A Hard Hit
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.
Instead he was beaten to death in his own bed. The friends who mourn him remember Scott as cocky, charismatic and compassionate to a fault. Those friends come from subcultural circles near and far. In July, Colorado's Vespa scooter club dedicated its annual Mile High Mayhem rally to Scott's memory. Many Vespas in Denver belonging to the club's 120 members still bear the commemorative stickers: "ES" and a pot leaf. In Amsterdam, the Flying Pig Hostel where Scott was a repeat guest has painted a wall mural in his honor. Last fall, gutter punks on the Sixteenth Street Mall begged change to buy flowers for his grave.
That grave is anonymous. It's an unmarked plot, barely the size of a coffin, crammed into the grid of a pauper's cemetery along a noisy commercial strip of 44th Avenue in Wheat Ridge. It's impossible to visit Scott's burial place without standing on his grave or that of another beneath a field mined with dog shit.
Scott hated the idea of being buried. He always said he wanted to be cremated instead. His wishes were in his will. But friends say his will was in a safe that was stolen from his apartment the night he was murdered, along with at least $6,000 in cash and a quarter-pound of kinder, worth around $1,600.
Because he had no will and no living relatives, the state took control of his body as well as his estate. His worldly possessions were sold at auction, and he was unceremoniously buried without a headstone.
"The system was never kind to Eric," says Evan Frank, Scott's landlord and friend of six years. "It failed to protect him as a child, it basically screwed with him his whole life, and after he was dead, the system came back around to screw with him a little more."
Paired with the callous treatment of Scott's remains is what his loved ones denounce as a prejudiced lack of enthusiasm by the Denver Police Department to bring his killer or killers to justice. The efforts of the police have certainly not been widespread. More of Scott's friends and acquaintances were interviewed for this article than have been questioned by the cops. Although the investigation of Scott's murder is classified as open and active -- and although many of Scott's friends say they know precisely who killed him -- seven months have passed and no arrests have been made.
"The attitude of the authorities toward dealing with all aspects of Eric's death seems to have been, 'Oh, he was just some punk-rock pot dealer with no family. Good riddance,'" says Frank. "They don't believe he mattered. But they'd be surprised how many of us are grieving and how many of us are angry they're not doing more for him."
"You're trying to find out who killed Eric Scott?"
Joe laughs bitterly and then spits.
"It's no big mystery, dude. I mean, this punk showed up down here the day after the murder, before we had all even heard Eric was dead, right? And this guy was, like, flashing cash, flashing bags of kind bud, flashing his hammer, saying he did it, acting like that made him the man. Right here, dude. I heard him, I saw him, right here."
Joe slaps the concrete for emphasis. It's a chilly afternoon, and he's clustered with five other gutter punks on a row of steps beneath leafless branches in Skyline Park.
One of Joe's friends tugs nervously on a shock of purple hair dangling from his otherwise buzz-cut scalp. "You better quiet up, man. You're gonna get yourself hurt."
Joe's eyes flare. "Who's gonna hurt me?"
Purple hair stays silent.
"Oh, do you mean Kidder?"
"Fuck this." Purple hair gets up and stalks off, his unlaced jump boots scuffing the pavement.
Joe yells after him, "Oh, is big, bad Kidder going to kill me, too? Huh? Why you so afraid, man?"
Purple hair raises his right fist, slowly uncurls a middle finger and keeps walking.
Joe turns back to the group. "Kidder's only getting away with this shit because people are afraid of him and his bitch-ass crew."
Joe intends to hitchhike to Tempe, Arizona, for a winter in the sun. But that's not the point, he says. "The reason I'm talking this much shit is because I'm the only one around here who's not scared of that little psycho motherfucker."
Joe is six feet tall and brawny. He gives his age as eighteen. He's wearing a gray trenchcoat and a black watch cap over peroxide blond hair. He says he used to live with an uncle in Las Vegas who smoked crack and threw billiard balls at him. When he was fifteen, he took off, landed in Denver two years ago, and has been living on the streets ever since. Joe says he met Eric Scott last winter during one of Scott's blanket distributions on the 16th Street Mall.
"We got to talking about drugs, and I was doing a lot of crystal [methamphetamine] at the time, and I wasn't proud of it. He just really broke it down for me on a real level, you know, about how speed kills your soul long before it kills your body, and I pretty much quit. I've slipped a couple times, but I'm mostly off that shit. So I owe him big-time."
