Beer and Blood: Ash Rowell's Murderer Is Still at Large, and His Mother Wants to Know Why

Eleven months after his shooting death, there are still more questions than answers.

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Charlotte: "They probably literally had blood on their hands."

On the night of February 1, 2013, Ashley Rowell opened the door to his killer.

The assailant, still unidentified nearly 11 months later, shot the 35-year-old father of three, who was standing in the doorway of his Montrose home. Neighbors told police the killer then ran back to an idling dark-blue car and disappeared. Rowell, bleeding, staggered into the family room, where he collapsed. Rowell's wife, Lesli, was in the home at the time, as were the couple's children, who were hosting a sleepover for two friends.

Ashley Rowell met his future wife, Lesli (far right), through his business partner — and future brother-in-law — Bryan Lam (middle).
Courtesy of Charlotte Rowell
Ashley Rowell met his future wife, Lesli (far right), through his business partner — and future brother-in-law — Bryan Lam (middle).
Ashley Rowell, dressed as Santa, liked to host "Cookies With Santa" parties at his house — guests brought toys that Rowell would donate to children undergoing treatment at Texas Children's Hospital. Also in this photo, taken at a 2006 party, are his father, Wayne, and his mother, Charlotte.
Courtesy of Charlotte Rowell
Ashley Rowell, dressed as Santa, liked to host "Cookies With Santa" parties at his house — guests brought toys that Rowell would donate to children undergoing treatment at Texas Children's Hospital. Also in this photo, taken at a 2006 party, are his father, Wayne, and his mother, Charlotte.

Rowell's mother, Charlotte, who lived a few houses away, stepped outside when she heard the sirens. She told her husband she'd be right back, and made her way down Portsmouth Street, a quiet pocket of mostly older, well-kept homes. Only a few minutes earlier, around 7:30 p.m., Charlotte and her husband had walked past their son's house after having dinner at 59 Diner, a 24-hour restaurant off busy Shepherd Drive and U.S. Highway 59.

Charlotte thought out loud that they should stop by to say hello to the grandkids, but then thought Ash — as he was known to family and friends — and Lesli would probably be busy getting them ready for bed — best not to interrupt.

Now, at around 7:45, she was heading back toward her son's house, and that's when Ash's next-door neighbor came running out of the Rowell house, cradling one of the couple's daughters. The child was hysterical.

You need to get in there, the man told Charlotte. It's bad. It's really bad.

"I walked into the most horrific scene that anybody could ever walk into," Charlotte remembers months later. "I saw blood at the front door, and when I got in, I saw a group of firemen — must have been a dozen firemen in the house — and I said to them, 'I'm his mother.' I saw Ash on the floor in the family room, and I said, 'I'm his mother; please let me get to him...he'll be okay.'"

She says one of the emergency personnel stopped her.

"I said, 'No...just let me get to him; he'll be okay.' But all the man would say was, 'There's nothing we can do, ma'am...and you don't want to go there.'"

Outside a few minutes later, sitting in a police cruiser, Charlotte listened to a policewoman's questions as officers unfurled yellow crime-scene tape and detectives walked up the driveway. She pictured her son lying on the floor inside.

All she could think was: She knew who did this. It was the men who had threatened her entire family several years before. They had finally made good on their word.

She told this to a detective on the scene — she said he had to go arrest them, now, before they had time to cover their tracks.

"They probably literally had blood on their hands," Charlotte says.

The detective told her that that's not how it works. He couldn't arrest someone based only on her word.

To Charlotte, though, it was obvious. Her son — a big smiling kid, a puppy dog — had only two enemies. As the face of Duff Beer, a distributor of specialty brews, he was beloved by Houston's tight-knit craft beer community. In the seven years since Duff had been founded, Ash's life had consisted of working his ass off, drinking with his friends and customers, and doting on his kids. Charlotte believed her son didn't have a nasty bone in his body, and he certainly wasn't involved with any shady ­characters.

Except, that is, for his brothers-in-law. One had been fired from Duff after he was caught doing some questionable things with the company's ledger, and the other had allegedly threatened Ash's family as a show of solidarity with his disgraced brother. These two, Charlotte knew, weren't even liked within their own family — their sister, Ash's wife, wanted nothing to do with them, and neither did another brother, who happened to be a Houston cop.

Brian Harris, lead detective on the case, told the Houston Chronicle the day after the murder, back when it appeared that the case would be solved quickly, "We believe the assailant knew the victim. We'll put together his business dealings and friendships. Who would want to hurt this man? Usually, the suspect will appear as being that missing piece."

Harris had a great start. He had two men who did nothing to hide their animosity toward Ash. According to Charlotte, he had a piece of physical evidence that was sent off to a forensics lab for DNA testing. But after 11 months, it's not clear what the detectives have in their possession as evidence. They would not comment for this story. They have also withheld the Harris County Medical Examiner's report, so it's not clear how many times Ash was shot or what caliber of weapon was used.

The silence is tearing Charlotte apart. She wants justice for her son, and with each passing day feels as if the chances for that are slipping away.
_____________________

Almost immediately after Ash's murder, Charlotte says, his wife, Lesli, pulled away from the family.

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13 comments
gph322
gph322

The article mentions that Charlotte cannot figure out why Lesli and the grandchildren won't see her or talk to her.  Ummmm, Charlotte fired her less than a month after her husband was killed.  Charlotte didn't even give her time to mourn her husband's death or give her the benefit of the doubt.  I also love how the article says "Charlotte doesn't understand why, if Lesli was so concerned about family, she is preventing her children from seeing their own grandparents".  Lesli just lost everything (including health insurance for her kids).  Charlotte is acting like its everyone else's fault and not hers.    She sounds like a shrewd business woman and makes Bryan's story seem more believable that he was strong armed out of the business.   

strongheartedlion
strongheartedlion

For the ignorance and disrespect - I and hundreds of others have no words.

