He was known as simply as the “Paperman” to the store managers, night watchmen, hotel clerks, even the homeless people whom he adopted. And if you bought a Charlotte Observer in uptown anytime during the last four decades, chances are the Paperman brought it.
His real name was Walter “Wes” Scott Jr., and he so loved his work that he told his boss he intended to deliver papers until the day he died. Scott was shot to death as he began his route early Wednesday, two weeks after his 65th birthday.
Police arrived about 2:20 a.m. and found Scott crumpled in the rain-soaked street in front of an all-night 7-Eleven convenience store across from Romare Bearden Park in the 300 block of West Martin Luther King Boulevard. On Thursday, they charged Roger Best, 22, in the killing. Probable motive: attempted robbery.
Best was easy to locate – he flagged down responding police officers to report he’d been shot. Best had a weapon. And so did Scott.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Scott was an outsize personality in the small cast of those who attend to uptown in the gentle oasis between last call and the bustle of dawn. He was gregarious, always talking to those on his route and strangers he’d encounter.
He stopped his black pickup for cops in cruisers, security guards and cab drivers, handing them a freebie newspaper fresh off the press. He never told them that he paid for extra papers to hand out to others in the fraternity of night labor.
It was no secret that Scott was armed – he wore a pistol on his hip and sometimes wore the badge that identified him as a South Carolina constable, a law enforcement post akin to a reserve police officer.
“He always wore a weapon,” Cheryl Cathey McManus, a longtime friend, said Wednesday. “He feared nothing – he was a gentle giant.”
Scott was born in Charlotte and graduated from Garinger High School. He began delivering newspapers at age 18 to make money while attending UNC Charlotte.
“He was passionate about the Observer and about the newspaper business,” said Robyn Ashley, senior audience development manager for the Observer. “He said he’d be the last one standing at the Observer.”
Grocers on Scott’s route would set aside for him goods approaching their expiration date because they knew he worked with organizations that fed the needy and the homeless. When he learned that one of his homeless acquaintances had been diagnosed with cancer and couldn’t afford medication, Ashley said, Scott paid for it himself, month after month.
Scott had four children and two stepchildren. They often helped him distribute the thousands of newspapers on his route, which stretched from uptown to Beatties Ford Road.
He usually started around 2 a.m., spent three or four hours making deliveries and did it seven days a week. All day Monday was spent picking up unsold copies and collecting from vendors.
Scott, who lived in Lancaster County, S.C., was tall, muscular and certified in law enforcement training for his 20-year career as a constable. He was not the type to get into trouble on the street, said Scott Upright, the contractor who manages deliveries for the Observer.
But recently, Scott had premonitions that the streets were growing more dangerous.
Last year, he told Ashley that for the first time, he began to feel unsafe on his route. A new breed of criminal class seemed to be emerging – more callous, more cutthroat than what he’d seen through the years.
An Observer carrier headed to make deliveries in the uptown condo towers was just a minute behind Scott early Wednesday, according to Ashley. When he came to the intersection at the 7-Eleven, he found Scott dead in the crosswalk and the store clerk screaming.
“They killed the Paperman!” the clerk cried. “They killed the Paperman!”