PERPLEXING: The whole thing is peculiar. Certainly the defendant, Pierre Haobsh — said to be brilliant when discussing complex technical issues but socially awkward, inappropriate, and notably lacking common sense — qualifies as very peculiar. But then so are the “facts” surrounding Haobsh’s alleged murder of Goleta’s much acclaimed Chinese herbalist Henry Han; his wife, Jennie; and their 5-year-old daughter, Emily. They were all shot in the head, the bodies wrapped up in plastic sheets and sealed tight with duct tape. One might think a murderer with the foresight to bring along plastic sheets and duct tape would not drive around — as Haobsh reportedly did — with Jennie Yu’s cell phone next to him. Presumably, the cell phone helped authorities ping Haobsh, 27, down at a gas station located not far from the small rental in Oceanside he shared with a mysterious father who may or may not have functioned as a clandestine CIA asset in the Middle East.
In Santa Barbara, I don’t know if the wheels of justice grind fine, but they do grind exceedingly slow. Nearly four months after Haobsh’s arrest, and authorities have only just scheduled his preliminary hearing for September 28. In the meantime, attorneys for opposing sides are still debating whether Haobsh should appear in court wearing his orange jail-house jumpsuit, chain-link belt, and plastic can’t-run-away slippers or whether he should be allowed to appear in less guilt-presumed civilian street clothes. What’s there to argue about? In potential death-penalty cases, this would seem a no-brainer. Clearly, any inconvenience involved with allowing Haobsh a change of clothes is outweighed by the perception — and reality — of fairness. Regardless, much saliva will be wasted hashing out this nonissue next week. To date, three judges have had their hands on this case. On this — and other key issues — none have spoken with one voice.
In the meantime, the much-loved herbal clinic Han ran has been shut down and key staff terminated, reportedly because the lease ran out, but more likely because of disagreements between Han’s family and that of his wife’s over disposition of the assets. For hundreds of patients who rely on Han, that means no place to get their prescriptions filled. In the meantime, a Chinese herbalist trained in Western medicine, Dr. Helen Sharkey, will be traveling from San Francisco to see Han’s patients out of a tiny space provided by the Santa Barbara Yoga Center. Patients seeking their medical files are advised to submit written requests to Santa Barbara Fiduciary, retained to help handle disposition of the estate.
Murder investigators are notoriously tightlipped. They’re saying only that Haobsh had an unspecified business relationship with Han, that he killed the Han family for financial gain, and that he did so while lying in wait. This week, documents fell into my lap that provided more detail. They confirmed Han and Haobsh had been trying to start a new business venture — Molecular Scientific, LLC — together shortly before the murders. The executive summary of the business plan listed six principals — Haobsh and Han being just two — to create “a high tech nutraceutical and pharmaceutical company” combining Chinese herbal medicine with medicinal marijuana and hemp oil tinctures known as CBDs, plus a line of cosmetic skin-care products relying on a stem-cells-culture serum.
According to sources close to the clinic, Han was hoping to make big bucks on the skin care cream and use the proceeds to underwrite an innovative new cancer treatment mixing CBDs — compounds extracted from hemp and pot plants said to have a wide range of powerful healing properties and that don’t induce euphoria — and traditional Chinese herbal formulations. It’s an intriguing one-two punch that combines his mother’s skills as a pioneer in the treatment of uterine cancer and his father’s gifts as a caring dermatologist. Word has it that Han’s longtime medical mentor in China had just completed a clinical trial using a new herbal formulation to fight unspecified cancers. Han had asked for a sample and was reportedly expecting delivery the very week he was killed. If true, that would seem like an interesting coincidence.
The Molecular Scientific prospectus displayed a keen awareness of marijuana’s evolving legal status. The author exclaimed over the potential profits if and when pot becomes legal. The U.S. pot market was estimated at $2.6 billion in 2014, it read, and was projected to grow to $35 billion in a few years. The author optimistically estimated it could grow to as much as $100 billion. The plan was to establish the new company as both manufacturer and name-brand retailer of high-quality but relatively low-cost CBD-infused oils from pot or hemp plants depending on their legal status. The projected start-up cost for this venture was pegged at $2 million.
Of the six principals named, Han is dead and Haobsh is in jail. I spoke with two others, but neither wanted to talk. One has run a high-profile business in Goleta from which he is now retired; he declined to be interviewed, explaining mistakes made by news reporters have a way of getting people seriously hurt. In googling this individual, I was struck by the large number of civic organizations with which he’s been actively involved. I was also struck by a conspicuous dearth of images. Maybe that’s also peculiar. Maybe not. The other ran a nationally based clothing company headquartered here for many years. He likewise was not eager to talk. He’d attended only one meeting, he said, and expressed surprise his name had been listed as a principal. The impression they gave is that Molecular Scientific was a short-lived entrepreneurial belch that’s subsequently morphed into something else involving other people. Maybe some of them, I was told, would be willing to talk with me. Who knows? Maybe they will. But if the tables were turned, I doubt I’d talk to me. And if I did, I’d consider that pretty damn peculiar.