“Elliot’s War” - a Memorial to a Placerville Homeless Man
Elliot Scott Cohen, Placerville CA
10/29/1959 - 4/6/2017
Elliot Scott Cohen, 57, a homeless man who was found unresponsive in a sleeping bag last week died of natural causes, according to the El Dorado County coroner. A makeshift memorial with flowers and balloons was placed at the Wells Fargo Bank on Broadway where Cohen’s body was found. Memorial services to honor Cohen are scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. April 22 at Federated Church, 1031 on Thompson Way in Placerville.
Several El Dorado County residents took to social media after hearing the news, many of which had conversations with Cohen and were sad to hear of his passing.
“I always keep $5 in my purse. It was my Elliott money,” posted Diana Estrada on social media. “If I saw him, he either got the cash or some food. I’m so sad.”
Maryal Boumann wrote that she and her youngest sister, “loved and hugged Elliott, chatted with him, shared a bite with him and brought little surprises to our homeless friend.” “Elliot told me he knew and loved Jesus and he loved chocolate ice cream cones from Rite-Aid or ice cream from McDonald’s,” she wrote.
Nora Mooney also posted, “this community genuinely cared for Elliott’s well-being. He was a very kind man, with a gentle soul. Rest in Paradise, sweet Elliott.”
Seth Wintermute wrote, " Oh my gosh, Elliot?? He passed away? He used to be a regular at the broadway mcdonalds I worked at. I served him many times. He always ordered a medium coffee with 2 pumps of sugar and 1 pump of cream. I liked talking to him and asking him how his day is going. I saw him a lot there I waved goodbye to him every time I left work... oh my gosh. I hope his soul has found peace."
"The last time my mother heard from him was 2008...until I received a call from the detective that told me my brother was dead" wrote his little brother Neil Cohen.
The following is a memorial from Elliot's family that explains his life, his struggle of mental illness, and the debt of gratitude the family has to Placerville residents that cared for Elliot in the later years of his life.
Elliot was born in the Bronx October 29th, 1959… …….. For a time he lived across the street from Yankee Stadium and that may be why he always loved the NY Yankees. He had every baseball card of every player on the team… He even had Mickey Mantle, Bobby Mercer, and Ron Bloomberg, they were his favorites.
At a very early age, his family moved out of the Bronx to a small sleepy little town in Suffolk County Long Island, called Brentwood NY. In the 1960’s, it was a beautiful little town, just beginning to develop. Brentwood even still had some unpaved roads, farms, and wooded areas where raspberries and blueberries grew wild.
We played together as children, just as brothers do when they are young. Our favorite sport was baseball. He pretended to be his favorite Yankee and I pretended to be my favorite player on the Mets. We played baseball in our front and backyard, we even played in the street. Then, with other kids on the block, we made a makeshift ballfield in a little clearing located across the street from our house in the woods. We gathered together other boys on our “block” (Nolan Street”), made a team and played against other “block” teams that were in the neighborhood.
In the fall, after it became too cold to play baseball, we played football. The heavy coats we wore protected us from knocking each other down, fighting for the ball. We put together football teams and somewhere in-between baseball and football, we played basketball. However, our hearts were always in baseball.
Together, we built a go-cart that we used to race. Actually, we built two. The first was a prototype and neither was motorized. We would take it to the hill by Mr. Timpte’s house on Hilltop Street. We ran as fast as we could, pushed from behind and then jumped on and rode all the way down the hill. How we didn’t get run over by a car was a miracle. The first one was a prototype and we lost every race to a kid down the block that had one purchased from a toy store. We went home, took all our peddle cars and the little red wagon apart. Specifically, we took the wheels and axles off and incorporated them into our little racer. When we were finished, it looked like something right out of the TV show, “The Little Rascals”. It looked like hell. But, we won every race from then on.
In the winter when it snowed, we use to drag our sleds to Hilltop and shed ride down the hill. It was very tiring since we had to drag the sleds up the hill as well. Daddy would come home from work and tell us about the sled motor hidden in the attic. He said when we were old enough, he would let us have it to get back up the hill after each run. Imagine that, we really believed that there was such a thing. Good one Dad, you had us fooled for years.
We rode our bicycles all over the neighborhood. We especially liked tearing it up on the minibike trail that was carved into the woods across the street. Sometimes we would venture far away into unknown territories. In the summer, we would ride all the way down Islip Avenue to Islip Speedway where we found a little hole in the perimeter fence, sneak in, and watch the cars drag race. That was so much fun!
Our parents bought us a little tent that slept four comfortably. We used to set it up and camp out next to the pool in our backyard or even in the woods across the street. (I heard you were still practicing this same concept, kudos to you for that). Sometimes we invited two of our friends and sometimes it was just you and me.
