Is a Serial Killer Targeting Sydney's Gay Men?

Media speculation is growing that the deaths of 61 people in the Manchester canals in the last six years cannot be explained away by accidents and may be the work of a serial killer - a killer who is possibly targeting homosexual men in the gay district of Manchester surrounding Canal Street.

It can take many years before a pattern becomes apparent in a string of unexplained deaths, and a noteworthy case in Australia is the so-called Bondi Gay murders. The Bondi Murders were a string of up to 80 unexplained deaths of gay men and transgender women, largely in Sydney's beachside suburbs, stretching from the 1970s to the 1990s; you can also view a documentary on the case here.  The deaths included bashings, stabbings and most notably, an unknown number of men thrown off cliffs at Sydney beaches, often near known "gay beats" where men would meet for sexual encounters.

The wave of violence was not recognised as a coordinated campaign against gay men at the time; the deaths and disappearances from beachside cliffs were often dismissed as suicides or accidents, such as the case of Wollongong newsreader Ross Warren, who vanished from a Bondi clifftop in 1989. Mr Warren's friends and family were adamant he did not disappear voluntarily, however the police investigation, described as "woefully inadequate" by the coroner in 2005 in declaring that Mr Warren was likely murdered, concluded his death was accidental.

The case received widespread media attention in 2013, led by a series of investigative reports from Sydney Morning Herald journalist Rick Feneley, acknowledging the work of Detective Sergeant Stephen Page and the first Gay and Lesbian Consultant to the NSW Police, Sue Thompson, in finally bringing these cases to light. And whilst many offenders were convicted, up to thirty of these deaths were never solved.

The accepted belief is that the Bondi Gay murders were a product of the atmosphere of the times, and were contained in the period from the late Seventies to the Nineties. However, in looking at a series of disappearances and deaths of gay men in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs in recent years, it seems things are unsettled - and unsettling. Did the murders ever end? Is there a killer or group of killers targeting Sydney's gay men to this day?

There are some disturbing cases:

Matthew Leveson, 20 from Cronulla, who was last seen leaving Sydney's ARQ nightclub, just off the famous Oxford St strip, in September 2007. Mr Leveson's boyfriend of two years was tried and acquitted of his murder in 2009; his body has never been found. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of his body.

Anthony Cawsey, 37 from Redfern, who was found murdered in Centennial Park in Sydney's east in September 2009. Mr Cawsey was described as having a "secret gay life", not openly identifying as homosexual. Mr Cawsey left his home the night before the murder after returning from work, possibly travelling to Centennial Park where there was a known gay beat. Police have denied Mr Cawsey's death was a gay hate crime or linked to any other murders; it remains unsolved.

Simon Knight, 32 from Redfern, who was last seen at the Crown Hotel in Surry Hills in July 2005. Mr Knight, lived openly as a gay man and was said to be suffering from depression; there was also speculation that he had been recently diagnosed with HIV around the time of his disappearance. Police stated in 2013 that they believe he is alive and well; however, there is now a $100,000 reward for information regarding the circumstances of his disappearance.

Ahmed Ghoniem, 27 from Elizabeth Bay or Potts Point (accounts vary; the two areas adjoin), found seriously injured in his burning apartment in October 2012; he died of his injuries shortly after. Mr Ghoniem was an Egyptian national who moved to Australia to live openly as himself without fear of persecution. Mr Ghoniem was a regular at nightclubs on Oxford Street including Phoenix and ARQ. Following his death, Mr Ghoniem's wealthy family refused to have his body returned to Egypt due to his life as an openly gay man, and he was buried in Rookwood Cemetery. No one has ever been charged in relation to his death.

Speculation about a serial killer has been circulating in the gay community for several years, dismissed by police, referring to gay activist Gary Burns who contacted police regarding the theory, as "a lunatic" (for which the assistant commissioner later apologised). But then of course the initial wave of deaths were written off as accident. The relationship between police and the gay community has improved enormously since then, but doubts and questions still remain. I hope someone is taking a good look at these cases and asking difficult questions.


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