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.

She would not — and still won't — let the children see their grandparents. Then, to top that, she filed a lawsuit against Charlotte and her daughter, Samantha, accusing them of forcing her out of another distributorship. A source close to the story says Charlotte gave Ash and Lesli $3 million after Duff was sold to Favorite Brands, a major distributor headquartered in Dallas, shortly before Ash's death. (Charlotte would not discuss any financials related to the sale.) But Lesli apparently believed she was owed more.

Rick allegedly texted his sister: " I'm going to get your husband and his mom."

Lesli stated in an affidavit filed with her lawsuit that she started a distribution business — named DASH — with Ash and Charlotte in May 2012. The company was purportedly independent of Charlotte's umbrella company, McDuff Imports, the entity that holds all Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission licenses for Duff Distribution and an importing arm called Noble Union Imports.

DASH, according to Lesli, was primarily involved in distributing wine to major retailers. The business had become so successful so quickly that, according to Lesli, Ash told her to cut bonus checks on December 31, 2012, and January 1, 2013 — $50,000 for Lesli and $40,000 for him.

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.

But in March, Charlotte fired Lesli, saying the checks were issued "without my authorization or knowledge." Charlotte claimed in her response to the lawsuit that DASH was never an operating entity. It never had a bank account. It never had $90,000 to give away to anyone.

In her affidavit, Lesli claimed that since she was fired from the family business, "I risk not having health insurance for my family" and that the extent of her financial damages "cannot be easily determined."

But Charlotte doesn't understand why, if Lesli was so concerned about family, she is preventing her children from seeing their own grandparents. In the past ten months, Charlotte says, she's seen them for a grand total of three hours.

Charlotte — a short woman with dark-blond hair — won't talk about the lawsuit, except to say that she probably doesn't stand a chance of seeing her grandchildren again until it's resolved. And even then, that remains in Lesli's hands. (However, Charlotte says she is considering legal action.)

Charlotte's only other child, Samantha, moved to Los Angeles a few months after Ash's death, and her husband, Wayne, has in his own way disappeared. Alzheimer's set in even before Duff was formed, but recently it has progressed to the point where he has had to move into an assisted-living facility. Charlotte is largely on her own.

"I'm very saddened...by how Lesli pulled away from the family unit immediately following Ash's death, you know, at a time when we all need to try to heal together and be there for each other, especially the grandchildren." She adds, "It is not what Ash would have wanted. Those children were his life, and this is not what he would have wanted."

Whatever Lesli's reasons are, she's keeping them to herself. After not returning multiple voice mails and e-mails, Lesli finally told the Press through Facebook, "[Sgt. Harris] has informed me that this is still an active investigation. I would appreciate it if you did not contact me anymore and respect mine and my children's privacy. Thank you."

Lesli didn't want to talk about her husband at all — a preference not shared by friends Ash made in Houston and around the country. (Ash's sister, Samantha, however, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

They spoke of a man with a big heart, a man who seemed to get as much joy from the growing success of the microbreweries whose beers he distributed as he did from his own company's growth. When asked which beer was her son's favorite, Charlotte says, "I think a lot of his beers were his favorites because of the people behind [them]...I think he loved their beers because he loved them."

Ash seemed to revel in other people's happiness. He treated Lesli's son from a previous marriage as his own. Ash knew that Texas Children's Hospital played a big part in the boy's successful recovery from cancer, so every Christmas he donned a Santa suit and took toys to critically ill kids undergoing treatment there.

By all accounts, he was good at that kind of thing because he was pretty much a kid himself. He possessed a natural playfulness that was balanced by his ex-military father and a hardworking, self-starting mother. He could party through undergraduate studies with his Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers at Emory University and then knuckle down for a degree from the University of Houston Law Center. It just turned out that he didn't realize he wasn't cut out for the legal world until after he had his law degree.

After brief internships in Florida and Houston, according to Charlotte, Ash put law behind him. Charlotte and her husband had for years run a successful beer-importing business called Noble Union, and Ash wanted to follow suit.

"Ash kind of grew up in the beer-import industry," says Charlotte, who got involved in the field after the family moved to Texas, in the late 1980s. Ash's father was a pilot for Southwest, and Charlotte was working for a friend in Boston who had started his own import business and needed representation in Texas. After Charlotte realized she had a real talent for the business, the Rowells went into business for themselves in 1990, importing for two German breweries and one based in Switzerland. Then a British brewery joined their roster, which grew each year at a rapid pace.

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14 comments
melissa17tx
melissa17tx

Great article Craig. I know some people who knew Ash and sounds like he was a great guy. Hope they make progress on the case soon.

- melissa 

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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