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.

According to Charlotte's and Ash's response to Bryan's lawsuit, he had created a shell corporation tied to Duff and used it to funnel Duff money. Charlotte and Ash offered Bryan a $222,000 payout over eight years to quietly see himself out the door. But Bryan claimed that his share of the company was worth millions.

Ash had handed Bryan a $30,000 check as a down payment; all Bryan had to do was sign the agreement, which he scoffed at, calling it a "cramdown offer." According to court filings, Bryan made a show of rejecting the check, but when it cleared the Duff account on August 10, 2011, Ash and Charlotte took that as a sign that Bryan had reconsidered.

The day after the check cleared, Bryan showed up at Duff's Pasadena warehouse. As far as Ash was concerned, Bryan was no longer an employee, and he was trespassing. Things got physical, and Ash grabbed Bryan and shoved him against a wall. The police came, but no one was arrested.

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.

It was around that time, Ash later claimed, that the threats came: first from Bryan, then from his brother Rick.

Ash claimed in his November 2011 deposition that Rick texted Lesli two ominous messages: "I'm going to get your husband and his mom. They can't hide from me" and "If your husband doesn't handle this in a way that makes me happy, I'll take care of him my way."

Ash and Lam were present at each other's depositions, which made for some tense moments. Ash even claimed that Lam was threatening his life during the deposition. He accused Bryan of recording him with his phone and "motioning that he was going to cut my neck. I've been threatened before, and I feel that he might be taking a video to send to someone else."

Lam, in his deposition, denied any knowledge of threats.

He also stated that he had no intention of depositing the initial $30,000 payment, because he wasn't going to accept the "cramdown" offer. He said he tried to return the check to Ash, but Ash wouldn't accept it, so he simply stuck it in his desk drawer and forgot about it.

After the check was somehow deposited and cleared, Lam accused Ash and Charlotte of setting him up to make it appear that he had accepted the payout.

Turning to Ash during his deposition, Lam said, "Ash, you can sit there and look at me all you want. Off the record, you — deep down, you know you stole it, okay? Deep down in your heart, you know you stole it...I hope you sleep good at night. You can stare at me too, Charlotte. Same thing goes for you."

As for Rick threatening Lesli, Lam simply said, "I'm not in control over it."

Besides, he said later in the deposition, "I don't talk to my sister. That's — again, that's because of the relationship we have here."

But Rick? Rick was a brother. And not a cop brother, but someone he could confide in. Someone to whom he could say, according to the deposition, "Ash and Charlotte stole my company."

Toward the end of the deposition, his English faltering, Bryan Lam said of Rick, "...whether he's good or bad, he's my brother. I still going to talk to him."
_____________________

In June 2013, the United States Secret Service was also talking to Rick Lam.

The topic of conversation was the thousands of dollars Rick was pocketing as part of what authorities believed was a credit card conspiracy. For good measure, authorities invited Rick's girlfriend, Jacquelyn, to the discussion. The two were arrested in June 2013 and charged with fraud. Both have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

According to an indictment filed in a Houston federal court, authorities combed through the couple's finances from 2007 to 2010 and accused them of conducting a "credit card bust-out scheme" — a remarkably unsophisticated procedure that nonetheless is apparently easy to get away with.

Rick and his girlfriend declined to comment for this story, as did U.S. Secret Service Agent Roger Pak, who seemed annoyed and puzzled that the Press was even inquiring about a murder investigation — a police matter — in the first place. After all, why would the Secret Service care that the perp under its thumb had allegedly made death threats about a man who was now in fact dead, when this same perp allegedly stole upward of $57,000 over three years? That's $19,000 a year. For three whole years. That's Lexus money.

Charlotte hoped Rick's arrest would be a turning point in the investigation. If it was, she never heard about it. Charlotte says Ash was so frightened by Rick's text that he filed a complaint with the Pasadena Police Department. (A spokesman with the Pasadena police said they have no record of such a complaint.)

Charlotte also stated in an e-mail that she made an identical complaint at HPD's West­heimer Road substation.

"The cop there was really rude and didn't want to take the report, and asked me why I needed to report it if my son already had," Charlotte wrote. "I simply told him that I was mentioned in the threat also, and if either of these SOBs came on my property that I hold a [concealed handgun license] and will not hesitate to [shoot] them. So I wanted this report on the police record in case it came to this. He shut up then and took the report."

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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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