February 10, 2020 | Sheifalika Bhatnagar
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Herbert Donnell Scott was a tinkerer who always wanted to own a hardware store in the small town of Acworth, Georgia. His family and friends called him Don, and they knew how much he loved getting his hands dirty – rebuilding antique cars and cutting stones to make jewelry for his wife.
Don retired from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers after 36 years as a soil analyst during the construction of the Panama Canal. It was there, in Panama, that he would develop a love for geology.
Mrs. Scott would often tease her husband about his love of rocks, saying he was the only man she knew who was paid to make mud pies for a living. Rebecca Palmer, Don’s daughter, couldn’t help but laugh when recalling stories just like that. She was 21 years old when her father was killed. Her brother Chris was 18.
It was October 28, 1985. Don was living in a trailer behind his own hardware store – the dream had finally come true. He closed the store and went home to wait for a friend to come over and cut his hair. After his haircut, he settled in to watch Monday Night Football. Don and his friend would traditionally watch the games together.
That night. he watched the game alone.
From outside of the trailer, someone approached and looked through the window. The person then shot Don with a 22-caliber gun, five times. Don stood up and tried to find his own gun in the back of his trailer, but he had left it in his briefcase inside his hardware store.
Don made his way to the front of the trailer before falling through the glass patio doors onto the ground outside. That’s when the murderer shot him four more times in the back of the head. The gunman took Don’s wallet and headed to the hardware store.
After a string of burglaries at three hardware store and the neighboring bait and tackle shop, Don and his friend set up alarms inside their respective shops. After shooting Don, the gunman apparently broke into the hardware store, setting off the alarm. That awoke the other business owner, who went to go turn off the alarm.
On his way to the store, the friend found Don’s body and called the police. The gunman was long gone by then.
To this day, no one has ever been charged in Don’s murder.
Don was known to be a fair-minded and practical man. He was generous with his love and support for his family and took care of his wife with severe multiple sclerosis for most of their 11-year marriage. He raised their two children, Rebecca and Chris, after his wife’s death, with the help of friends and his community in Acworth.
In the 1980s, the small town had just one traffic light. Acworth was dubbed “Little Shanty” by the Union soldiers during the Civil War in 1864. Before the troops left, General Sherman burned the entire town down, leaving its residents impoverished and forced to rebuild or move away. By the 1980s, Acworth had recovered, but only a few thousand people lived there. Today roughly 30,000 residents call it home. And the building where Don had his dream store remains standing.
One story stands out for his daughter Rebecca. When her father worked in the South Atlantic Division Laboratory in Marietta, Georgia, he often helped repair the vending machines. At that time, candy bars cost 45 cents, but the vending machines only accepted quarters. Don saw a logical solution, of course. He taped a nickel to every single snack in the machine, so everyone would get their exact change along with their purchase. Don always found a way to give back in sweet and subtle ways, Rebecca recalled.
Rebecca also sees her father live on in her brother, who shares Don’s way of thinking. She remembers a story when Chris was driving from Georgia to Florida. He was traveling through small towns in a rush when, suddenly, one of the tires on his car fell off, stopping him and his friend in the middle of nowhere, in an age before cell phones.
Chris searched for the lost tire, but to no avail. He couldn’t call for help and had no time to waste. Chris got the spare, but quickly realized that there was no way to secure the tire to the vehicle without the lug nuts. So he did what his father did best – he improvised. Chris removed a lug nut from each of the remaining wheels and fastened the spare to his vehicle, solving his problem and safely making it to Florida just in time for an early morning appointment.
The life of Herbert Donnell Scott exists in the stories his siblings and children tell his grandchildren. Don’s killer has not yet been found. This murder would later be revealed to be the second in a string of four killings over a four-month period. All victims were men who owned their own business, were shot multiple times, and had their wallets were stolen.
The Georgia Department of Investigation has no new leads, even 34 years later.
“My father never got to meet his grandkids,” Chris said. “That hit me hard when I became a grandfather.”
If you have any information about this case, contact the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office at 678-493-4100.
Research and Impact
Experts claim that a majority of cold cases are resolved due to a change in relationship. Cases go cold for a reason and one of the best avenues to creating new leads is for those in the community to come forward with information. Whether a person was dating or friends with the potential suspect at the time, found religion, has a heavy conscience, overcame addiction – people change over time and sometimes that’s all it takes for law enforcement to solve a cold case. Those individuals may now be willing to come forward. We hope to reach them.
Each case is different. Some just need the final puzzle piece to make an arrest and take the case to court.
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