He was a wonderful human being.  It's too bad that any serious reporting with open forums becomes an ignorance aggregator but one hopes this story will help speed up the resolution that is bound to come.  Peace.

toniofhouston
toniofhouston

After reading about Ash and his family I need a scrub brush, lye scalding shower.  I could actually feel the sleaze by way of the writers words

toryu88
toryu88

In truth, the alcohol business is just one legal step up from dealing drugs. It may not be against the law, but it attracts those out for a quick buck and not above using unscrupulous methods or the strong arm to get what they want. The bar business is as shady as they come too. Dens of drug dealers, thieves and bottom feeders. I was partners in one, and it was a constant contest to keep the thieving employees from cutting our profits by half. Then the other parasites come calling: the city with their tax on dance floor square footage, the Garth Brooks inspired blackmailers who threaten legal action if you don't pay a fee for letting bands play cover songs. Never heard of that? Oh yeah, they can't shut down or go after the band because that wouldn't look good, suppressing artistic expression and all that, so they hold a gun to the bar owners and force them to pay an annual fee for hosting bands who choose to play cover tunes. Remember that next time you go to hear live music somewhere.

toryu88
toryu88

This sure is a sanitized version from what I heard from a brewery owner who worked with the man. From what i heard, Rowell ran his finances like a ponzi scheme, always behind in this payments to brewers and probably paying them with earnings from others, just one step away from defaulting. Last I heard his death left several brewers holding an empty bag waiting for money he owed them from beer he had already sold.

Texas distributors still appear as dirty as they were in the 30's when the mob ran liquor up from Mexico and stayed after prohibition was repealed. No doubt someone got tired of waiting on their money, or their cut of the skim. In all liklihood he got what was coming to him.

craig.malisow
craig.malisow

@gph322 I think the question is, even if there's bad blood between Lesli and Charlotte, is it really appropriate to deprive the kids of their grandmother? You apparently seem to think so, but I think a reasonable person could make a case for the opposite. 



toryu88isanidiot
toryu88isanidiot

@toryu88 So, would you like to provide the name of the brewery or the "owner"? It sure sounds like motive to me in a, still, unsolved murder. I am sure the police would like to question this brewery owner. 


I normally do not take an interest in what internet trolls have to say, but you are unbelievably stupid and have no idea what you are talking about. I was very close to the group of guys working in this distributorship and they were, by no means, unscrupulous. Every one of them cared about craft beer and no one was more passionate than Ash. The "Ponzi" scheme you refer to would be 100 - 120% growth, year over year, for the last 4 years. I know it is hard for someone like yourself to understand that sort of growth, considering you probably still live with your parents and have no concept of real money. Do you have any idea how much money it takes to support that type of growth without capital investment? 


Leave it to a troll, who probably still lives with his mommy and wets his bed, to make such idiotic statements. I hope the minimum wage does get raised, so maybe one day you can move out of mommy's house and get your own place.

toryu88
toryu88

You don' t know who you can trust. If Rowell was running a Ponzi like business model, and from what I have heard he pretty much was: selling this guys product to cover what he owed another, sounds like he never had enough cash on hand to pay everyone he owed. Where did the difference go?

craig.malisow
craig.malisow

@toryu88 Just to be clear: you are basing your assessment -- that this murder victim "got what was coming to him"  -- on the word of  "a brewery owner" who told you that "Rowell ran his finances" like a Ponzi scheme. That is to say: You're not basing your assessment on primary documents, evidence, or multiple interviews, correct? I just want to make sure I understand. 

toryu88
toryu88

@toryu88isanidiot

Sorry, I make well over six figures a year, own my own house, and I don't have to resort to ad hominem attacks to build empty ego. I venture that you don't know what a ponzi scheme really is. I will give you the benefit of a doubt and say you don't understand it in this context. Recall Bernie Madoff? He was dealing in billions which makes your 100-120% growth pocket change. He pulled it off with people a lot wealthier and a lot more intelligent than the local craft brewers in Houston.

toryu88
toryu88

@craig.malisow @toryu88

My comments were pretty clear. The alcohol distributing industry in Texas is pretty corrupt from the top to the bottom, starting with the three tier distribution system. It attracts unsavory types to certain segments. Brewers are in it because they love to brew beer and not necessarily for the money. The middlemen and are in it because they think they can make a quick buck. The business is awash in cash from the middleman to the retail end. When I was in the retail end, I felt like I needed to bath to wash the stink of it off of me. I'm a drinker but to see what my bread and butter customers were making of themselves and how much money they spent on it was sickening. Theft was rife from management to the workers.

toryu88
toryu88

@craig.malisow @toryu88

The skim? If that was the case, he probably owed someone money he could not pay or someone was not getting their cut. In any case, if you run with that element, eventually you have to pay the piper. Did his family deserve the pain of his death? Decidedly not, but the world is full of people who make poor choices like putting their quest for money before everything and everyone else. I do not have any first hand knowledge of the man, only secondhand information, and my own experience in an industry that still carries the taint of the corruption that it inherited from the prohibition years.

toryu88
toryu88

@toryu88isanidiot

I feel honored that you saw fit to open an account and pay homage to me by using my name in it as your handle. I'll take it you had time to do it between cleaning out the mashtun and wanking off over a copy of Beer Connoisseur magazine.

 
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