Separated by a door and preconceived notions, an arrest turned deadly in 1973

By Myracle Lewis, Amelia Gabor and Birdie O’Connell
LSU Manship School News Service

On a hot, quiet morning in July 1973, 21-year-old Milton Scott heard a loud knock at his door. 

Scott was lying in bed with his pregnant wife, Beverly, and their two-year-old daughter, Andrea. He felt uneasy about a bloody nightmare he’d had that night.

“I had to do everything I could do to calm him down, to let him know that he was just having a bad dream,” Beverly said before releasing a loud sigh.

But the unconscious terror would soon become reality. 

Around 11 a.m., FBI agents Delbert Hahn and William Wood arrived at the green duplex at 2618 Alaska St., expecting to make, for them, what was a routine arrest. Scott was allegedly wanted for deserting the Army. 

Before knocking on the door, Hahn, who felt uneasy about the neighborhood, grabbed Wood’s blackjack from the car. Then, the agents approached the wooden door and noticed a brass nameplate titled “Milton X.”

The shiny plaque displayed Scott’s religious fervor for the Nation of Islam, but it rang alarm bells for Hahn, who had interviewed Black Muslims involved in a shootout in Baton Rouge a year earlier. Those Muslims were visiting from Chicago, and the confrontation had left two sheriff’s deputies and two Black men dead, a TV reporter paralyzed and more than 30 people injured. 

Although Baton Rouge officials stated that no local Muslims had been involved in the incident, Hahn said he was nervous when he saw Scott’s sign.

And as he opened the door, Scott, an LSU employee who cleaned Tiger Stadium, had his own suspicions. He had never been in the Army, and his recent membership at the local mosque had fortified a mistrust of white people. 

“He knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, so why should he go anywhere with anybody?” Roy Ameen Mateen Qaadir, former secretary of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 65 in Baton Rouge, said recently.

A brief verbal interaction escalated into a fight. Two gunshots followed a split second apart. Barefoot and breathless, Scott was pronounced dead in his front yard. 

“When I heard that first shot go off, I said, ‘Oh, my God. They’re trying to kill my husband,’” Beverly said. 

Hours later, the FBI discovered that Scott was a victim of identity theft. Calvin Wallace, whom Scott had met on a trip to California, was the real deserter and was already serving a seven-year sentence at the San Quentin State Prison for other crimes.

But there was more. 

Had the FBI executed a standard fingerprint check on the deserter, it would have noticed the error. Tragically, the Bureau had ended its fingerprint search requirement in 1969 due to labor shortages and high desertion rates during the Vietnam War. 

A failure by the Army to furnish the FBI with a photo of the deserter also kept the agents from realizing they were pursuing the wrong man. 

But with the 50th anniversary of Scott’s death coming Tuesday, one central question still reverberates: How did a matter that could have been resolved fairly easily turn deadly? And the answer seems to hinge on the preconceptions that Scott and the agents brought to the encounter–and that still shape the interactions between young Black men and law-enforcement officers today.

During federal and state grand jury investigations, two opposing viewpoints emerged. 

Beverly said Scott fought to defend his family after the armed agents barged into the house and dragged him out. The agents testified that they acted in self-defense after Scott violently resisted.

In recent interviews, Scott’s widow and the agents upheld their conflicting accounts. However, they agreed on one point: The loss of a life taken in less than five minutes could have been prevented. 

The LSU Cold Case Project investigated Scott’s death, gathering more than 700 pages of FBI files and talking to more than 30 people. Both FBI agents talked publicly for the first time about the case, and this two-part series represents the first full narrative of what happened from both sides and explores the emotional scars left by the shooting. 

The findings also highlight the significance of that moment at Scott’s front door, which served as a physical and perceptual barrier that divided his and the agents’ preconceptions about each other’s motives. 

‘I Do What I Believe is Right’  

Police on the scene of the shooting of Milton X Scott at Scott’s Baton Rouge home.

Milton Scott grew up in Old South Baton Rouge, also known as “The Bottom,” a Black neighborhood of once-thriving businesses that was isolated as the construction of U.S. Interstates 10 and 110 displaced Black families. 

