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

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.

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.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow