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Jun-10-2008 01:56printcommentsVideo

Why Did the FBI Let Roxanna M. Brown Die?

A famous American journalist and art curator is unexpectedly arrested and dies without medical treatment in FBI custody. Her brother, a playwright, distinguished Vietnam Vet and military education specialist, wants answers.

Roxanna M. Brown
Roxanna M. Brown during her years covering the Vietnam War
Courtesy: Fred Leo Brown

(SEATTLE, Wash.) - The world is a place of many senseless tragedies; and sometimes the tangled web of life leaves no answers for loved ones who have to survive the needless death of a family member.

As a battle hardened Vietnam Vet, Fred Leo Brown is no stranger to grief. But his sister's death in a jail cell at Sea Tac in Seattle in the custody of U.S. federal agents, he tells me, is almost too much to bear.

Fred's sister, 62-year old Roxanna M. Brown, was the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum in Bangkok, Thailand. She was considered a world authority on ancient Southeast Asian ceramics. Prior to that she had been a distinguished journalist and among other things, she spent seven years covering the Vietnam War.

Roxanna's Arrest

She had flown to Seattle, Washington, to speak at the University of Washington. FBI agents were waiting, and Roxanna Brown was arrested in what was described by the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles as a five-year investigation into a plot to artificially inflate for tax purposes the value of antiquities donated to museums in Southern California.

The indictment against Brown alleged that she had loaned her electronic signature to a gallery in Los Angeles where it was used to inflate appraisals of art objects. The Asian Sentinel reported that the items were primarily Ban Chiang pottery from Thailand.

Fred and Roxanna Brown as kids growing up

Five days after her unexpected arrest, Roxanna Brown met her death in that federal jail at Seattle's Sea Tac Airport in the custody of U.S. federal agents. The case has sent shock waves through the international art collecting community. Her brother believes her death in federal hands is highly questionable.

Fred and his sister in recent years

It is understandable when Fred Leo Brown explains that his sister, an amputee, was observed in perfect health just before being arrested. It appears that she is the only person who has actually been arrested in the FBI's "five-year investigation."

Brown's allegation that his sister died in agony under false arrest is harsh, but perhaps Assistant US Attorney Joseph Johns, the Los Angeles-based prosecutor heading the probe, should have thought before describing Roxanna M. Brown as "one of many targets."

Fred tells me that he has dedicated his life to educating Americans about the Vietnam War and a play he wrote is a tool he has used for four decades to share with others the courage he saw on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Since then, he has created a character education / multiple intelligence / history curriculum that is fast becoming a classroom standard. He has toured over 200,000 miles and put on over 1,000 shows. He has every right to question the federal government about his sister's death, but says that so far his requests for information are bringing no answers.

"You know Tim, I've dealt with a lot of death, I know you have too. But somehow the death of my beautiful sister in this manner really hurts. I wake up thinking of how she was brutalized and then I spend the whole day wondering if there was anyway I could have saved her. Then I go to sleep thinking about her."

The allegations are stunning. The life of Roxanna brown did not reflect the criminal underworld. She is one of a select few people who poured dedication into her her personal pursuits. As a journalist she was at one point, offered the job of AP chief in Phenm Phen. His sister was associated with a number of people I am researching for a TV documentary. This is where Fred's life and mine recently intersected.

Unexpected Crossroads

Roxanna Brown was close to several Vietnam War journalists that our group
has studied for several years for a television documentary. Research for this
project led us to Fred Leo Brown's tragic story about his sister's recent death.

Roxanna Brown was a close friend of several Vietnam War photojournalists and reporters that I have studied for years. One of our goals has been to produce a documentary that chronicles the lives of some of these individuals; namely Sean Flynn, John Steinbeck IV and Dana Stone. These were the ground pounding photographers who delivered the gritty moments on American TV screens and in newspaper and magazine articles. Sean Flynn and John Steinbeck were the sons of famous Americans who chose to lead dangerous lives rather than live easy lives often associated with money and stardom. Dana Stone left a beautiful wife behind who never really recovered from that loss. Fred Leo Brown spent 20 years visiting at the bedside of Dana Stone's widow Louise.