Some days in the summertime, we would walk down to Hills Supermarket and carried packages for old ladies (they were probably 30 years old) and put them in the trunks of their cars. We were compensated very well, nickels, dimes, and sometimes even quarters, which was very good money for the 1960’s. By night, we would sneak out of our tent and ride our bicycles to Grant’s shopping center. We went to the movies and sometimes played pinball with the change that we had earned that day. We also spent some of the money on “chocolate ice cream”, which always was, both of our favorites…… I remember, one time we snuck out of the tent at night, rode our bicycles all the way to Carvel and Daddy walked in the front door, we ran out the back….! We hoped on our bicycles and rode as fast as we could home, in order to get there before him. We made it back in the nick of time, even though Daddy drove a 1966 Mustang. Of course, he brought us our “chocolate ice cream” so we didn’t miss out anyway. Actually, from Carvel, your favorite was “chocolate ice cream sodas” and mine was “chocolate ice cream thick shakes”. We also loved McDonald’s and I heard you still do, just like myself.
On holidays, we went to our grandparent’s apartment in the Bronx, since much of our family still lived there. We played stickball in the street and learned how to play handball with the kids from the neighborhood. That was a lot of fun too.
The 1960’s were over, the Mets had just won the World Series and our family moved to another suburban town on Long Island called Massapequa. Yes, this is the same town where Jerry Seinfeld and the Baldwin brothers are from. I’m not sure if he knew Seinfeld, but he definitely knew the Baldwins, since we all went to Massapequa High school together.
Now, where we lived in Massapequa, it was close to Jones Beach and even closer to the Great South Bay of Long island. Elliot and I always loved going to the beach. Sometimes we took the bus, sometimes we hitchhiked, and sometimes we even rode our bicycles there. When we became teenagers, our Uncle Gary bought us a little yellow speed boat…. The launching ramp was about a half mile away and since we were too young to drive, we would push the boat down Merrick Rd (you can equate Merrick Road with your Broadway, just to give a visual). Some drivers passing by would either be annoyed that we were creating a traffic jam or generally felt for us, would pull over and pull the boat the rest of the way to John J. burns Park where we would launch it. I must say, this worked out very well. Sometimes we went flounder fishing. Sometimes we used our feet to collect clams buried in the sand during low tide (It’s a Long Island thing), and sometimes we just went for a ride.
While in high school, Elliot continued his love for baseball and played on the Massapequa baseball league teams. Did I tell you already that he played shortstop and was very good at it? He was also a power hitter and led the league two years in the row for batting average and home runs. I used to love to watch him play. He also took Karate lessons as did I and we used to practice in the backyard. My father called it, “Playing Karate”. Eventually he earned his black belt.
When Elliot got his license, the same uncle that gave us the little yellow speed boat, bought him his first car. It was a 1968 Chevy Impala super sport convertible. It was dark blue, with a white convertible top and a white bucket seat center console interior…. It had low mileage, but needed extensive body work which we worked many days and nights on. Eventually, he was able to get it repainted and had a really nice stereo installed. Elliot always loved music and back then in the 1970’s his favorite bands were the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Who.
Elliot was very good in high school, an A student. He was very popular and had many girlfriends. In his senior year, my parents took him to see many colleges that were located upstate New York. Since he was so good in school, he could have gone to just about any school that they could afford. In the end, I guess he just wasn’t interested. I don’t really remember the exact reason why he told me that he didn’t want to go.
These next couple of segments should answer a few questions. It was during the height of the cold war, Elliot’s sister Debbie, who is also very smart, went to college for computer engineering. Elliot’s father (Victor Cohen) started out as an airplane mechanic who worked for United Airlines and somewhere along the line, he went to night school and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. Subsequently, his father quit the airlines and got a job with Grumman Aerospace. Elliot came from a family that was professional and very well educated.
Elliot had two uncles that served in WWII. One uncle, we called (Uncle Louie). He was a highly decorated pilot. He flew 25 bombing missions over Germany, was shot down 3 times, wounded, captured by the enemy twice and escaped both times. Another uncle, we called (Uncle Christie), served heroically in the pacific theatre and returned home minus one of his legs.
It was 1977 and Elliot had two favorite uncles. Elliot’s Uncle Gary was a decorated cop in NYC and his Uncle Tony had recently returned from Vietnam, just five years earlier as a decorated United States Marine.
Perhaps this is why Elliot enlisted in the Navy and signed up for nuclear submarines. Like I said, I don’t remember why he chose not to attend college but I do remember him telling me that he chose the Navy over the other armed services because of the uniform. He said the girls just love guys in uniforms and he liked the Navy dress blues best. He went through boot camp without a hitch and they accepted him into the nuclear submarine program. If I remember correctly, specifically, “electronic engineering”. After a few years, he had made it all the way through the program, including all of the academics and training required in order to be deployed on a nuclear submarine, within the field that he had chosen. Unfortunately, I do not remember what rank he eventually earned, but he had 3 stripes on his uniform. The timeframe is a little unsure for me, but this is when and where his life changed………..
