WASHINGTON — A handgun carried by a bodyguard assigned to protect the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown “was lost and not recovered” from the wreckage of his plane, which crashed in Croatia in 1996, reveals a still-secret Commerce Department report, a copy of which was obtained by WorldNetDaily.
The internal security report was completed in March 1999 — 15 months after an Air Force forensic pathologist disclosed that an unusual wound at the top of Brown’s head could have been a bullet hole.
Jesse Jackson and other black leaders at the time called for an autopsy to find out if the hole was caused by a bullet.
“I think people have a right to know what really happened,” he said in January 1998.
Jackson was joined by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters in demanding a new investigation into Brown’s death.
The Air Force ruled that Brown died of multiple blunt-force injuries sustained in the crash of the Air Force jet in which he was a passenger.
On April 3, 1996, he and his bodyguard, Duane Christian, went down with 33 others traveling on a Commerce trade trip. All 35 aboard died.
But military investigators did not order an autopsy of Brown’s body, and failed to recover Christian’s weapon when they investigated the crash scene.
“One gun was lost and not recovered in the tragic April 1996 airplane crash in Croatia that killed 12 Commerce employees, including the secretary,” found Commerce Inspector General Johnnie E. Frazier in a review of weapon and ammunition inventory.
His findings were part of a department-wide inspection of security procedures. On March 31, 1999, he delivered his 33-page report — which still hasn’t been
cleared for public release — to David Holmes, deputy assistant secretary for security.
Holmes previously had led Vice President Al Gore’s Secret Service detail.
The report also says that there has been no internal accounting for the missing gun.
The gun that turned up missing was a .357 Magnum, which fires a .38-caliber round (which actually
measures .36 inch in diameter).
“Brown had a .45-inch inwardly beveling circular hole in the top of his head, which is essentially the description of a .45-caliber gunshot wound,” Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in December 1997. At the time, he was a deputy medical examiner with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington.
But another military doctor, who reviewed external examination photos, found the circular wound in Brown’s head to be smaller, the Tribune-Review said.
According to Dr. Martin Fackler, former director of the Army’s Wound Ballistics Laboratory in San Francisco, the hole was more consistent with a .40-caliber, or 10-millimeter, bullet — such as the kind used by law-enforcement agencies.
Also, a ballistics expert familiar with the ammunition issued by Commerce told WorldNetDaily that the .357 bullets can flatten on impact and leave a larger hole.
“Given the right conditions,” he said, “a soft-point, or hollow-point, slug could leave a .45-size hole.”
In an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily, the former primary agent on Brown’s protective detail says there’s nothing suspicious about the lost weapon.
He speculates that the impact from the crash may have simply ripped it away from Christian’s waist holster, which has a strap that snaps shut over the hammer, and thrown it far enough from the wreckage that investigators overlooked it.
Croatian special forces?
“I figure either that happened or Croatian special forces guys are walking around with the weapon” after picking it up as a souvenir, said James E. Ochs, Brown’s top bodyguard, who was busy deploying the secretary’s motorcade at the Dubrovnik airport when the plane crashed.
Ochs says Croatian police beat U.S. forces to the mountainous crash site and may have scavenged for such items of value.
As for Brown’s gunshot-like head wound, Ochs says it was more likely caused by a rivet, bolt or rod that broke free from the plane on impact and penetrated the top of his skull.
“If the plane plowed into a mountain, there would be a lot of debris flying around,” he told WorldNetDaily.
Dr. Cogswell, however, says he looked for such objects at the crash site and couldn’t find any that would fit the wound.
Others offer darker explanations.
“My theory is that Brown was still alive. And local Croats who came to loot didn’t want anyone to see what they were doing. So they found the gun and shot him,” said Accuracy in Media’s Reed Irvine, who was asked to comment on the findings in the secret Commerce report. Washington-based AIM has followed the tragic story closely from the start and has argued for an autopsy.
But why in the top of the head?
“They didn’t want it to be obvious, so they got down and fired the gun point-blank into the top of his head,” he said. “What happened to the bullet? It went down into the body cavity. Investigators wouldn’t have found it unless they did an autopsy.”
The ballistics expert, however, says that even such a dense area of bone and tissue wouldn’t have stopped a bullet fired by a .357 Magnum, which packs a heavy hit.
“It would have gone all the way through,” he said. “There would have been a major exit wound.”
No exit wound
No such wound was found on Brown’s body — although the forensic photographer who snapped shots of Brown’s corpse when it arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, says examiners failed to thoroughly inspect the buttocks and groin area where a bullet probably would have exited. Nor was she asked to take photos of that area.
“They never looked for an exit wound,” said Kathleen Janoski, who was the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology’s senior lab photographer then. “And I was there for the entire external examination.”
A pathologist hired by the Brown family concluded there was no exit wound, she says, but he made his conclusion based on photos.
Other suspicious circumstances surround Brown’s death, leading some to suspect foul play on the part of the Clinton administration.
At the time Brown died, a special prosecutor was investigating his financial dealings, including his presidential fund-raising practices. And Brown was reportedly making noises he would rat out the president — in the middle of an election year — if squeezed too hard.
