A Hard Hit

Whoever murdered Eric Scott deprived some troubled teens of a reason to make a better life.

Inside Denver's Office of the Medical Examiner, two coroner's assistants unsealed a body bag containing the empty mortal shell of Eric Daniel Scott. A silver ball necklace lay around the body's neck. They removed it, along with the matching nipple rings. Circling the steel autopsy table, Doctor Amy Martin began dictating her observations as Denver Police Department homicide detective Shane Webster looked on.

"The scalp hair has sort of brown roots, although the tips of the hair are a bright marine blue," the coroner noted. "The hair has been arranged in multiple two-inch spikes, which have been formed with some sort of glue-like material."

Scott, who was 27 when he died, was a punk rocker from way back. He would have appreciated the dark irony of a Doc Martin presiding over his postmortem.

The time was 9:45 a.m. on May 30, 2001. It was 24 hours to the minute after Scott's girlfriend called 911 to report that she'd just arrived at Scott's apartment on the top floor of a ramshackle Victorian house in central Denver to find him unresponsive and covered in blood beneath the blankets on his bed.

Doctor Martin continued her survey: "There is an extensive depressed skull fracture of much of the [upper left side of the head]. At the posterior edge of this extensive injury are what appear to be two confluent lacerations separated by a torn bridge of skin. Although overlying tissue still separates the skull from the open air, there is extensive shattering of the skull.... Bright red fluid flows freely from both ear canals."

In other words, someone had bashed Scott's head in.

Before completing the autopsy and certifying the cause of death -- "blunt force injuries to the head" -- the coroner searched Scott's body for identifying marks. She found no surgical scars or needle tracks, just tattoos, starting with one on Scott's left shoulder, which she described as "an older, somewhat faded skull wearing a hood." The grim reaper was a memento of Scott's despairing adolescence, from when he was a street kid in Los Angeles and San Diego, using cocaine and nihilism to salve the wounds that a loveless childhood had lashed across his psyche.

Doctor Martin described a newer tattoo, this one on Scott's lower back, as "some sort of elf-like creature playing a stringed instrument." The creature was Pan, the mischievous Greek god of shepherds and lover of countless woodland nymphs whose name translates literally as "one who gives food."

The death's head represented Scott's origins. Pan was a symbol of what he'd become. He was a shepherd of stray animals of all species, but especially the young lost souls who inhabit the sidewalks, alleys and parks of downtown Denver. He let them crash on his floor during the winter. He kept his kitchen cabinets stocked with boxes of cereal to feed them. He collected blankets and canned food to hand out at night in Skyline Park. Scott acted as an unofficial outreach worker for local homeless youth centers the Spot and Urban Peak by directing kids their way.

Scott didn't live to see Mayor Wellington Webb announce his new plan this month to have the City of Denver purchase and operate long-term housing for homeless youth with no families. But he would have made an effective counselor at such a facility. Among Denver's population of homeless teens, Scott settled disputes, coached practice job interviews, and laid down words to the wise from a guy who'd been there, done that.

He told them: Do it in whatever order works for you, but get off hard drugs, get off the self-pity trip, and get off the streets. When they countered with the-world-hates-me horror stories of child abuse, he trumped them with his own traumatic tales. He preached: Make your own luck. He preached: Escape your destiny.

And Scott walked his talk. He'd turned his own life around dramatically, starting with a move to Denver when he was nineteen. Before that, he'd bounced around, living on the streets of California and Texas, where records show he was busted for stealing a car in March of 1992. Once in Denver, though, he decided to care about the world and his place in it. He stopped doing coke, found a place to live, went to college and became a successful independent businessman -- though not of the sort endorsed by society.

Like Pan, Scott reveled in lawlessness. His successful business venture was as a pot dealer. He imported high-grade marijuana from Northern California, Oregon and British Columbia. Although he wasn't a kingpin, he wasn't small-time, either, buying quarter-pounds and selling quarter-ounces at a profit of between $500 and $1,000 a week. He gave generously to friends in need, paid for his classes at Metro State College, traveled through Europe and saved meticulously.

A few days before he was murdered, Scott invested $10,000 in a San Diego surfboard shop to buy in as a full partner. His plan was to peddle off one last batch of kinder [street slang for excellent marijuana, pronounced to rhyme with "tinder"], get out of the drug business for good, and be living the surf life in California by Independence Day.

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