We do not know how or what or where…. But something happened to him… Was he on leave and someone passed him a bad marijuana cigarette? By the way, he was not a pot head, alcoholic, or a drug addict ever. Sure, like everybody else, but very rarely, he would take a hit of a joint. I was his best friend who knew him the very best and pot wasn’t a vice that he was interested in. Nonetheless, if a good looking girl passed him a joint on the beach, he would take a drag, just to be social. With that said, was he on leave and someone slipped him some kind of bad hallucinogenic drug without him knowing? My Uncle Tony told us a story where that happened to him when he was in the marines. Elliot was also about to be deployed on a nuclear submarine where he would be subject to many existing environments present in other countries. Therefore, was he subjected to many inoculations that may have had detrimental side effects? We just don’t know…and neither did any of the doctors that we took him to. All we know is that he developed a mental illness that changed his life forever and took him away from us. I’m just not going to talk about all of the so called experts that we took him to. They just put him on medicine that only made him sick and num. I’m also not going to talk about the pain and anguish that his family has gone through over the years. However, I want you to know that we tried to help him fight his demons as hard as we could and never stopped loving him. He ran away four different times, Twice to Las Vegas and twice to California.
Soon after he was honorably discharged from the Navy, he went to Israel in pursuit of his roots and perhaps, to get closer to God in order to give him enough strength to fight off the demons that were inside his head. There, in Israel he learned how to speak Hebrew.
The last time I talked to him, was on the telephone, he had called collect from Las Vegas and I would say it had to have been 2003 or 2004. The last time my mother heard from him was 2008. He was in Las Vegas and asked for a couple of hundred dollars because he said he wanted to go on vacation with a friend to California. My mother did (as she always has when he would call) send him some money and that is the last we heard of him, until I received a call from the detective that told me my brother was dead.
As a trained investigator myself, I have been trying to put together what he has been doing and where he has been the last nine years…. What I have found out so far, is that he showed up on the door step of the city called Placerville. What I have also learned so far is that many people here loved and cared for him. It was the “many” here that has been the most successful in helping him fight those demons that I mentioned. Not all the medicine in the world or his very own blood relatives have been able to help him in this fight. However, the many here have given him some kind of semblance of a life. I can only believe that he was happy here and he was accepted for who he was. Know this………Elliot fought an unbelievable exhausting uphill battle for the last 35 years. I will call it, “Elliot’s War” I believe that he never wavered one little bit. He fought to his last breath and in the end it wasn’t the demons that put his fire out. Instead, it was high cholesterol……and the predisposition for heart disease, specifically clogged arties. His father died of the same thing at 60 years of age, Elliot died six months short of his 58th birthday….
How can I ever thank the “many” that have given my brother so much love and respect? Well…. I am Elliot’s little brother Neil Cohen, born one year and ten months after him. Like many in my family, including Elliot, I too have taken the oath of office. I work for a very special department in a very special agency, in a very unique division. This department was formed after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. My duties are very complicated and difficult to explain, some of which, I am not allowed to explain. However, I can say this; my work environment includes keeping the people of our beloved country safe from harm, from both foreign and domestic and since my job is not very transparent, I have sometimes thought it to be thankless. However, after hearing what you all have done for my brother, I will never think that way anymore.
Jackie Adams wrote:
"Elliot frequented Mel's, and when it was slow I could sit at his table and talk to him. After I told him some info about myself (and he realized I wasn't going to go away or stop talking until he talked to me) he opened up and told me a few things about himself. He graduated highschool in 1977, told me about his first car, the blue and white convertible mentioned above, told me how the girls loved it at the beach. Told me he lived in Vegas for ten years or so "making a bunch of mistakes", liked the 80's music I played in Mel's. (We have a remote to the jukebox and can play whatever songs we wish when it's quiet)
"Elliot was very nice, aside from coughing and the occasional loud flatulance. He was always courteous, always made sure his bill was paid before he left, even if someone paid for it he would come up to the register and make SURE he was not walking out. His usual order was a.bowl of hot oalmeal, coffee, small ok, and then if someone picked up his bill or he had enough money he would either get a full stack of hotcakes or a short stack, two eggs scrambled, and two sausage links. During lunch he would get a coke and a hamburger and fries. I would always bring him a small water and he would never touch it, I'd tell him, Elliot, please drink your water and he would say ok I will, and then not.
"One day he looked particularly down and so I gave him a big hug and the lights turned back on in his eyes and his smile would return. "You're a sweetheart" he would say. I can still hear his voice in my head with his long island accent. He will be missed.
"I had a dream that we as a town raised enough money to erect a bronze statue of him between Starbucks and McDonald's.