Death of a Tycoon : Killed in Raid, Rancher Don Scott Was a Man of Legends

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shortly before he was fatally gunned down by members of a law enforcement drug task force, Ventura County rancher and reclusive millionaire Don Scott was contemplating the purchase of a $50-million yacht.

"His last major trip was to Tahiti where he bought some paintings 15 years ago," said longtime friend and family attorney Nick Gutsue of Los Angeles, who was planning to join Scott on a global cruise.

Now, at the age of 61, he was contemplating selling his beloved 250-acre spread, Trail's End Ranch, in the Santa Monica Mountains about one mile from the Los Angeles County line, and buying his own personal luxury liner, "The Other Woman," docked at a European port.

The cruise would have been a crowning touch for Donald Peatling Scott, whose idiosyncrasies were widely known in the Malibu community, but whose background was shrouded in legends and myths.

But it was not to be.

Just before 9 a.m. a week ago Friday, a drug task force made up of Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, National Park Service officials and others drove swiftly through an open ranch gate on Mulholland Highway in Malibu.

Kicking up dust, the caravan of more than a dozen cars and unmarked utility vehicles careened down a rutted dirt road past giant oak trees on land where Chumash Indians once lived.

Armed with a search warrant containing information that Scott was believed to be illegally cultivating marijuana plants, the deputies restrained his wife and burst into the rustic wood and stone ranch house's living room.

There stood the wiry Scott, barefoot, clad in a T-shirt and jeans, a .38-caliber revolver held in his right hand over his head as deputies ordered him to drop it.

As Scott brought his arm down, two deputies opened fire at close range. One of the .9-millimeter bullets missed, crashing through the living room wall. But two found their mark, hitting Scott in the upper chest and killing him instantly.

Deputies searched Scott's property for hours after the fatal shooting, but not a single marijuana plant was found.

Gutsue believes that Scott could have been taken alive and said that a wrongful death suit will be filed.

A separate investigation of the fatal shooting is being conducted by the Ventura County district attorney's office.

Pending the outcome, those who knew Scott best were left last week with their memories of one of Malibu's most colorful characters.

Scott, who was educated in Switzerland and who spoke fluent French, loved to stand by his ranch gate, alongside his souped-up 1977 GMC utility truck, and talk at length with neighbors about subjects ranging from politics to the stock market.

He was not one given to braggadocio.

When he said he knew California Sen. Alan Cranston, indeed, he did know the Democratic lawmaker's family, Gutsue said.

When he complained about the stock market's gyrations, he was talking from a position of knowledge as a man who held millions of dollars worth of International Business Machines Corp. stock, Gutsue confirmed.

His family's fortune was made largely from an interest in a European-based chemical company, his lawyer said. And before that there was a sizable family nest egg passed on by his grandfather, who sold a concoction called Scott's Emulsion, which that enjoyed great sales.

Even the 52-year-old Gutsue, who will be executor of Scott's estate, does not yet know how wealthy his friend was.

"I just found $1.3 million in a New York bank account," Gutsue said. "It was from his mother's trust."

Yet, Scott never flaunted his wealth. Indeed, more often than not, he wore faded denim with just a few dollars in his pocket and left it to his wives to handle his finances.

Scott couldn't even be bothered filing his federal income tax returns, not because he was a schemer, but simply because it wasn't something high on his agenda, his attorney said.

"There's a rumor he hadn't bothered to file income tax returns since 1987," Gutsue said. Instead, the government deducted $3,000 a month from one of his bank accounts, the lawyer said.

Yet, Scott wasn't a penny pincher.

Gutsue recalled that when he--Gutsue--graduated from law school in 1972, Scott gave him a collector's model 1959 Cadillac Eldorado as a gift.

"He was a sweetheart, very generous," Gutsue said.

Scott often complained about his legal entanglements and his deep mistrust of those connected with bureaucracy and the law, Gutsue said.

But that was because he had been through two difficult divorces and was still fighting off process servers. He is survived by his third wife, a son and three daughters.

As a younger man, Scott had a flaming romance in the 1960s with French-born actress Corinne Calvet. He lived with the actress in his Trousdale Estates home and at the Malibu ranch, which he purchased in the mid-1960s.

In a bitter court battle with the actress in 1967, Scott sued Calvet in an effort to recover $750,000 in property he claimed to have given her, including a $3,000 watch said to have belonged to the late Eva Peron, wife of the onetime Argentine dictator, Juan Peron.

During the trial, Scott testified that Calvet practiced voodoo using a silver pendulum and a bar of soap. Indeed, he told a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, it was through Calvet's voodoo that he knew where to sink the well on his Malibu ranch.