There is much nodding among the other heads in the group. Then the pixie in the ski jacket speaks again. She says she met Scott only two months before he was killed. "I was with this guy at the time who was starting to weird me out a little, and Eric sort of pulled me aside and said, 'Look, this guy has really bad energy. You shouldn't be with him.' And so I broke up with him, and he wound up raping the next girl he got with, and then he beat up another chick so bad she had to go to the hospital."
Joe sits down and puts his arm around her. "I'm here to protect you now," he says. Standing next to them is a young man who is shivering, wearing only jeans and a red short-sleeved shirt bearing the image of game-show host Bob Barker and the word "Pimp." He's on lunch break from his job at a fast-food joint three blocks away. "I used to be homeless until about six months ago," he says. "I just come here on my breaks to slum it. I just still fit in here, I guess." He says Scott was the same way. "Even though he had money, you know, you could tell he was still one of us."
Pimp shirt says he used to regularly buy a quarter-ounce of pot, break it into grams and sell it in Civic Center Park. "I'd been doin' it like about four months, and then one day Eric bought me a cup of coffee and just basically gave me this rap like, 'Look, it's all fine and good to make a little money off this, but be smart about it; don't just go out and blow it on X [the designer drug Ecstasy] and forty-ouncers. Use it for something you really need.' So I was like, 'Well, I could use a place to live,' so he helped me figure out my finances, like how much I would need to save every week to be able to score an apartment in three months, right? And I would just set aside that money and have him hold it for me. And then three months later, I had an apartment, so I had an address, so I could get a job. And that's why I'm not homeless."
None of the kids on the steps will give their names, not even their street names -- except for Joe, who initially claims his last name is "Schmoe." Pressed for his legal name, Joe Schmoe produces a junior high school ID card with a picture of him at fourteen years old looking suitably surly. Beneath the photo is his last name: Eslenger.
"Print it," he says. "Print everything I said. Print this: I'm not afraid of Kidder."
Joe's companions are. They practically flinch every time Joe says the name. None of them will admit they were with Joe the day after Scott's murder, when Kidder came around bragging.
"Let's just say it's pretty well known around here that a certain person was saying a certain something about a certain crime," declares a grungy-haired peer with a ring through his septum. "And then let's leave it at that."
But Joe says, "No, let's not."
And then he goes off.
"[Kidder's] not really a street kid, but he used to, like, to come down here a lot and tag the shit out of everything and strut around and act all bad. And he is bad. I admit that. I know he's jacked [robbed] a lot of people. Some of us used to call him 'Hammer' because he always carries a hammer with him for a weapon. But his tag is Kidder. That's what he uses in his graffiti. He's part of a graffiti crew called RTD. That stands for 'Right to Draw.'"
The guy in the pimp shirt puts a hand over Joe's mouth. Joe knocks it away.
"His story about [the murder] kept changing. That first day he said, straight up, he did it. He said he snuck into the dude's place the night before and killed him and took all his money and all his kind bud. A few days after that, a few of us started talking about bringing down some street justice, because Eric was pretty well-liked down here, and with him gone, it was going to be a lot harder to find kind bud."
The others on the steps snicker knowingly. Joe keeps on.
"I think maybe Kidder heard we might be coming after him, because he showed up here one last time with a different story. Now he said he didn't actually do it himself. He said he had just set it up kind of like a home-invasion robbery, and it was really some other guys that went in there...this set of East Coast guys he met down here on the mall. He was going on and on about how nobody was supposed to get hurt and how he was sorry. This was maybe two weeks after it happened. I never saw [Kidder] after that, but about that same time, I heard the cops were asking around about him, and a little bit after that some of his boys came around, delivering threats. Anybody says anything, they're gonna be next kind of thing. Put everybody into a panic.
"But the police never asked me a damn thing," Joe adds. "Because I would have told them the same shit I just told you."
Joe doesn't know Kidder's real name. It's Earl Taylor.
Taylor, 21, grew up in the Denver area and went to Merrill Middle School when he wasn't doing time in the Division of Youth Corrections. Taylor's juvenile criminal record is sealed, but it's clear from letters he mailed to his friends at the time that he was incarcerated for much of his adolescence. In one of the letters, written in 1996, Taylor jokes that he, an older brother and their father were all serving sentences in three separate institutions.
