$1 million reward offered to solve Sydney ‘gay hate murder’ – but still no apology for police failures

NSW Police have offered a $1 million reward for information relating to the 1987 murder of Raymond Keam. File photo.

By PETER HACKNEY

The NSW Police Force has announced a $1 million reward in return for information relating to the murder of Sydney man Raymond Keam more than three decades ago.

The body of Mr Keam – then aged 43 – was found by a member of the public in Alison Park, Randwick at approximately 6.15am on Tuesday, 13 January, 1987. 

A post-mortem examination revealed Mr Keam, who was found in grass at the northern end of the park, died after sustaining severe head injuries.

Alison Park was a known gay beat (a location where men go to have sex with other men). 

A 1988 coronial inquest found Mr Keam died after being struck in the head by a person or persons unknown.

In 2019, a formal review of the case was conducted by the Homicide Squad, and the case was subsequently reopened and tasked to Strike Force Augenaut. 

In a media release issued yesterday, NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services, David Elliott, said he hoped the $1 million reward would help police solve the brutal crime. 

“Raymond Keam was a young father of four children when his life was viciously taken more than three decades ago,” Mr Elliott said.

“We acknowledge that there was a dark and violent period in our state’s history when people were dismissive of suspected hate crimes and NSW Police have been working tirelessly to ensure every possible resource available is utilised when reviewing and reinvestigating these cases.

“It is my hope that the NSW Government $1 million reward will encourage any member of the public that may have information about Raymond’s murder – no matter how big or small – to come forward,” he said.

Raymond Keam, whose lifeless body was found in Alison Park, Randwick – a known gay beat – on 13 January, 1987. File photo.

Family reaction

Mr Keam’s partner, Ms Diane Smart, said she hoped the $1 million reward would bring about justice and peace for their family – who have never received closure. 

“Raymond was a kind and caring partner, father and step-father. At the time of his death we had been planning out our life together – then it was all ripped away in an instant,” Ms Smart said.

“I didn’t just lose my partner that night, I lost my life and my future, and we all lost a huge of part of our family. Raymond was a bright, strong, smart and generous man, who can never be replaced.”

Mr Keam’s daughter, Stephanie Keam, said her father’s brutal murder had altered the course of her life. 

“Thirty-four years ago, I not only lost my father, but a good friend, and have always felt a shadow over me not knowing why he was so cruelly taken from us,” Ms Keam said.

“When something like this happens to a loved one, it changes you – it leaves a stain. We are all desperately hoping to find some answers and we ask anyone with information to come forward to police and help our family find peace.”

‘Too little, too late’

However, noted Sydney gay rights activist Garry Burns criticised NSW Police over its handling of the case, and called the $1 million reward a “token measure” that was “more about good publicity than anything else”.

“34 years later, there’s no crime scene, there’s no evidence, what are they expecting to find?” Mr Burns told the Sentinel.

“If NSW Police did their job at the first instance 34 years ago and properly secured the crime scene, an accused may have been put before the court.

“You can’t fatten a pig on market day.”

Call for public apology

Mr Burns said the NSW Police Force was still resisting calls to publicly apologise and take responsibility for a sustained period during the 1980s and ’90s – which coincided with the fear and loathing surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic – during which police routinely failed to investigate gay hate crimes.

“The police allowed these homicides of gay men to go unpunished because they held a misconceived view that the victims of these crimes deserved what they got,” said Mr Burns.

“I was a victim of a hate crime at Marks Park in Bondi in the late 1980s. When I went to report it at the local police station, [the police officer] said: ‘F*ck off, we’re not interested in homosexual domestics. You homosexuals deserve what you get – if you don’t get out of the police station, I’ll lock you up.’

“They should acknowledge that they f*cked up. They didn’t secure crime scenes and they classified dozens of murders as suicide or misadventure – because they didn’t care.” 

Mr Burns claimed a fear of legal action was the reason police had never apologised for their failures.

“They’re scared it could open the doors to litigation from families that have lost their sons, brothers, uncles, husbands,” he said. 

Sydney gay activist Garry Burns. Photo: Facebook.

‘Where’s Commissioner Fuller?’

Mr Burns called on NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to take responsibility for the past failings. 

“Mick Fulller needs to grow a backbone, come out of his closet and apologise for the mistakes of the past,” Mr Burns opined. 

“Somebody has to – why not him? He is the Police Commissioner and he’s been attached to the NSW Police Force since the height of these hate crimes in the 1980s. He has been there the whole time and now he’s running the show.”

The Sentinel understands Commissioner Fuller began his police career in 1987 at Kogarah Police Station, when he was 19-years-old.

The Sentinel does not suggest Commissioner Fuller was involved in gay hate crimes, or that he bears any responsibility for the NSW Police Force’s failure to investigate said crimes.

Mr Burns said: “Although I don’t hold him personally responsible, it is entirely appropriate for him to publicly admit the police’s wrongdoings.”

The Sentinel put a number of questions to Commissioner Fuller. A spokesperson for NSW Police Media replied on his behalf: “As we did a full media strategy with press conference yesterday we have no further comment.”

Dark period of “hunting gays for sport” 

The suspected gay hate murder of Raymond Keams occurred at the height of a period when gay bashings and murders were routine in Sydney. 

A landmark 2013 investigation into the issue by journalist Rick Fenely in The Sydney Morning Herald found that up to 80 men were murdered in gay hate crimes in the 1980s and ’90s, with 30 cases unsolved and dozens of killers walking free. 

One of the most prominent cases was the 1988 death of US national Scott Johnson, who was found dead in 1988 at the bottom of a cliff at a gay beat at North Head, Manly. 

The New York Times dubbed the period in which Mr Johnson died as a time of “hunting gays for sport”. 

NSW Police ruled Mr Johnson’s death a suicide. However, decades of lobbying by Mr Johnson’s wealthy American family saw police re-open the case, and in May last year, 49-year-old Scott Price was charged with Mr Johnson’s murder.

Foreshadowing the $1 million reward in the Raymond Keam case, in 2018 NSW Police offered a $1 million reward for information about Mr Johnson’s death, which was later doubled to $2 million by Mr Johnson’s brother, the Boston internet tech guru Steve Johnson.

Similar high-profile cases include the death of Wollongong man Ross Warren, a WIN Television Illawarra newsreader, whose body was found below a cliff in Tamarama in July, 1989; the case of popular barman John Russell, whose body was found in the same location in November that year; and retired schoolteacher William Allen, who was found dead at his Newton Street, Alexandria home in December, 1988. It is believed that shortly before his death, Mr Allen sustained head injuries in an attack at nearby Alexandria Park.

WIN News Illawarra newsreader Ross Warren, a suspected victim of Sydney’s 1980s–’90s gay hate murder spree. File photo.

However the lion’s share of homophobic attacks and murders were inflicted upon ‘anonymous’ men whose cases have never received widespread publicity.

Anyone with information that may assist in the investigation of Raymond Keam’s death – or any other gay hate crimes –  is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or at https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in the strictest confidence and respondents may choose to remain anonymous.

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.

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