Adding to suspicions, Brown’s papers — like the late deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster’s — were spirited away from his office shortly after he died. Some were destroyed, some were locked up in off-site storage and some were taken to other agencies by Clinton appointees.
Internal documents and testimony from Commerce officials gleaned since his death show that Brown coordinated with the Democratic National Committee and the White House to sell seats on overseas trade junkets for campaign cash.
Convicted Clinton-Gore fund-raiser and suspected Beijing agent John Huang was one of the aides who helped Brown arrange the more controversial missions to the Far East, including China. Huang’s immediate boss at Commerce, Charles Meissner, also died in the Croatian plane crash.
Perhaps most chilling, though, is the way the White House rushed the examinations of the victims at the morgue, Janoski says.
“There was a lot of pressure from the White House to get the bodies out of Dover and buried,” she told WorldNetDaily.
“In fact, our team leader in this — Dr. Edward Kilbane — was ordered to the West Wing for a meeting the Friday before the bodies came back” from Croatia on Saturday, April 6, 1996, Janoski added.
A second gun
The inspector general’s report also mentions another gun missing, this one from Commerce headquarters.
“The other handgun was reported stolen or missing in HCHB (Herbert Clark Hoover Building),” the report says, “so an internal report was prepared.”
It turns out that the other gun, also a .357 Magnum, also belonged to Christian, who died at 42. One day in 1995, he reported it missing from his office.
When he was tapped to accompany Brown on his mission to the Balkans, Christian had to borrow a gun from another security specialist. It was the loaner that was lost on the fateful flight, Ochs explains.
“Duane borrowed that weapon to make that trip,” he said.
Ochs, a former firearms training officer for the department, says he still doesn’t know the whereabouts of Christian’s own gun, which mysteriously vanished from his office.
The serial numbers of both guns were reported to the National Crime Information Center.
“That’s a big deal to lose a weapon,” a high-level federal security official told WorldNetDaily.
Ochs, an ex-Secret Service agent, agrees.
But he explains that Brown traveled so much that it became impractical for agents to lock their guns up in the department safe when they weren’t on the road guarding him. And that made it harder to keep track of them.
“With Brown, the weapons were issued to each agent,” he said. “And each agent was charged with the care and well-being of that weapon, because we were always on the road.”
After Brown died, Ochs says he “kept them all in a gun safe,” and the department didn’t have any more problems.
Dr. Cogswell, the whistleblower who left AFIP after being demoted and now works as a coroner in Shreveport, La., also cited as evidence of a possible gunshot wound initial X-rays that showed what appear to be small metal fragments in Brown’s head — similar to the “lead snowstorm” left by a slug as it breaks up in the body.
Janoski, a 23-year Navy veteran, claims that the first set of X-rays were “destroyed” because they showed evidence of a possible bullet entry.
And a second set of X-rays were taken and “deliberately” made less dense to try to diminish the lead snowstorm, she says.
How does she know? She says a Navy criminal investigator, Jeanmarie Sentelle, told her so.
Attempts to reach Sentelle were unsuccessful.
She also says Sentelle told her a gift from Brown’s alleged mistress, Yolanda Hill, was ordered destroyed.
The gift — an Indian good-luck charm consisting of a cigarette butt, a feather, turquoise stones and red beads rolled up in a shammy and tied with twine — was found in Brown’s diplomatic pouch.
“Personal effects are never destroyed,” she said.
Janoski, a registered Democrat who voted for Bill Clinton and then worked as a White House volunteer, also noted that examiners did not test for gunshot residue around Brown’s head wound.
Empty 9-millimeter clip
As body bags were unzipped at the Dover morgue, she noticed something else.
“A burnt 9-millimeter clip was thrown in with one of the bodies” by one of the crash scene workers, Janoski said.
She says that although the gun clip was charred from the plane fire, she could see that it was empty — except for perhaps one round.
Christian’s .357 Magnum was a revolver. So the presence of a clip suggests there was another gun — a semiautomatic — on board the plane.
Theories about what created Brown’s perfectly round wound are predicated on an airborne object hitting his skull, such as a bullet or rivet, rather than his skull hitting a stationary object.
But close-ups of the hole in his skull show less a tunnel than a shallow but clean-cut indentation, or punch-out, as if Brown were thrown head-first into some kind of protrusion, such as a metal stud, connected to a hard, round surface.
In fact, the top of Brown’s skull was depressed and fractured, and his scalp was torn away around the hole — injuries not caused by just a gunshot.
Janoski allows that she probably never would have spotted the hole if the skull weren’t exposed by the large laceration.
Still, she says only an autopsy could rule out a bullet.
“City coroners do autopsies on homeless people,” Janoski said. “Yet here we have a dead Cabinet member with a hole in his head, and there’s no autopsy.”
“What they needed to do was open up the skull with a saw and take the brain out and slice it up like a loaf of bread to find out how far this wound went,” she added. “Without an autopsy, we’re never really going to know what happened.”
Jesse Jackson agrees.
“It may only prove that he was not murdered,” he said. “But that would relieve people of reasonable doubt.”
Janoski, who was demoted by AFIP after she publicly complained about the cursory examination of Brown’s corpse, says she told her story to Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in a January 1998 meeting.
She said Conyers, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, taped the conversation in a recording room on The Hill and said “he wanted to look into it.” But she says he never followed up.