"Earl was an okay guy in middle school. He was kind of shy, actually, kind of cute. He had a lot of friends who were girls," says a close friend of Eric Scott's who went to middle school with Taylor. "He got in a little trouble, but it was mainly over vandalism -- graffiti, mostly. Then he got into stealing car stereos and he got sent away for a while, and it seemed like he was always in and out [of jail] after that."
Like nearly all of Scott's close friends, this one agreed to be quoted only on the condition of anonymity. Like the others, she fears retribution from Taylor.
"He's dangerous now. The real turning point for him was about two years ago, when he got jacked really bad by a couple of guys who beat him in the head with a hammer. That really changed him," she says. "Earl got really violent. He started carrying a hammer. It became his trademark."
Through intermediaries, Taylor refused several requests to be interviewed. But if his ex-friends are to be believed, he talked plenty in the last two years about joining a gang of armed robbers who specialized in ripping off drug dealers.
"He was always going, like, 'It's the bomb. You get the money and the drugs,'" says an ex-graffiti partner of Taylor's. "He said ripping off coke dealers was too dangerous, that it was better to hit pot dealers and rave kids because most of them were pussies."
Scott's girlfriend at the time of his murder is certain Taylor was behind at least one home-invasion robbery of a drug dealer -- her -- in February of 1999, more than a year before she got together with Scott.
"I used to run some stuff over in Glendale, and Earl ripped me off -- I'm sure of it," says Talia (who didn't want her real name used, either). "This one night, he came in and did a deal with me and my friend for, like, two pounds of kinder. An $8,000 deal. Then he left, and five minutes later, these four guys with ski masks and shotguns bust through the door, tied us all up and beat us with the shotguns until we told them where the money was hidden. I called [Earl] the next day and said, 'Don't even try to tell me you didn't do this,' and he basically said if I didn't shut up he'd kill me. He scared me enough that I moved out of that apartment right away."
Talia says the next time she saw Taylor was more than a year later, after she got together with Scott and learned that Taylor was one of her boyfriend's regular customers. "I tripped out," she says. "I told Eric, 'Look, you can't be dealing with this guy. You can't trust him,' and I told him all about how Kidder ripped me off."
Scott didn't like Taylor either, but he liked Taylor's money.
Mike Becker, Scott's best friend and business partner -- and the only friend of Scott's other than landlord Evan Frank who agreed to use his real name -- describes Taylor as "the one sketchy character" Scott sold to. "Most of the people who came through Eric's door were older, professional types. I mean, he wasn't selling dirt weed in the park. This was expensive stuff. A lot of them worked downtown and wore suits; one of them was an ordained minister. Kidder was the exception. He always struck us as this little wannabe gangster kid, and I know Eric wasn't sure about him, because he wouldn't leave Kidder alone in a room with his dog. But Kidder always had the cash."
This was especially true in the days leading up to Scott's murder. While Scott was in California buying into the surf shop, Becker stayed in Scott's place to handle the pot business. He says Taylor was a daily customer that week, making big buys totaling more than $5,000. "He knew Eric was gone, and the money was stacking up," says Becker.
Scott took Talia with him to California. They'd met two years earlier in a therapeutic-massage class they were both taking and began dating sporadically. She had a freebase cocaine habit, and Scott told her he wouldn't get serious with any girl who was on the pipe. Early this year, she got clean and they got serious. Their plan was for her to move to California with him and work in the surf shop. "He was totally ready to go legit," she says. "I think he realized he'd been in a risky business for so long with everything going so well that something bad was about to come down, and it was better to bail now. He just needed a few more days."
Talia and Scott returned from California on Sunday, May 27. She stayed at his place that night and most of the next day. "We'd been down to Tijuana and picked up some Xanax," she says. Xanax is a prescription anti-anxiety drug with popular recreational applications. "Eric liked it because it helped him sleep. He had a lot of nightmares, stuff from his childhood and whatnot. He laid us each out three white bars." A bar of Xanax is a two-milligram pill, the highest dose manufactured. "I pocketed mine, but he took his and started to get ready to crash out early." Talia left around 9 p.m.
The next day, Scott was supposed to call Talia between 8 and 9 a.m. to come pick him up; he'd planned to go target shooting with her brother. But he didn't call. Talia called him and got no answer. She waited until 9:30 and then left for his apartment, arriving about ten minutes later.
