Scott dearly, my wife and three kids who never got to know their uncle," said Johnson in a statement. "[They didn’t have the chance to] admire him because of his brilliance, but also because he courageously lived his life as he wanted to."

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In 2018, police revisited 88 suspicious deaths that occurred between 1976 and 2000, finding that 27 men were most likely killed "because of their homosexuality, with cases peaking in the late 1980s and early 1990s," per the Guardian. This prompted Steve Johnson to add, "I hope the friends and families of the other dozens of gay men who lost their lives find solace in what’s happened today and hope it opens the door to resolve some of the other mysterious deaths of men who have not yet received justice."

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What happened to Scott Johnson?

In May 1986, Johnson moved to Australia in order to be with his then-partner Michael Noone, via New South Wales Caselaw. He was working toward his Doctorate of Philosophy at the Australian National University, and lived with Noone in Canberra. On Tuesday, Dec. 6, 1988, Johnson traveled to Sydney in order to attend a weekly seminar. When there, he always stayed with Noone's family in Lane Cove. It was not uncommon for Johnson to stay for two or three days.

He was last seen by Noone's family the morning of Dec. 8. "It is likely that he died on the night of Dec. 8 or in the early hours of Dec. 9, 1988," per the site, but his body was not found until Dec. 10. Johnson was naked and personal possessions were found 10 meters back from the edge of the cliff. Because of Steve Johnson's determination, his brother's story would occasionally pop up in local papers which was ultimately led to White's arrest.

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His ex-wife Helen White testified that her husband often bragged about assaulting gay men in his youth. When she saw a photo of Johnson in the paper in Decmber 1998, she recalled White angrily describing him as a "girly-looking poofter." A decade later in 2008 another newspaper article about Johnson spurred yet another conversation with her then-husband.

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Helen White came right out and asked White if he was responsible for Johnson's death. "The only good poofter is a dead poofter," he said. She asked again. White replied that it wasn't his fault if "the dumb [c---] ran off the cliff." She did not come forward with this information out of fear because Helen White was also a victim of domestic abuse.

Later, White told two witnesses that he was gay and hated himself for it. He told them what happened that evening, but framed it as if it was a dream he'd had. In it, he and Johnson went to the cliffs after meeting at the Brighton Hotel in Manly. When Johnson removed his clothes, White grew emotional. "I think we had a fight. That’s all I can remember … he fell. I took off," said White. Those witnesses later told authorities what they knew.

For more on this story stream Never Let Him Go, which premieres Sept. 6, 2023, on Hulu.

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