Sean Flynn and Dana Stone rode up to a Communist checkpoint during the invasion of Cambodia in April, 1970 and were never seen by western eyes again. Their good friend Tim Page recorded what he could and then returned years later to try and determine what happened to Sean Flynn and Dana Stone. Page was the journalist that the Dennis Hopper character in Apocalypse Now was based on. They probably survived about a year according to Page, and then died a violent death in Communist captivity.

I met Fred Leo Brown through my research on Dana Stone. Fred's sister Roxanna spent the night with Sean Flynn the night before he and Dana Stone captured, and he says she blamed herself for suggesting that they could probably emerge from captivity with a great story. Sean Flynn had already recorded 10,000 feet of film for a documentary, and he honestly wanted to get the Communist side of the story. He would not live to tell it. (see: Remembering Sean Flynn: a Photojournalist Who Died at War

Now Roxanna is gone too, forever erasing a voice that could have for many years, provided vital information about this time period. She and her brother worked with Horst Faas and Tim Page on their book Requiem- one of the only real in-depth photographic accounts of these brave journalists of the Vietnam war.

I also learned through Fred Leo Brown and others about the brother of Dana Stone, John Stone, who joined the Army and went to Vietnam in hope of learning what happened to his brother. John Stone never did find Dana, but what he did do was remain in the service as a member of the Vermont National Guard. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2006, the year I arrived there to cover the war for the coming winter. It is a small world.

Fred Leo Brown has spent his life fighting to bring an understanding to what he and his brothers experienced at war, and now he says he will fight just as hard to bring justice to his sister's case.

"There are a lot of people lining up who want justice for Roxanna. I have over 200 emails from people all over the planet really, really upset by the death of their super star. She was our American ambassador of good will. And what has America done. They should be ashamed of themselves and the FBI should prepare a statement of recognition of their unjust behavior."

He says that support is coming from people in Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, America, England, Burma and China to name a few. He asks, "Are we the leaders of human rights? Then prove it. Show it by admitting that my sister was brutalized physically and mentally."

"She was taken into custody by FBI agents no signs of sickness, but after 6 days of mental and physical abuse at the hands of the FBI, she choked to death on her own blood from a herniated ulcer. She was innocent of any crime."

Fred is not alone by any means. Roxanna Brown’s friends in the art and journalism communities are demanding to know why an internationally recognized figure who suffered from a heart condition, was kept in jail without lifesaving medical treatment.

Roxanna's Death

The details that are known confirm that she was found dead at 2:30 am on May 14th, five days after her arrest, apparently of a perforated ulcer. She died while while waiting to be taken from a federal detention center to Los Angeles, to the hospital.

Her brother Fred in Chicago, says his sister did nothing wrong at any time, contending that her death was likely brought about by the stress of a wrongful arrest and the fear over the damage that it would cast on her name. He says her name was hijacked, and that she had no signs of any illegal lifestyle, and that money was tight.

It does seem fair to question why a woman involved in illegal activity in the U.S. while living in Thailand, would get on a plane and fly to Seattle in the first place. Fred Leo Brown says his sister was caught off guard because she was totally innocent. No doubt a person headed for a conference for a speaking engagement would be taken aback by a sudden arrest.

In his interview with the Asian Sentential, Fred Leo Brown said, "Roxanna Brown arrived in Seattle without a clue as to what was going on and was blindsided by an overzealous prosecutor."

He said a friend of his sister's made this remark about the timing of his sister's arrest, "It's the weekend and none of her university contacts are in the office and she probably doesn't have their home phone numbers. Her cell phone isn't compatible with the US telephone system. A younger, healthier person might have been able to wait until the system started to function. Unfortunately, she was unable to withstand the conditions in which she was held."

A spokesperson for the US Attorney in Seattle told reporters that this 62-year old veteran journalist and art curator was a flight risk.

When the Asian Sentinel asked why an amputee with health issues was considered a flight risk, this quote was issued by the U.S. government: "Because of her dual citizenship, there was concern about her remaining in the jurisdiction of the US District Court."