Scott lived on the top floor of a turn-of-the-century Victorian on the 300 block of Lincoln Street. The house was known as the "crystal palace" in the mid-1990s because of all the methamphetamine dealers and addicts who lived there before Scott moved in and kicked them out. "He really cleaned the place up," says Frank, the landlord. "I made him house manager and gave him a break on rent."
In the ensuing years, everyone who came to see Scott -- friends as well as customers -- entered through a door leading into the house from the back yard. The door, which was usually unlocked, opened to a stairway leading to a second-floor hallway. In this hallway was the door to Scott's residence, which opened onto another stairway that went up to his spacious third-floor flat. Scott was careful to keep this door locked at all times. But Talia says it was unlocked the morning she found his body.
"I knocked and he didn't come down, so then I checked the lock, and it was open, and I was like, 'Oh, that's weird,' because when I left the night before, I knew I'd locked it. I walked up the stairs, calling to him, and when I walked into his bedroom and saw him lying there, I thought he was just all Xanaxed out, because the covers were completely over him. I went over and jiggled him a little bit and said, 'Wake up, sleepy,' and then I yanked back the covers."
That's when she saw the blood.
Talia says that after she called 911 and asked for an ambulance -- "I thought he might still be alive" -- she had just enough time to search the apartment. Scott kept his drug money in a blue zippered bank pouch inside his microwave, where he also hid his wares. She says that when she'd left, just twelve hours earlier, there had been $6,000 in the bank bag and a quarter-pound of kinder packaged for sale. Now it was gone. Scott's small safe -- where he kept his will, more money and his personal stock of marijuana -- was also missing, along with "a few thousand dollars he kept stashed in other places" and his gun, a Ruger 9mm pistol he kept in a cabinet in his headboard. "Everything else was still there," she says. "They definitely knew going in what they were after and where to find it."
Talia doesn't remember any signs of a struggle. "There weren't, like, blood patterns all over the room or anything. The bed was soaked, and there were blood spatters on the wall behind the bed and on the ceiling right over it, but that was it. It looked to me like they had hit him while he was in bed and then pulled the covers all the way over him so they didn't have to look at it."
Scott's Afghan hound, Tazzy, was nervously pacing the apartment. When the ambulance crew arrived, she bared her teeth and wouldn't let them come near the bed. "The paramedics told me I had to control the dog, so I took Tazzy downstairs into the hall," says Talia. "Then I just put my arms around her and collapsed."
The EMTs pronounced Scott dead on arrival and radioed the police, who sealed off the crime scene.
Denver police detective Shane Webster, the lead investigator assigned to the case, won't say whether he believes Scott was attacked while asleep or if he put up a fight. He maintains it would be unwise for him to discuss any specifics of what he found inside Scott's apartment. "There are certain details about the crime scene we need to keep close to our vest at this point, so that if someone does come forward with solid information or we do get something on somebody, we have those details to verify or disprove their story with," he says.
But Frank, the landlord, says residents of the other four apartments in the house reported hearing nothing out of the ordinary the night of the murder.
The first person Webster checked out was Talia. She says that soon after he arrived at the apartment, Webster asked her to come down to the station with her. She agreed. On the way, she popped the Xanax in her pocket from the night before. "I'm glad I did. It made the police station a little more bearable," she says. "They told me it would only take about half an hour. It took like five." She says she was first interrogated, then given a lie-detector test. "I think they thought I did it because I had pink hair at the time. They hooked me up to the machine and asked me what time I left, did I know who was involved, did I kill him, all that. They videotaped me the whole time, while I was a complete mess."
Detective Webster confirms that Scott's girlfriend was administered a polygraph. He won't say whether she passed. "That's another one of those details I just can't release."
Becker and Frank both arrived outside Scott's apartment while his body was inside. Frank noticed that someone had propped a ladder against the back wall of the house and unscrewed a security light. Like Talia, Becker immediately suspected Earl Taylor. "I called him, and he didn't answer, and I kept calling all day. Kidder had Caller ID, and usually he always picked up right away when I called," Becker says. "He was hiding."
The day after the murder, Scott's friends heard Taylor had been down in Skyline Park, bragging. They called Detective Webster. They say Webster told them he wanted to bring in Taylor for questioning and gave them a mug shot from one of Taylor's juvenile arrests to pass around. They also say Webster told them Taylor's home number was the last number logged on Scott's cell phone -- another detail Webster won't confirm or deny.
