Museum Director in Antiquities probe dies in Federal Custody, 14 May 2008
By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter
A renowned Asian antiquities expert, indicted in Los Angeles in connection with a federal investigation into illegal trafficking of pilfered Southeast Asian art, has died in custody at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac.
Roxanna Brown, the director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, was found dead around 2:30 a.m., said FDC spokeswoman Maggie Ogden.
Brown was arrested at her hotel last Friday as she prepared to have dinner with colleagues from the University of Washington, where she was scheduled to speak Saturday, according to news reports.
Ogden said the cause of Brown’s death is under investigation. Brown had complained of being ill after her arrest and her scheduled appearance before a U.S. magistrate Monday was postponed because she didn’t feel well. Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle, said Brown was able to appear in court Tuesday and that her extradition to Los Angeles to answer the charges was pending.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, the Los Angeles prosecutor heading the illegal antiquities investigation, said Brown was “one of many targets” of the probe. He declined to say how her death would affect the investigation.
Brown, 62, who lived in Bangkok, was indicted on a single count of wire fraud for allegedly allowing her electronic signature to be used on appraisal forms of items donated to museums. Those appraisals, according to court documents, were inflated so that the donors could claim fraudulent tax deductions.
IN MEMORIAM – ROXANNA BROWN
LETTER OF CONDOLENCE
Dear Family, Friends, and Colleagues of Dr. Roxanna Brown,
When a great and good person is taken from us, the shock calls upon us to freeze the daily whirl of activities and face an irreparable loss in our lives.
Your sister, your mother, your daughter, Roxanna Maude Brown was such a person. She touched so many lives over the course of her own. A growing chorus of admiration and affection attests to the broad reach of her life and work.
Roxanna’s journey took her from the role of journalist, the conscience of a nation, documenting from the ground the unfolding tragedy of Vietnam, to her discovery of what would be her life’s work buried literally beneath her feet: the ceramics of Southeast Asia. More than once her pursuit of ceramics study through the countryside of Southeast Asia aroused the suspicion of the forces locked in mortal combat swirling around her. Amidst the horror of war, it must have been hard for them to see the innocence of her search for kilns and shards.
Roxanna became a leading figure in the study of Southeast Asian ceramics, and the culture of which they were a part. Her keen eye and vast empirical knowledge allowed her to shape theories of historical development in Southeast Asia that challenged accepted paradigms. That she was able to pursue her work and achieve what she did without the force of institutional structure supporting her was remarkable. When she ascended to the Directorship of the Southeast Asia Ceramics Museum, she seemed at last fitted with the platform from which to make manifest for the benefit of the public her lifetime of study. The museum is a testament to her sensibility and the rigor of her scholarship. We hope it remains true to her ideals.
Many have spoken of her achievements as a scholar, her unique place in her chosen field of study. For those of us who were blessed to know her personally, her friendship was equally to be cherished. All of us have our own stories of Roxanna, our testimonials as friends and colleagues.
Her irrepressible, infectious enthusiasm for Southeast Asian ceramics spread a charmed field of energy about all who came in contact with her. She moved with equal grace through mansions and the most modest of dwellings. She asked for little and shared much. Her gentle generosity and unjudgemental acceptance of difference and frailty in a field all too often marred by intolerance and avarice made her a loved as well as respected figure.
But, compounding this tragedy, this is not a moment of grief at the loss of a loved one slipping away from us after a full, rich life, surrounded by friends and family, whose last moments are made as safe and soft as material comforts can permit. This is a moment of mischance. This is a moment of horror.
This is a moment of grief not only for the friend we have lost, but anguish for the suffering, the unjust, unnecessary, suffering of her last days and nights on earth.
A vulnerable, trusting, undemanding soul thrust alone into the netherworld of the institutional at its most cold and brutal. It is unspeakable.
Many of us have discussed how best to pursue the questions that arise concerning the circumstances of her most tragic and untimely death. We wish to be sensitive to your feelings and desires as we move forward. We feel there are many who need to answer for what has happened. We do not seek to return vengeance for victimization, but we seek illumination, and justice.
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 inceramics, 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.
For all of us who knew her as a scholar and as a person, we will remember her always as she was–dedicated, generous, gentle, warm. Roxanna will be greatly missed.
Richard A. Ruth
Hue-Tam Ho Tai
Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, Singapore
and many many others
Eric Charles Thompson
Anne R Hansen
Nguyen Ngoc BICH
H. Leedom Lefferts
Nhung Tuyet Tran