The matter is getting next to zero coverage in the United States right now, but that is no surprise since it isn't favorable toward the FBI or the current administration.

It is interesting when compared to the fact that 432 friends and associates of the dead woman, including William H. Itoh, a former US Ambassador to Thailand, signed a letter saying that "It is not only the cruelty of Roxanna's incarceration we seek to redress, but the slur cast upon her name by the accusations that prompted her arrest. For a scholar of such integrity, who tirelessly sought to raise the level of ethical practice in the trade in ceramics, it is a cruel irony that her reputation has been thus tainted. We cannot bring back Roxanna, but we can try our best to clear her of any shadow of wrongdoing, and restore her good name for the future."

Fred Leo Brown says somebody has a lot of explaining to do.

Here is a video he produced that tells the story of his sister's loss and his own determination to learn exactly what happened, and why our highly trained and highly paid FBI agents don't have the ability to transport a sick person for medical treatment.


You can visit the Website of Fred Leo Brown at FredLeoBrown.com

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Bahu Virupaksha November 27, 2012 9:48 am (Pacific time)

I am a historian and am familiar with work. John Guy and she are well known figures in the field of Chinese trade ceramics. I do not believe that a woman of her education and stature in the academic world would have anything to do with the dubious world of art smuggling. The FBI must answer this question.

Tim King: I was specifically told by a federal agent that she was no longer under investigation at the time of her death, so you are totally right, it is a tragedy.

Robert DOC Holmes October 7, 2010 8:06 am (Pacific time)


Bill Smith September 22, 2009 3:24 pm (Pacific time)

I have known Roxanna for more than 40 years and someone has made a very big. horrendous mistake. This woman would never, never betray the trust put upon her. she loved both the U.S.A and her adopted country of Thailand. The United States trusted her enough to ask her to be one of thier "eyes" on exports/imports.Thailand embraced her. American "INTELLIGENCE" should under great scrutiny for thier mistakes. I promise to find out what "happened" until the day I die. Even after that my love will live.

Dorsett Bennett June 27, 2008 5:51 pm (Pacific time)

It will undoubtably be considered by most as excessive for me to state that this story makes me feel like we are headed towards becoming a 'fascist' nation. But since 9/11, what our government has done never stops shocking me. At the founding of our republic, there were the individuals, like Thomas Jefferson, who were concerned about an excessively powerful federal government on one hand, versus individuals who wanted a strong federal government. I do not remember right now the author of the Federalist Papers, but if both groups were brought back to life these days, all of them would grabbed weapons and March to Washington, DC to overthrow this government. It is a sad thing that we are presently an American Empire, rather than an American Republic.

Vic June 21, 2008 8:07 am (Pacific time)

Right on Albert !

D. Fredricks June 16, 2008 7:19 pm (Pacific time)

So, since this was really more of a human interest story, can anyone explain the charges against her?

S.LaMarche June 15, 2008 10:14 pm (Pacific time)

What's the f.b.i. story?

We'll bring you that later this week- I was unable to reach them last week.  I just wanted to get Fred's story out first... stay tuned! 


Albert Marnell June 11, 2008 3:14 am (Pacific time)

If you are a journalist who goes against the grain of the Corporation called the United States, you stand a good chance of being targeted with trivial or false charges. The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. does not work for the American people. They work for private interests only including multinationals, powerful individuals (ask Wayne Pierce) or globalist bankers like David Rockefeller. This never was a country and was never free. Indentured servants, slavery, Eugenics Laws (forcing sterilization) from 1907 until almost the end of the 20th century, women not having the right to vote until about 1920, segregation, Jim Crow Laws, laws against inter-racial marriages, sodomy laws (most people do not know that sodomy is anything other than coitus) the Patriot Act; when was this country free? If you are going to give me the B.S. line of "Love it or Leave it."....you leave so the more intelligent and educated people can make this Corporation into a Country.

Sandy Johnson June 10, 2008 11:17 am (Pacific time)

God bless you Fred Leo Brown in your pursuit for justice. Your sister lived an amazing life and reached many people, I was sorry to learn of this.

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