The homicide investigator does acknowledge this much, though: Taylor became a suspect and was questioned three weeks after the murder. "The word on the street was very consistent about this individual's involvement, and so we did ask that individual some questions," Webster says. "He maintained that he knew the victim but had nothing to do with what happened. To this point, I don't have anything to tie him directly to any part of this. We don't have enough to arrest him or anyone else."
Scott's friends remain convinced of Taylor's guilt. And they remain afraid of him. (Two of them quoted in this article made arrangements to leave Denver the day before it was published.) Becker moved to South Carolina in July, two months after the murder. "If I'd stayed, I would have either killed Kidder or died trying," he says.
Scott's apartment was broken into several times in the month after he was killed. One visitor left a bouquet of roses. Another painted the word "redrum" ("murder" backwards) on the door and left a hammer.
The killing of Eric Scott was page-seventeen news. The Denver Post covered the crime in 33 words, the Rocky Mountain News in fifty, barely enough to note Scott's name, age and the fact that he'd been beaten to death.
The big story at that time was the condition of Westy the Cat, who earned front-page headlines such as "Burned Cat Appears Better, Nibbles Kibble." Not that Scott would have minded. He was an animal lover.
Over the years, Scott took in dozens of stray cats, carpeting the banisters in his apartment's stairway for their convenience. He paid to have the cats fixed, then placed them with friends, who say the cats often ran away and went back to Scott. His closest animal companion, though, was his dog, Tazzy. Whenever Scott dyed his hair a new color, he usually dyed a strip of hair on the Afghan hound's head to match. He even talked several of his instructors into letting Tazzy attend classes with him at Metro, where Scott had been studying to be a veterinarian before deciding to invest in the surfboard shop instead.
"Eric was always trying to look after others he thought needed looking after, whether animals or people," says Frank, who adopted Tazzy after Scott was murdered. "He told me his childhood made him that way."
It made him other ways as well.
The State of California's Department of Social Services shows that Scott was in the system from the age of four until he was sixteen. That's when he ran away from the last in a series of hellish foster homes.
Scott's friends say he was sexually promiscuous and bisexual and that he self-analyzed both proclivities as psychological reactions to being raped repeatedly by foster brothers in several of the group homes he'd lived in. "Being a slut was Eric's way of reclaiming his sexuality," says one.
Talia remembers that the sight of eggs sickened him because in one of his foster homes, he was forced to eat rotten eggs for breakfast. Scott was anti-cigarette smoking. He despised the hypocrisy of a tobacco industry that contributed money to anti-drug campaigns, and he said that too often, cigarettes reminded him of a particularly vile foster mother who chain-smoked and extinguished her butts on his legs. He had the scars to back up his story.
But more than anything, the evil that infested Scott's childhood made him desire to exorcise his demons by one day becoming the perfect parent.
"Eric wanted kids so bad it wasn't even funny. He went and took parenting classes just to get a head start," says Darcy, one of Scott's oldest friends. "He took anger-management classes because he read that abused children often turn into abusive parents, and he was dead set that that's not what he would be. He was great with my son. Anytime I needed a babysitter, I could call Eric. Anytime I needed money for diapers or groceries, I called Eric and I got it. My son's five now, and he keeps asking when Eric's coming over again, because Eric's the best father my son ever had."
Darcy, who is 31, first encountered Scott about eight years back at Muddy's, a notorious downtown coffeehouse whose owners erected a barrier of scrap wood topped with spikes around the back patio to dissuade their gutter-punk clientele from hopping the fence to avoid paying the $1 cover charge. Before it closed for good in the summer of 1997, Muddy's stayed open until 4 a.m. Scott was a regular. He was in his environment amid walls scribbled with graffiti, torn-up couches and street kids getting stoned.
"He had just started to get off the streets when I got to know him. He didn't really have his shit together yet, but he already had this charisma where he could walk into a room, like in Muddy's, and just own it in like five minutes," says Darcy. "He had this gift where he could talk to just about anyone and make them feel like they were important to him."
One morning in the summer of 1993, Scott walked into a cafe on Broadway, walked up to a fourteen-year-old girl with a strawberry birthmark on her face, and with one expression of kindness made a friend for life. "All through grade school and middle school, kids called me 'Kool-Aid face,'" says Chelsea, now 22. "Eric came up to me, and the first thing he ever said to me was that my birthmark was beautiful. I'd never had anyone say that to me before. My friends would say stuff like, 'Oh, it's not that bad. You can hardly notice it.' But Eric said it was more beautiful than any tattoo he'd ever seen, and for the first time in my life, I wasn't ashamed of it."
