A Violent Confrontation Ends Man’s Colorful Life : Raid: Reclusive millionaire Don Scott was killed by a drug task force looking for marijuana plants at his ranch. The search came up empty; his lawyer says a wrongful death lawsuit will be filed.
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.
At age 61, Scott 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 luxury liner, “The Other Woman,” docked at a European port.
But a cruise was not to be for Donald Peatling Scott, whose idiosyncrasies were widely known in the Malibu community, but whose background was shrouded in legends and myths.
Just before 9 a.m. on Oct. 2, a drug task force composed 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 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 living room of the rustic wood-and-stone ranch house.
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, piercing 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 shooting, but not a single marijuana plant was found.
Gutsue believes that Scott could have been taken alive and said 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, like some members of his family, was educated in Switzerland. He spoke fluent French. Boxes of photographs in Scott’s study provided a glimpse into his childhood on Manhattan’s East Side, where his wealthy parents raised him.
Scott’s worldly sophistication did not stop him from enjoying the life of a good ol’ country boy, however. He enjoyed standing by his ranch gate, alongside his souped-up 1977 GMC utility truck, chewing the fat with neighbors about everything 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, said attorney Gutsue.
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 IBM stock, Gutsue said.
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, an elixir that enjoyed great sales.
Even Gutsue, 52, who will be the executor for 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, carried just a few bucks in his pocket, and left it to his wives to handle his finances.
Scott could not even be bothered with filing federal income tax returns, not because he was a schemer, but simply because it was not 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.
Gutsue recalled that when he 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 be purchased in the mid-1960s.
In a bitter court battle with the actress in 1966, 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 the assets, the Trousdale Estates home was sold, and Scott, in 1966, took up full residence at the 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.
His later years were complicated by cataracts, which forced him to endure two recent eye operations that left him partially blind.
His spirits were lifted a few months ago when he married 38-year-old Frances Plante of 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.
“We were very spiritual people who just wanted to be in love and have peace,” Plante said in an interview.
Plante’s recollections of the morning of Oct. 2, when sheriff’s deputies burst into the house, are vivid. They crashed through the front door before she could respond to them, she said, and pushed her backward through the kitchen and into the living room.
“Don’t shoot me! Don’t kill me!” Plante recalled screaming as uniformed deputies poured into the house.
Suddenly, Scott, who had been sleeping and apparently was awakened by his wife’s cries, rushed into the living room holding a gun over his head, she said. “They said: ‘Put the gun down,’ three times rapidly,” she recalled. As Scott’s arm dropped, he was fatally shot.
Plante recalled being released by the deputies and moving 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 bumblebee, 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, which ranked higher than the .08 that is used as a legal standard of intoxication for motorists. “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 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 under investigation.
The drug task force operation was based on a search warrant issued the day before the raid by Ventura County Municipal 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 is 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 that their Los Angeles counterparts did not exercise protocol and tell them 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 (on the lack of coordination),” said Capt. Larry Waldie of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Narcotics Bureau in Whittier.
After 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 after the shooting. Scott had hooked up a device to the phone that recorded calls.
In one of the conversations that was 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 after 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 still on the floor.
“He’s busy,” the deputy said.
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