An Australian man has confessed to the 1988 murder of a gay American man in a cold case that was for decades treated as a suicide. 

On Monday, Sydney resident Scott White appeared before the court in New South Wales, where he is due to be sentenced for the murder of 27-year old Scott Johnson, an American mathematician, by shoving him off a cliff 34 years ago.

Police initially ruled his death a suicide after coming across no evidence of foul play. Johnson's family never accepted this version of events and his brother Steve, an AOL executive, pushed for the case to be reopened. He hired a private investigator and offered a $1 million Australian dollars ($704,000 U.S.) reward for any information related to Scott’s death.

But his brother’s murder also carried with it the scars of an era when homosexuals in Australia were regularly targeted for attacks. Though Scott Johnson reportedly moved to Sydney because of its official tolerance of homosexuality, the 1980s in Australia ere a time of harassment aimed at the community and neglect from the police. 

Left dormant for decades, Johnson’s case and White’s role in his death slowly began to emerge. In November 2017, a coroner ruled Scott had been murdered by an anti-gay gang, spurring police to reopen the investigation. 

White appeared on the police’s radar in 2019 after his former wife, Helen, reported her suspicions about his involvement. According to her, White bragged to his children about harassing gay men at the spot where Johnson was killed. She also related a story from 2008 when Johnson’s name came up in the news and he admitted that he chased the man, but insisted he did not shove him off the ledge. 

With the case reopened, police trained in on White and began to look for evidence of his involvement beyond his ex-wife’s statement. In May 2020, detectives took White in for questioning where he admitted to shoving Johnson off the ledge.

“I pushed a bloke. He went over the edge,” White said in a recorded police interview in 2020 that was played in court.

White pleaded guilty in January. According to the Associated Press, White repeatedly shouted at a pre-trial hearing that he was guilty in a break from his earlier denials.