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

October 11, 1992|RON SOBLE | 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.

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