Ronald Harmon “Ron” Brown grew up with a lofty goal. He was good-looking, a snappy dresser, smart, well-educated, energetic and comfortable around people in power, and his ambition was to become the first black president of the United States.
Instead, as U.S. secretary of commerce, he reputedly became the bagman collecting Chinese money for President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign.
Then investigators began tightening the net and threatening Brown, his son and his pretty mistress and business partner with accusations of financial hanky-panky. With federal watchdogs closing in, he became very, very dead.
On April 3, 1996, Brown’s body was found by a rescue-recovery team sprawled among the wreckage of a modified U.S. Air Force Boeing 737 on a rocky mountainside at the edge of Dubrovnik, Croatia, with a mysterious round hole in the top of his head that looked like the entry wound of a high-caliber bullet.
Alarmed by the timing of the mysterious death of the 54-year-old Clinton Cabinet member and the perplexing manner in which authorities reacted, conspiracy theorists immediately pounced. Ron Brown and the 34 other crew members and passengers on the doomed flight were murdered, they claimed.
It was officially determined at the conclusion of an Air Force investigation that the crash was caused by pilot error and a poorly designed landing approach.
Five miles visibility
White House authorities and some leading news sources added that the crash a short distance from the Dubrovnik Airport occurred during one of the worst storms in a decade. But weather experts on the scene described conditions as far less severe. In fact, they said, at the time of the crash there was scattered rain, broken clouds and a visibility range of five miles.
There was also a dispute over the aircraft’s black box, the common term for the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder. U.S. spokesmen tied to the investigation said it was never recovered, but Croatian, French and Russian television accounts reported the black box was found and carried away from the wreckage.
More troubling, even though a Navy chief photographer’s mate who took pictures at the crash site and then pathologists that viewed Brown’s body when it was returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware reported seeing an apparent bullet hole in his skull, there was no autopsy. The mysterious round hole was described as consistent with a .45-caliber gunshot wound, but it seems that no one probed inside the skull for evidence.
Conspiracy theorists also viewed as suspicious the death of an Air Force crewmember who survived the crash for 11 hours, then died as she was being transported away from the site to receive medical care. With the distressing death of Tech. Sgt. Shelley Kelly, there were no surviving witnesses to the crash.
People in the conspiracy world as well as a handful of investigative journalists and authors believe they have the answers to why so many strange events – and non-events – surround the mysterious death of the former high-stepping U.S. Democratic Party chairman.
He was under criminal investigation by an independent counsel for allegedly selling seats on trade missions to wealthy industrialists and businessmen in return for $100,000 donations to the Democratic National Committee.
Furthermore, his mistress, Nolanda Hill, testified after his death that he was up to his ears in the transfer of American technology to the People’s Republic of China.
Long Beach Naval Station
For a time the Clinton administration was considering giving the OK for sale of the Long Beach Naval Station to the Chinese Ocean Shipping Co., an arm of China’s navy. After Brown’s death, U.S. intelligence agents reportedly learned that China planned to use the base as a center for espionage, and Congress put its foot down. The sale was called off.
Brown’s weak spots were his son, Michael, and his long-legged Texas business partner. When investigators began to move in and put some of their business activities under close scrutiny, Brown was scared to death. He expected to be asked about that when he was scheduled to appear in a few days before the independent counsel.
Then Clinton reportedly advised him to postpone his appearance because he was needed to lead a trade mission to Croatia. Brown responded by pressing the president for a talk. The meeting in the White House family quarters was tense
After Clinton reportedly refused to quash the independent counsel investigation, the besieged commerce secretary apparently decided it was time to go for broke.
Brown told the president that if he didn’t intervene to protect Michael and Hill from the government attack dogs, he might be forced to go public with his knowledge of the Clinton administration’s treacherous dealings with the Chinese, according to published accounts.
The troubled Cabinet officer subsequently made a few trips to Central and South America. Then shortly after the independent counsel’s office issued a flurry of new subpoenas, he wound up on the fatal junket to Croatia.
Michael Brown eventually pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of making an illegal $4,000 contribution to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s re-election campaign. He was given three years probation, a $5,000 fine and told to perform 150 hours of community service. In addition, he was ordered to pay $7,818 in costs for his probation. No other charges were prosecuted against him.
Hill was treated more harshly. She was indicted for fraud and tax evasion. After agreeing to a plea deal, she lived for a while in a Seagoville, Texas, halfway house, sleeping in the top berth of a double bunk bed.