Ron Brown Murder
Ron Brown Murder
Although Ron Brown, President Clinton’s first commerce secretary, was said to have been killed along with thirty-four others in an airplane crash in Croatia, what appears to have been a bullet hole in his skull suggests that his death might not have been accidental.
In August of 1997, sixteen months after he died in a jet crash, Ron Brown, President Bill Clinton’s first commerce secretary, was once again in the Washington spotlight as congressional investigators examined allegations that he had misused his agency to aid Clinton’s reelection campaign. Principal among the accusations were those suggesting that Brown had sold his influence with the president to the highest bidders among U.S. business executives and foreign interests.
FBI agent Jerome Campane testified that restauranteur Charlie Trie, a Clinton friend from Little Rock, escorted Chinese arms dealer Wang Jun to a White House coffee with the president in February 1996. After the amenities at the coffee party, according to Campane, Trie and Jun went across Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with Ron Brown at Commerce.
Accusations of campaign abuses continued to be thrown at the Democratic National Committee, which Brown had headed before he joined Clinton’s cabinet. Getting the goods on the crew who helped reelect the president was made difficult by Brown’s sudden death and the fact that as early as the summer of 1997, nearly all of the twenty-one senior officials or lower-level employees who worked under Brown had left the agency. According to former Commerce aide Robert Atkins, political documents bearing the logo of the Democratic National Committee and the Executive Office of the President were frequently shredded at Commerce—so much so, Atkins said, that the shredder was repeatedly broken from overuse.
Ron Brown was the Democratic National Committee chairman from 1989 to 1992. He headed the Commerce Department for three years, from January 1993 until his death in April 1996. Perishing with him in the Croatian air tragedy were twenty-eight other passengers, including senior officers of the Commerce Department, corporate chief executive officers, financial experts, journalists, and photographers. In addition, the aircraft’s six crew members were killed.
One of those crew members, Tech. Sgt. Shelly Kelly, steward, who was riding in the tail, is said to have survived the crash itself with only minor cuts and bruises. However, she died en route to the hospital. An autopsy later revealed a three-inch incision over her femoral artery. According to some sources, the incision was made at least three hours after the injuries sustained in the crash. Strangely enough, there were no further autopsies. An official order called for all the bodies to be cremated. This was considered by most people to be a thoughtful act because so many of the bodies were terribly shattered. It is also impossible to conduct autopsies on ashes.
Although the majority of U.S. officials denied even the possibility of foul play in regard to the crash, a number of investigators wondered why co-captains Ashley J. Davis and Tim Shafer were ordered to take off in such bad weather. Many news publications pronounced the storm in which the military plane had taken off as the worst in ten years, with visibility of only a hundred yards.
Villagers at the base of Sveti Ivan, one of the highest mountains in the area, said that they heard a plane fly directly overhead into the clouds, rev its engine briefly, then, two or three seconds later, crash into the mountain with an earth-shattering explosion. Investigators later deduced that the plane’s left wingtip had grounded, spinning the aircraft and slamming it into the mountain.
The jet, a military version of the Boeing 737, left Cilipi Airport at 2:48 P.M. and vanished from the screens of the main regional radar station at 2:52 P.M. Davis and Shafter piloted the craft over Cilipi’s first beacon, 11.9 miles from the airport, at 2:54 P.M. If the aircraft had not strangely vanished from the radar screens, Cilipi control tower could have warned the pilots that they had begun to veer slightly off course. The jet was now heading straight for Sveti Ivan.
At 2:58 P.M. the plane flew over the tiny village of Velji Do at the base of Sveti Ivan and crashed a few seconds later. Official investigators wondered how a beacon light that tests had shown to be extremely accurate could have misled the pilot. When they sought to view the tapes at the control tower in the hope of gaining a clue to the mysterious misdirection, they discovered the tapes had somehow disappeared. When persistent investigators sought to interview the air traffic controller to gain his interpretation of the events leading up to the accident, they found, to their great concern, that he had committed suicide.
That left the plane’s black box, the cockpit voice recorder, to provide whatever clues might exist to explain the reasons for the tragic crash. Local Croatian journalists were informed that U.S. Marines had recovered the black box. However, the Pentagon later denied that there was a black box on board the aircraft. The box that the marines had taken was designed only to hold soda and toilet paper for the pilots.
When civilian investigators from Pratt and Whitney, the manufacturer of the engines that powered the jetliner, arrived to conduct their own research into the reasons for the crash, they were told to return stateside. The air force had officially canceled the usual safety investigation in favor of a quick legal investigation.
But the biggest bombshell of all in regard to the crash was the statement by Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell that there was a wound on the very top of Ron Brown’s head that looked suspiciously like a bullet hole. Cogswell, a member of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), had participated in the investigation of the crash, and according to his allegations, when Brown’s body was examined by military medical personnel, they discovered a wound that could have been caused by a gunshot.
Cogswell’s startling assertions were seconded by Lt. Col. David Hause, who later examined the suspicious head wound on Brown’s corpse at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Hause said that a “commotion” erupted when one of the medical examiners exclaimed that the wound looked like a “punched out .45-caliber entrance hole.”
