Back last October when the Historical Society was hosting the Greenwood Cemetery tour, I was portraying Ben Scott. I believe it was the last group that came through, Julie Hower and her family were present, and at the end of my story Julie asked me a question that I was not prepared to answer. “Wasn’t B.R. Scott an embezzler?” I was caught off guard as you can imagine. I replied that I was not aware of such a thing and it was news to me. Julie told me there was a picture of him at the back of the bank and she had heard that he was an embezzler. Now, most folks might get a bit bent out of shape if one was to accuse a long past family member of such an offense. I, however, was not. This sounded like a great story for the paper and I was eager to prove if it were true or not.
I asked John White what he knew of this story. He said that he had heard B.R. was the one guilty of embezzlement but knew no details. I then went to the bank to take a look at the photograph. It turned out to be B.R.’s son Ernest Dewey Scott in the picture. Ernest was a cashier for the bank for many years. My suspicions then turned to Ernest.
I began to develop a theory in my head. I was highly doubtful that the perpetrator was Ben Scott since he was the vice president of Farmers and Drovers for many years up until the time of his death. If he would have been guilty of embezzlement I think the bank would have dismissed him from his position. Since Ernest was the cashier it would stand to reason that he would have the best opportunity to misplace money. Then I started thinking about what I knew of Ernest. I knew he died a sudden and what seemed unexpected death, it shocked the whole community. So I got to thinking maybe he committed suicide because of what he had done? This was one of the more reasonable of my wild ideas that I won’t bother to dazzle you with.
Well, all of that was just a theory I had with no substance. I had to search the papers and find out how Ernest Scott died and if the paper contained any information about embezzlement at the Farmers and Drovers. While looking through the Council Grove Republican (which at that time seemed to be a pretty poor informant) I found an announcement of the death of E.D. Scott and an obituary. Both were very expressive as to the great loss to the community and the “gloom over the city” and of course many words of praise for the deceased; loving father of five and devoted husband; survived by mother and mother in law etc. but no mention of how he died. I had to look to the The Daily Guard for the whole story. On the front page of the Thursday May 15th 1924 Guard in bold letters read “CASHIER SCOTT A SUICIDE.”
I thought I was about to prove my theory! As I read through the column it was much like the Cooley suicide which you may recall reading some time back. Scott went to work at the bank in the morning everything seemed normal. He met several people on the street and seemed his genial self. There was no indication of what was to come. Scott went home for lunch and at about 12:50 he took his life with a shotgun. When questioned, W. H. White, president of the bank, stated that he “was sure that cashier Scott’s accounts in the bank were all straight and all cash accounted for.” White said he knew of a few things that Scott was worried about but nothing to indicate “self destruction.” So that seemed to cancel out the theory of embezzlement, at least with Farmers and Drovers.
Looking at the exemplary character of both Benjamin and Ernest Scott, portrayed by the town’s folk, I would bet the story of embezzlement was likely nothing more than a rumor. And we all know how rumors can fly around here. Three different times in the past eight years I was the last one to hear that I was closing the barbershop and opening one up in Cottonwood Falls. And I’m sure someone will only read the last half of the preceding sentence and precipitate me to another move.
In fact, reading through the paper following the tragic event, you get a very colorful picture of how the town felt about E.D. Scott. The mayor made a proclamation that all houses of business would close from 2:30 to 3:30 during the funeral service on Saturday. All the banks in town closed their doors at 2:15 and remained so for the day. Why don’t we do that anymore?
E.D. Scott was active in the city government as well as county. As an employee of the city he did have disagreements with individuals, but it was noted that when the smoke cleared he always shook hands and with a smile made peace with the incensed party.
Did B.R. or E.D. Scott misappropriate money from Farmers and Drovers? I believe anything is possible, but I personally think it highly unlikely in this case. There are many unanswered questions to this case, but anyone who could satisfy our curiosity lies beneath the sod of Greenwood Cemetery.
Addenda- F.J. Revere said that he remembers his parents and many others talking of this incident. The story that Revere remembered is that Ernest did embezzle money, but not from the bank. He made an investment in something and the investment went bad. Revere did not remember the exact amount but said something like $1,600 stuck in his head. It was by no means a lot of money by today’s standard. Revere said the whole town was sick over the suicide. Because everyone had so much respect for Ernest and his family, they kept quiet about the money and tried to cover it up or let it die. They didn’t want the family to have to deal with the embarrassment. Revere believed that if Ernest would have just told someone they probably would have helped him out and he would have continued to live. I have had some theories as to what he might have invested in but nothing solid. It is possible he was still running his father’s lumber company. Maybe it was a building investment that went bad.