During hot summers, most youth flocked to baseball. “We didn’t have anything else as an outlet,” said Edgar Freeman, who was only 16 years old when Scott died. 

Although Scott was on McKinley High School’s baseball team, another outlet was art. His pencil sketches of abstract art captivated his future wife, Beverly Grant, who now uses the Muslim last name Shabazz. She said he considered pursuing an art degree while attending Southern University. 

He applied to the HBCU in hopes of finding a better future. Scott described himself on the application: “I do what I believe is right, and I like to be told when I’m doing wrong.”

When a pencil wasn’t in his hand, a dance floor was beneath his feet. Scott’s moves crowned him as the Dancing Machine. 

“He was doing moves that Michael Jackson wished he could’ve done back in the day,” Beverly said.

Marty Minor said his Uncle Milton was a regular guy who liked to bond over card games, football or the breakfast staples of coffee, milk and toast. “He was a Black man trying to make it in the early ‘70s.” Minor said.

The 1960s and the 1970s saw the rise of racial conflict, anti-discrimination efforts and Black pride. The Nation of Islam’s ideals of economic self-sufficiency in Black communities and liberation from white supremacy unnerved many white people, who feared violence. But the group compelled new followers, including Scott, to join for religious reasons or in a search for social justice.

In June 1972, Scott married Beverly, and the two joined Muhammad’s Mosque No. 65. The mosque operated under the nationalist religious movement’s leader, Elijah Muhammad. 

Beverly said Scott “believed that what they were saying and doing was the truth. He said this is giving the Black man credit. He’s no longer a slave when he becomes a Muslim; he’s an ex-slave.” 

He also took on the name Milton X Scott.

After Scott’s death, police found no weapons in his home. Instead, they found one Nation of Islam flag, two pictures of Elijah Muhammad, four books written by Muhammad and about 75 editions of the “Muhammad Speaks” newspaper. 

Minor noticed his uncle’s transformation. “He was quieter,” Minor said. “When he did speak on something, he spoke emphatically about it. You believed him.” 

Qaadir, the mosque’s former secretary, said Scott “was the closest thing we had to a lieutenant.  … He was all for it; he was gung-ho. Everything had to be perfect.”

While friends thought of Scott as funny and kind, he was also known for his assertiveness. According to former Nation of Islam member Daniel Thomas, Scott always said that if he were attacked by police, or what they called devils at the time, he would protect himself and his family.

Baton Rouge Riot Sets the Tone

“When Milton was killed, there was a lot of animosity against Muslims in Baton Rouge at that time,” Freeman, the Baton Rouge native, said. 

The racial clash on Jan. 10, 1972, attested to this. When police attempted to disperse a Black Muslim demonstration, gunfire erupted on North Boulevard, killing the two sheriff’s deputies. Nine Black Muslims were charged with the murders. 

News reports said they were members of a group that was traveling across the country to restore Black communities, and Elijah Muhammad disavowed them at a press conference. Local Black Muslims were not involved, according to the mayor and district attorney in Baton Rouge. 

“The minister told us don’t be caught out on the street, and definitely do not associate with the renegades,” Beverly said.

Agent Hahn was sent from the FBI’s New Orleans office to interview the indicted men. He quickly learned about the Nation of Islam, including what he perceived as its hatred for white people, he said.

“We were called white devils. They didn’t call me ‘Mr. Hahn’ or ‘Agent Hahn.’ We were keeping the Black race down, and we were totally useless,” he said. 

Hahn learned that Nation of Islam members did not carry weapons but trained in combat skills that would allow them to seize police guns. He was advised that they chanted the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is great,” to build up courage. 

Thomas, the former Muhammad’s Mosque No. 65 member, said the incident heightened tensions between the city’s Black Muslims and police. “From that day forward, the temple was highly watched by the FBI. … They’d harass us more than the way they harass now.”