In December 1997 Cogswell expressed his opinion that the wound on the top of Brown’s head was “as close to a perfectly circular hole as you can get.” Hause, one of the AFIP’s leading experts on gunshot wounds, agreed with his colleague that the wound appeared consistent with a high-velocity impact caused by a bullet. Cogswell, who had taken part in more than a hundred plane crash investigations, and Hause, who had been involved in such examinations for five years, went on record as stating that neither of them had ever before seen a similar wound in a plane crash victim’s head.
Cogswell took issue with Col. William Gormley, the assistant armed forces medical examiner, who contended that the hole was not a bullet wound and therefore did not order an autopsy. Cogswell argued that as a member of the cabinet, Brown would have been covered under the Presidential Assassination Statute, and his corpse should have been autopsied. Hause stated that he understood the “political and administrative” factors that were likely to have prohibited an autopsy on Brown, but he believed that “by any professional standard” one should have been conducted.
Cogswell went on to charge that initial X rays of Brown’s head revealed tiny metallic fragments, which he said could be consistent with a disintegrating slug from a .45. Furthermore, Cogswell alleged that these damning X rays were later replaced by others that did not indicate the possible bullet fragments. Once again, Hause backed up Cogswell’s charges. When he and Dr. Jerry Spencer, the AFIP’s chief medical examiner, were asked to review the Brown case, they retrieved all the photographs and X rays that had been taken of Brown at the time of the initial medical examination. They were surprised to discover that there were no X rays of the commerce secretary’s head. They had all disappeared.
When it was learned that the only existing evidence of the X rays were slide images in the current possession of Cogswell, he received a letter from the AFIP informing him that he was under internal investigation and could not leave the area of his office without permission. At about the same time, it came to the AFIP’s attention that Cogswell had expressed his concern over the possible murder of Brown and that he had projected slides of the wound in Brown’s head during public lectures. A military police officer arrived and accompanied Cogswell to his home to retrieve all slides and photos in his possession that related in any way to any AFIP cases in which he had served as an investigator.
Based on the AFIP’s actions toward Cogswell, investigators of the Ron Brown mystery ask themselves three basic questions:
- Are government officials disturbed because the AFIP botched the medical examination of Brown?
- Are high-ranking officials upset that the American public might learn that the AFIP botched the case?
- Are officials of the highest rank in the government worried that the American public might learn that Ron Brown was murdered?
Of course, these questions raise one more: Why would anyone want to murder Ron Brown?
Before Brown left for Croatia/Bosnia-Herzegovina, he was up to his neck in numerous scandals. He was under investigation by the Justice Department, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the congressional Reform and Oversight Committee, the FBI, the Energy Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee—and even by his own Commerce Department’s inspector general. In addition, evidence was mounting that the government of Vietnam was able to get the United States to drop a trade embargo against their country by paying Ron Brown $700,000 to swing the deal. The cash was deposited in a Singapore bank account, and the embargo fell. Although the FBI began an investigation of this alleged purchase of political influence by a foreign power, President Clinton allegedly ordered the agents to cease and desist. Later, a federal grand jury probe was neutralized.
It was well known that Brown sold plane seats on trade trips such the one that made the fatal flight to Croatia. Corporations that made large contributions to the Democratic Party or the Clinton Victory Fund were able to buy seats for their CEOs on board the prestigious special flights.
Just four days before the crash, FBI and IRS agents subpoenaed as many as twenty witnesses for a grand jury hearing regarding Brown’s various activities in Washington. The Washington Post reported that Brown had hired Reid Weingarten, a former high official in the Justice Department, as his criminal attorney. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Daniel Pearson as Brown’s special prosecutor and gave him carte blanche to carry the investigation wherever it might lead. Before he left on his overseas junket, certain sources claim, Brown angrily demanded that Clinton force Reno to withdraw Pearson or to limit his powers. When Clinton told him that such a move was impossible because the Republicans had backed both Reno and him into a corner, Brown allegedly completely lost his temper and told the president in no uncertain terms that he was not about to become the fall guy for the multitude of the administration’s scandals. According to purported sources close to the commerce secretary, Brown threatened to finger the Clintons as his partners in wrongdoing and tell all that he knew about Whitewater unless Clinton used his power to call off the various investigations.
Clinton knew that he was between a rock and a hard place. A cover-up would be obvious if he interfered with the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. On the other hand, if Brown told all he knew and revealed all the smoking guns that he had previously concealed, the campaign for reelection would be over.
It is against this background that certain of those investigating the death of Ron Brown make the most serious charge of all: A decision was made at the highest political levels that there was no time to arrange a “Vince Foster–type” suicide. It was unfortunate that all those Commerce Department officials and high-ranking U.S. businesspersons had to be traveling with Brown, but there was no choice other than to order a “mysterious crash” in Croatia. How convenient that the area was undergoing the worst snowstorm in ten years. That would make an airplane crash seem all the more believable.
Many serious questions regarding Ron Brown’s death remain to be answered, and persistent investigators vow to keep chipping away at the case until the true story is revealed to the American public.