Shortly before he charmed Chelsea, Scott had moved into his first real residence, a rathole studio apartment at First Avenue and Broadway that he shared with a revolving cast of cretins and Becker, his best friend.
"I'd met Eric not long after he first got to Denver, and he more or less pulled me off the streets with him," says Becker. "He taught me how to take care of myself. He taught me to manage my money. He taught me how to ride a motorcycle, he taught me how to snowboard, and he taught me how to love. He was my family."
Two years ago, Becker tested positive for HIV. He lacked insurance for the costly prescription drugs he needed to fight the virus. Scott covered them all. "He used to say it was just one drug dealer paying another," says Becker.
But not all of Scott's money came from drugs. He was also a successful gambler. He played slots and blackjack, he counted cards, and he won a lot of money a little bit at a time except for when he won a lot all at once. Frank has a Polaroid picture of Scott standing with the bosses of a Black Hawk casino, grinning like a joker, holding a giant check for $5,000. He'd hit the jackpot on a dollar slot.
"Eric never lost," says Frank. "Losing was not part of the game for him, because he always knew to quit while he was ahead." That's what the move to California was all about for Scott: beating the house while he could still walk away. "Eric and I talked a lot about his future, and we'd both come to the conclusion that he needed to get out of Denver," adds Frank. "The night before he died, my wife made cookies for me to take over to him, and I told him I was sad because he was leaving but I was overjoyed for him."
The next morning, that joy drowned in a hard rain of shock and then grief and then anger. Those who held Scott close to their hearts are angry at whoever killed him, just as they're angry at the lack of progress in the investigation of his murder. But they are also furious at the official processing of his body and his belongings.
Scott was survived by at least a dozen souls who loved him. But since none of them shared his genes, they had no legal claim to his estate or a role in his funeral arrangements. Because there was no record of Scott's will, his possessions, among them turntables, snowboards, surfboards, a motorcycle, two cars, Oriental rugs and several glass sculptures, were sold at auction. Frank and Talia persistently called the office of the lawyer assigned by the city and county to oversee Scott's case. They wanted to find out the date, time and location of the auction. They never received a response.
"My parents are wealthy enough that they would have outbid anybody for anything of Eric's I wanted," says Talia. "I would have told anyone at that auction, 'Hey, this is my boyfriend's stuff. He got murdered, and you don't have a right to it.' But it was like they sold it all in secret and then didn't even give him a decent funeral."
R.L. Steenrod, the public administrator for the City and County of Denver assigned to handle what he calls "problem cases" such as Scott's, says he has no legal responsibility to notify anyone other than blood relatives of an estate auction, and so he didn't. Citing respect for Scott's privacy, Steenrod refuses to disclose how much money Scott's belongings fetched at auction. Speaking generally about similar cases, he explains that after all the decedent's creditors are paid, and after Steenrod compensates himself for his work as "the fiduciary of last resort," there is rarely enough money left over to pay for more than the most basic of burials.
But Scott never wanted to be buried. He wanted to be cremated, and everyone who knew him knew it.
"I kept telling them, 'I can bring you affidavits from fifty people saying Eric told them he absolutely wanted to be cremated when he died,' and they kept saying, 'Fuck you, there's nothing in writing,'" says Frank. "They didn't care. They had no interest in following his wishes. They just wanted to get him in the ground and get it over with."
Like the auction, the date and time of Scott's burial were undisclosed. Anyone who asked was notified of his grave's grid number only after his coffin was under the sod. "We were pretty pissed, but we tried to put that aside, and a week or so after they told us they'd buried him, about a dozen of us went out there and searched around for the spot and sat around in a circle and told Eric stories. That was the best we could do," says Becker.
The system did allow the protectors of the memory of Eric Daniel Scott one concession: They were allowed to provide his burial clothes. Becker picked out Scott's favorite outfit: a blue pinstriped zoot suit and a pair of blue suede shoes. Before he turned over the attire, he rolled a joint of kind bud and hid it in the inside breast pocket of the suit jacket.
"I figured wherever Eric was going, he could light it up when he got there, pass it around and start making friends."
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