Scott told his wife that he had noticed white men following him. Although FBI documents show no surveillance of Scott, the arrival of two white men at his home accusing him of something he’d never done would be the final strike on a ticking time bomb. 

Beverly speculates that Scott’s nightmare crossed his mind and prompted him to fight. “He knew he was going to die. He knew they hadn’t been following him on those days for nothing,” she said. 

At the Door with Misconceptions

During the Vietnam War, deserter cases skyrocketed from 705 in 1961 to roughly 44,000 by 1969, prompting the FBI to drop its fingerprint check policy. 

The Army declared Scott a deserter from a base in California on Nov. 22, 1972. Seven months later, on June 28, 1973, the FBI office in Baton Rouge received a request to arrest him. The Army provided Scott’s date of birth, physical description and Social Security number, and Agent Hahn obtained a copy of Scott’s driver’s license from the state.

“For me, it was just another deserter case,” Hahn said. “So, I took Bill Wood with me. We figured we’d have the guy in jail and have lunch.” 

Two perspective storms collided at the wooden door when the agents approached the house in search of Scott. 

The “Milton X” sign on Scott’s door was his first indication, Hahn said, that Scott was a Black Muslim.

The agents recognized Scott from his license photo when he opened the door. Scott confirmed his identity and then slammed the door. 

The agents said they tried to kick it in before Scott charged out at Wood.

Beverly said Scott rightfully denied the armed “white liars” entry into the house as they barged in. Meanwhile, Scott told Beverly to stay in the back with their young daughter. 

According to the FBI files, only one witness — a city/parish sanitation worker — saw the fight develop, and he recalled seeing a Black man pushing two white men off his steps. Beverly and the agents say Scott screamed, “Allahu Akbar!” as the scuffle began and then moved out to the parking lot. 

Hahn said that when he heard those words, flashbacks to his interviews with the Black Muslims involved in the North Boulevard violence rushed through his head.

He said he assumed Scott would try to steal the agents’ weapons and use them “because that’s what they said they do, and it’s what they did in the riot.” 

Hahn hit Scott with the barrel of his gun in the scuffle. Hahn said he saw Scott pick up an object from the ground. He thought it was Wood’s gun. 

“I’m pretty sure that Bill said ‘Shoot,’ and I’m thinking, well, [Scott] has his gun, and that’s why Bill wants me to shoot him.”

Hahn shot Scott twice, once in the abdomen and once in the chest. Scott was pronounced dead on the scene, with only a gold wedding band, three dimes and one nickel on his person. 

And it turned out that the object Scott had picked up was not Wood’s gun but the blackjack that Hahn had taken from the car and placed in his pocket. 

A crowd gathered as Beverly cradled her husband’s body. Her last memory of Scott was his eyes rolling to the back of his head and blood gushing from his body. She recalls screaming at the agents. 

She said they responded with racial slurs and threatened her. Hahn denies saying anything to anyone besides alerting police.

Fifty years later, Hahn believes the FBI should have done more to verify who had actually enlisted, especially since the Army did not always provide a photo of deserters. 

Scott’s family also said the mistaken identity could have easily been resolved if the agents had thoroughly done their homework. 

A glance at state and federal records would have revealed that Scott had worked at LSU from August to November 1972, while Wallace, the real deserter, had been sent to a military rehabilitation program in September 1972 before ending up in San Quentin. 

Hahn suggests that Scott could have prevented his own death by saying he had never been in the Army instead of shutting the door. The agents would have taken him to the FBI office and delved further into the matter. 

Beverly says her husband repeatedly told the agents that he was never in the army.

“It just took so much out of me and just to actually see it happen,” she said. “I was going on about eight months pregnant, and it was just very traumatic for me to see.” 

“The Toughest Day”

Beverly Shabazz did not have a job and was seven months pregnant with her second child when her husband, Milton X Scott, was shot and killed outside their home in 1973 by FBI agents attempting to arrest him.

“I was thinking I have these two kids to raise,” she said. “I don’t have any help from their father, and it was a while before I could adjust to the situation.” 