Under the court settlement, Calvet kept about half of the assets, the Trousdale Estates home was sold and Scott, in 1967, took up full residence at Trail's End Ranch.

So beautiful was Scott's land that federal officials said they wanted to acquire the ranch and incorporate it into the government's scenic corridor in the Santa Monica Mountains. But Scott would never negotiate with government officials, whom he distrusted.

As Scott aged, he appeared to become more reclusive, but still enjoyed having friends over to the cluttered ranch house where he kept his collections of books, guns, Persian rugs, china, ancient maps of the land of the Chumash and antiques collected from his worldwide travels.

Complicating his later years were cataracts which forced him to endure two recent eye operations which left him partially blind.

His spirits were lifted a few months ago when he married Frances Plante, 38, a tall redhead from Texas, who had been his live-in girlfriend for a year. They were quietly married last July 21 under the picturesque waterfall at the far end of Scott's ranch.

"This land will always be sacred," she said Scott told her after they recited their vows.

Indeed, his spirit has joined those of the Chumash who once inhabited the land, Plante said in an interview last week.

"He was a laugher and a scratcher," she said. "He was a canyon cowboy.

"I saw his ghost last night at the front door. He wasn't talking, but I could hear him breathing. We were very spiritual people who just wanted to be in love and have peace."

Plante's recollections of the morning of Oct. 2, when sheriff's deputies burst into the house, are vivid.

Before she could respond to them, she said, they crashed through the front door and pushed her backward through the kitchen and into the living room.

"Don't shoot me, don't kill me," Plante recalled screaming as deputies poured into the house.

Suddenly, Scott, who had been sleeping, rushed into the living room holding a gun over his head, she said, re-enacting the chaotic sequence.

"They said, 'Put the gun down,' three times rapidly," she recalled in a Texas drawl.

As Scott's arm dropped, he was fatally shot.

Somehow, for a few seconds, Plante recalled being released by the deputies and circling toward her husband's body, which was lying face down in a pool of blood next to a sofa.

At that point, she said, she was in shock and "walking around just like a bumble bee, circling."

Deputies then hustled her out of the house.

A source close to the investigation said a toxicological test showed that Scott's blood-alcohol level was .13, far above the legal intoxication level of .08 for operating a motor vehicle.

"He always was a heavy drinker," attorney Gutsue said.

But Dale Zentzis, a Ventura County deputy coroner, said the official blood test results have not yet been returned to the coroner by the sheriff's lab.

Law enforcement officials said they cannot comment on events surrounding the fatal shooting because the case is still under investigation.

The drug task force operation was based on a search warrant issued the day before the raid by Ventura County Municipal Court Judge Herbert Curtis III. The warrant, which outlines the reasons for the action, has not been made public.

Government sources said the search was the result of fixed-wing aerial surveillance of the area around Scott's ranch and a tip by an informant.

"We firmly believed we had a large marijuana grow," said Capt. Larry Waldie of the Sheriff's Narcotics Bureau in Whittier.

What's more, DEA agents were standing by ready to seize the ranch under federal forfeiture laws triggered by a drug seizure.

But an extensive search of the property produced no marijuana plants, a Los Angeles County sheriff's spokeswoman said.

"They kept saying, 'Where's the plants? Where's the plants?' " Plante said.

"I told the dumb (deputies) I'm the only Plante here," she said.

Particularly embarrassing to the Ventura County Sheriff's Department was the fact that the Los Angeles County sheriff did not exercise protocol and tell them in advance that they were conducting a raid on Ventura turf.

"I was surprised to say the very least," said Ventura Sheriff's Cmdr. Vince France. "In the past they have, but for whatever reason they didn't on this one."

"Basically, we erred," said Capt. Larry Waldie of the Sheriff's Narcotics Bureau in Whittier.

Following the fatal shooting, sheriff's narcotics detectives seized Scott's personal telephone book and other documents. But they did not take a cassette containing tape recordings of the deputies' calls from the house following the shooting.

In one of the conversations that were taped, Sheriff's Lt. Richard DeWitt can be heard reporting the fatal shooting to the Narcotics Bureau in Whittier.

"They did their knock-and-notice thing for quite a while," DeWitt told Capt. Waldie about the raid. "Then the guy came out of the back of the house. . . . He had some kind of revolver. . . . I don't know what kind.

"I told him to put it down. . . . He had it pointed up in the air originally. . . . As he brought it down, he was kinda pointing toward the deputy and I don't know which deputy it is right now."

In a separate recorded conversation, a neighbor called about 20 minutes following the fatal shooting and asked to speak to Scott. A sheriff's deputy took the call on a telephone in the ranch house's living room where Scott's body was lying in a pool of blood.

"He's busy," the deputy said.

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