Christmas Eve mystery now turns 45 years old

December 24, 2009|By Peter Hermann | peter.hermann@baltsun.com

In 1968, Louis Azrael, a columnist for the News American, got a letter from a Mrs. Scott asking him to write about her husband and three of his friends who had gone missing four years earlier on Christmas Eve.

She pleaded, "Perhaps someone may have some information and let us know."

Olive Scott died of colon cancer in 1982 without getting any answers.

Now, 45 years after Lawrence Scott and the others disappeared after drinking in a Fells Point bar, Mrs. Scott's son, Charles, and his wife, Patsy, are making the same plea to another Baltimore newspaper.

"I'm one of those people who has got to know, got to know," Patsy Scott said by telephone from her home in Andalusia, Ala.

But she knows that after all this time, there probably are no answers.

"There might be nothing we can know until we ask the good Lord ourselves," she said.

Azrael wrote in 1968, and in an earlier column in 1966, that the missing foursome - Scott, Robert Hastings and John and Pauline McPherson - were at the time "one of Baltimore's deepest mysteries" and that "three families, many friends and many policeman have worked and worried and hoped to solve it."

As memories fade, so does the paperwork.

Baltimore police were unable to unearth any reports or notes on the missing men and women for Azrael. To be fair, officers at the time were busy hunting for the missing Veney brothers, who on Christmas Eve had killed a police lieutenant, wounded another officer and robbed a liquor store in what for years stood as the largest manhunt in city history.

A search of The Baltimore Sun's archives for the missing people came up empty as well. All that is left are faltering memories from relatives and the yellowed News American columns that Patsy Scott found this past Veterans Day tucked in an envelope with her husband's medal from the Vietnam War.

Her husband had told her about his lost father, but she never pressed for details and had never read the newspaper's account. She said her husband gets "real quiet" as Christmas approaches.

"There's got to be some kind of closure," Patsy said. "Forty-five years is long enough. I want Christmas to be normal again."

Here is the account of what happened, pieced together from Azrael's column and from an interview with Charles Scott:

Lawrence Scott, a carpenter at a yacht company, got his paycheck on a Friday, delivered it to his wife in Dundalk and then met drinking buddies at the Harbor Lite Inn, a tavern at Aliceanna and Bond streets. Scott frequented the place because he owned a rental property nearby.

He met up with the McPhersons - who had just cooked a holiday turkey and wrapped Christmas presents - and with Hastings, a tugboat captain who lived on the Eastern Shore. Back then, Fells Point was a rough-and-tumble place, seedy rather than touristy, where people of sometimes questionable character mixed with alcohol of questionable quality.

They drank and were last seen climbing into an Oldsmobile. Police and witnesses believed the car drove off a pier on a dark, foggy night and plunged into the harbor, though no one saw it happen. Police searched the murky water with grappling hooks and found a vehicle with a body inside, but it was neither the Oldsmobile nor any of the four people missing from the bar. It was a man who had been reported missing three months earlier.

Lawrence Scott was 55 at the time and had been married 28 years. He had five children, including Charles, who described his father as strict but also hard-working, having toiled in the mines in Western Maryland and at city brickyards before working for the yacht company.

"I don't remember ever going hungry, and I always had a warm bed to sleep in," Charles Scott recalled. At the same time, he described his father as a "weekend alcoholic" - shunning the spirits from Monday through Friday but returning to the Fells Point tavern on the weekends.

He's a bit resentful. "If only he had stayed home with his loving wife and children ..."

At the same time, the son said, "I loved my old daddy. He was a tough old rascal. I would like to know what happened to him."

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