Shabazz depended on Social Security benefits for their children and then went back to school so she could work as both a cosmetologist and an elementary school teacher. As they grew up, the children hardly saw her, and they missed the emotional support and stability that their father could have provided. 

It was a loss compounded by the fact that the shooting arose from a case of mistaken identity. The FBI agents had thought Scott was an Army deserter, and the fatal battle outside his door would not have happened if they had known he had never been in the Army. 

“The toughest day of my life happened before I was even born,” his son, Milton Scott Jr., said recently.

When he was little, Scott said, none of the other children believed him when he said that his father was killed by the FBI before he was born. The mockery so traumatized him that he kept quiet about it until George Floyd was murdered in police custody in 2020, intensifying concerns about Black men killed by law-enforcement officers and the impact on their families. 

“I didn’t get to grow up with either parent because my mom always had two jobs, and she was in college,” Shabazz’s daughter, Andrea Grant, said. 

Grant, now 52 and a college admissions coordinator, said she and her brother, a businessman in Atlanta, were largely raised by their grandparents. 

“I regret that my father never got to meet his grandkids,” Grant said, and “the fact that he will never be able to see all that Milton and I have accomplished.”

Floyd’s death, along with the deaths of others like Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and Daunte Wright, show how in the years since Scott’s death, officer-involved shootings have continued to haunt Black communities and rupture families. 

While some of these cases resulted in discipline or convictions for officers, others–like Scott’s–ended in the officers’ actions being deemed justifiable. Experts say that regardless of the legal outcome, families have to deal with the agony of losing a loved one and often a loss of income, which can compound the pain. 

According to Russell Jones, an emeritus professor at Southern University Law Center, these incidents also escalate a distrust of law enforcement and induce resentment. 

“The common thread within all of these incidents is that we don’t have that same right that the white society has to protect our homes,” Jones said. 

Former FBI agents Delbert Hahn and William Wood also struggled with the aftermath of Scott’s death.

They had been sent to arrest Scott, a Black Muslim, who charged the officers after they kicked in the front door of his home. During the struggle, Hahn shot Scott twice when he thought Scott had taken Wood’s gun only to learn afterward that Scott had picked up Hahn’s blackjack.

Wood recently said that Scott’s shooting caused him to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Twenty years after the shooting, Wood taught a PTSD class at the FBI’s training academy in Quantico, Virginia, and invited Hahn, believing he would benefit from it. 

“It became personal for me,” Hahn said in an interview with the LSU Cold Case Project. He said the FBI “stuck me in a position where something awful happened, and they didn’t have to do that.”

Hahn said the workshop helped him because he and Wood had never had an in-depth conversation with each other about the incident. 

Multiple Investigations

Hours after the shooting, the FBI realized that Scott’s identity had been stolen and found the thief, Calvin Wallace, in prison in California. Wallace had juggled at least five stolen aliases in committing various misdemeanors and felonies. 

Wallace told the FBI that he had met Scott when Scott was on a trip to California in the early 1970s. Wallace pried into Scott’s background and learned his date of birth, the name of his parents and his Social Security number. Wallace was able to recite the number to agents, missing only one digit.

Wallace lived a transient life. When a childhood acquaintance, Robert King, saw him more than 20 years ago in San Diego, he said Wallace showed signs of heroin addiction. Wallace, then 82, died last October in a San Diego nursing home. 

Black leaders demanded investigations into Scott’s death, which came just eight months after an East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputy had killed two Black students at Southern University. 

Emmett Douglas, then the president of the Louisiana NAACP, questioned how two trained FBI agents could not subdue a man weighing less than 180 pounds without shooting him. 

Neither of the agents was suspended as federal and state authorities looked into what happened. 

J. Stanley Pottinger, then the assistant U.S. general attorney for civil rights, instructed the FBI to conduct a preliminary civil rights investigation. 

FBI documents say that the bureau did not request an interview with Shabazz shortly after the shooting because she had seemed hostile. 

“Well, I was upset because of the way they treated him. I wanted to tell my story, but I never got the chance to,” Shabazz said recently.

