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.

But the business had an added benefit: Charlotte was able to work from home and be with the children. She was usually around to keep an eye on them, but that didn't prevent Ash, a popular kid in high school, from getting into the occasional jam. Charlotte recalls one weekend — Ash was about 15 at the time — when she was driving out of their subdivision and spotted a near-empty case of one of her German imports on the side of the road. It wasn't unusual to see a stray can of Budweiser tossed in the weeds — the domestic detritus of high-school parties — but this was a $48 case of imported beer.

"We had a real sit-down session that afternoon when Ash got home from school," Charlotte recalls with a chuckle.

The passion Ash failed to find in the legal world, he found in Duff.

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.

"We had no idea how wonderfully successful, and how well, we were going to be able to grow with this business," Charlotte recalls. "And Ash did an incredible job of being the face of Duff Beer and the goodwill of Duff Beer, and everyone in the business absolutely adored him...He loved how we were able to bring in some of the best brands to Texas and get some of the best Texas craft beers on board and help them build their companies."

Charles Bishop, owner of the Liberty Station and Cottonwood bars in Houston, told the Press that Ash "brought in a lot of brands that Houston hadn't seen at the time. He brought in Bear Republic and some other really good craft beer brands — he even gave those guys a shot in Texas when they didn't have a shot."

Those given shots by Ash's enthusiasm included Clown Shoes Beer, a Massachusetts-based brewery that posted on its Facebook page the following: "Ash was charismatic, energetic, had a brilliant mind, was a champion for craft beer in Texas (where being a champion for craft beer is a tough thing to be), and he was an absolute pleasure to work with...Rest in peace, Ash. Thank you for being a friend."

Along with Bishop's bars, Houston craft beer havens Hay Merchant, Flying Saucer and Petrol Station held a weeklong celebration of Ash's life — and the brews he brought to the city — a month after his death, with some of the proceeds going to Texas Children's Hospital. The taps at the "Ash Bash" flowed with selections from small breweries including Bear Republic, No Label and Moylan's.

Ash's favorite people and favorite beers. He would have appreciated the sentiment.

The Ash Bash kept his name in the news and kept the case alive. Back then, Charlotte still felt confident an arrest was imminent. As time passed, she was still reluctant to raise a public fuss. She didn't want to talk to reporters. But she hired a private investigator, and she poked around as best she could.

Charlotte is forever in motion. There's always a meeting, or papers that need signing. She has no interest in small talk, but she's not curt. She's generous with her time and attention. She also carries a gun.

No matter what she's doing, her son's murder investigation is foremost on her mind. She constantly hits up her PI and the HPD for information. And she's constantly disappointed.
_____________________

Two years before Ash was killed, he claimed in a deposition that his family had received death threats from his brothers-in-law.

The alleged threats came from Bryan Lam, who had been fired from Duff in 2010, and from Ho "Rick" Lam.

Bryan was already in the beer business and Ash was working for his parents' import company, Noble Union, when they met through a mutual supplier. Both were interested in breaking into the distribution end of the field, and they — along with Charlotte — formed what became Duff Distributing. (Although the company shares a name with the fictional Simpsons brew, it was named after the family's beloved dog.)

At the time, Bryan Lam's sister Lesli was going through a divorce. Ash had also gone through a divorce, and Bryan thought Ash might be a good person for Lesli to talk to. The two met in December 2005, and Lesli was pregnant by February 2006. One more child would follow.

Duff got off the ground in late 2006 — Ash, Bryan and Charlotte rented a warehouse in Pasadena, and the business took off faster than they expected. But by 2009, Charlotte and Ash believed Bryan's work was slipping. His second marriage was crumbling, and at first they thought he was having trouble focusing. But then, according to court records, they discovered the problem was much worse: They were certain Bryan was embezzling.

He was forced out of the company in August 2010, and filed suit against the Rowells shortly ­thereafter.

Bryan Lam claimed in his lawsuit that Ash and Charlotte had conspired against him while his marriage was falling apart. He accused them of suggesting that he take some time off to try to mend things with his estranged wife, so that they could then hijack the company he helped build. The lawsuit was settled in the fall of 2012, but Bryan could not be directly contacted for this story. The Press tried reaching him through friends and relatives, including Lesli, and his brother, Houston police officer Hugh Lam, but no one responded to repeated requests. Others, including an ex-wife, his daughter, a former accountant and the representatives of a business he had sold, claimed not to know his current whereabouts.

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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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