The FBI chose not to talk to many neighbors since the area, bureau documents said, was frequented by Nation of Islam members. Authorities feared that would worsen racial tensions and lead to more confrontations like one on North Boulevard 19 months earlier that led to the death of two police officers and two Black men. 

A city sanitation worker gave the FBI a signed statement saying he saw a Black man pushing two white men off the porch of Scott’s house before a car blocked his vision of the fight. Seconds later he heard two shots fired.

Two other sanitation workers and one of Scott’s neighbors only noticed what was happening after the shots rang out, and bureau investigators determined that the agents had shot Scott in self-defense.

On Nov. 19, 1973, an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury also chose not to bring charges against the agents. 

One of the jurors, Baton Rouge native George Kilcrease, still believes the agents acted in good faith. 

“In hindsight, maybe they could have approached it a little differently, he said, but “all the facts of the case led the jury to conclude that they acted reasonably. If Mr. Scott would’ve been white or Black, I don’t think that played into the FBI’s actions of that day.”

No Justice for Beverly Shabazz

Betty Scott Shabazz discusses her life in the aftermath of the shooting death of her late husband Milton  X Scott 50 years ago.

Shabazz also sought redress in a civil case. 

In May 1974, she hired Baton Rouge attorney Walter Dumas, who filed a $1 million lawsuit against the FBI under the Federal Tort Claims Act, claiming that Scott’s death was a “direct and proximate result of the negligence, carelessness, and unlawful conduct.” 

Dumas did not respond to a request for comment. Shabazz also hired other lawyers, but the case was eventually dismissed by U.S. District Judge Gordon West, who noted that her complaints continually gave the impression that the FBI agents shot and killed the wrong man. 

“This is not so,” he wrote. “They shot and killed the man they intended to shoot and kill. They did not shoot the man because he was a deserter from the Army but because he physically attacked and attempted to destroy the two FBI agents.”

Justice Department officials spoke with Scott’s family in 2020 after Congress encouraged the department to investigate a wider range of cold cases from the civil rights era. But the case was closed again in September 2021.

With the grand jury’s decision not to indict, the failure of Shabazz’s lawsuits in civil court and the FBI’s decision to close its new investigation, the family finds memories of Scott and the opportunity to tell his story as the best way to honor him today.

Shabazz later remarried and still lives in Baton Rouge. Now 75, she said Scott had made her “proud to be Black” and “proud to be a Black woman. I was proud of my Black husband.” 

“I Understand They 
Probably Don’t Like Me”

On the day of Scott’s death, FBI agents Hahn and Wood were treated at the hospital for minor injuries. When Hahn returned home, he did not tell his wife anything. 

“I remember I had blood on the suit, mostly mine,” he said. “I took it off and stuffed it under the bed. It was there for a year.”

Retired FBI agent Theodore “Ted” Jackson, a Black agent who had investigated the shooting at Southern University months before the Scott shooting, said it is important for law-enforcement officers to talk things out after troubling events, especially a fatal shooting. 

They never know what the day will bring, but “they all want to go home to their families” after work, Jackson said. 

Hahn, now 89, said he believes the bureau should have performed a thorough background check before assigning the deserter case to him. In fact, the FBI, which had earlier quit checking fingerprints of deserters, quickly returned to that practice after Scott was killed.

Hahn said that the force used on Scott was justified. But he does wish there had been more time for negotiation.

In a recent interview, Wood, Hahn’s partner that day, said: “I still have PTSD from a number of incidents. This is one of the main ones.” 

Hahn still lives in Baton Rouge. But he said he is not interested in a sit-down or attempt at reconciliation with the Scott family since it would not change what happened. He also doubts that it would bring Shabazz peace.

“I wasn’t happy that Milton Leon Scott was dead,” Hahn said. “I’m sorry for her and her family. I understand they probably don’t like me. That doesn’t bother me; I don’t expect them to. I’d feel the same way if somebody shot my husband or my father.”

We Are Proud to Have Served Our Community for 38 Years. Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Providing a Trusted Voice. We Look Forward to 38 More!