RIP FOR RX: Like practically everyone else in town, it seems, I, too, have been a patient of Dr. Henry Han, the much acclaimed Chinese herbalist gunned down in his home with his wife and daughter two weeks ago. I visited Han at his clinic about eight years ago when I was dealing with cancer. My mojo needed a serious infusion of juju to help me deal with the blitzkrieg of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Maybe Han could help. I wish I remembered him better. As is often the case with murder victims, Han has achieved an exalted status few enjoy while still breathing. There were so many chemicals at the time, I can only vaguely recall him. What I do remember is a quiet, kind, competent guy asking a lot of questions, intent on trying to help. In my case, Han prescribed herbal teas so nasty and stinky they’d have chased the devil out of hell. In hindsight, it’s impossible to say what effect these actually had; they certainly didn’t hurt.
Little wonder then that I would get caught up in the secondhand smoke surrounding the murder of Henry Han and his family. As with many unsolved cases, the investigation has triggered an outpouring of collective recollections from Han’s community of patients and friends. Inevitably, these are fragmentary, kaleidoscopic, and jumbled. Onto this, we insist on imposing the order of a story line to explain what may never be understood. It is our nature. What’s struck me so far are the large number of red herrings swimming around the Han family murder, loud, rich, and gaudy characters and subplots. Inevitably, many will prove utterly incidental to the murders themselves but remain morbidly compelling nonetheless. Some might actually break the case wide open. We’ll know when we know.
First there’s the family of accused murderer Pierre Haobsh: loud, enigmatic ciphers in their own right. Haobsh’s father, Fred, we are told, was a Jordanian-born CIA asset, one of the many agents and murky middle-men who in the late 1980s helped the United States sell arms to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein under the table. Then-president Ronald Reagan, out to punish Iran, had quietly erased Iraq’s name from the do-not-sell list. Fred Haobsh has since been linked to what appears to be a phantom company, Cal Tech International, that’s posted several different Texas addresses over the years. Well after Fred’s wife, Nancy, died of cancer, Fred was listing her as the company’s CFO. Pierre, likewise, had been designated a corporate officer, though it remains a mystery what this 27-year-old has ever done except attend acting classes while living in Dallas. We don’t know how the family fared financially except that Pierre’s older sister, Nadine — a pioneering beauty blogger and self-described professional “oversharer” — graduated from Carpinteria’s Cate School in 1998, then from Barnard College, and then got married at the Montecito Country Club. These all suggest money.
Then there are certain characters lurking in the background of Henry Han’s life who 11 years ago faced federal criminal tax-evasion charges for their role in Reed Slatkin’s now infamous Hope Ranch Ponzi scheme in which hundreds of investors got taken for nearly $300 million. One of these players — who attended Han’s memorial service and has been quoted in news accounts of the murder — was sentenced to five years behind bars. Earlier, he’d been prosecuted for his role in a $10 million mail-order fraud scheme in the 1980s, in which “lactic culture activator kits” were sold for $35 a pop under the false pretense to 27,000 gullible customers. The product these home kits produced would allegedly be purchased as a milk-based starter for a bogus cosmetic company called Cleopatra’s Secret. Maybe this factoid serves only to titillate. But it also sounds remarkably similar to a research effort Henry Han was pursuing prior to his death. He was trying to create a new line of cosmetics that — thanks to the deployment of stem-cell research — would actually rejuvenate the skin, not just cover it up. On Han’s desk the day he died was a canceled check from the Pasadena lab where this research was taking place and the name of a cosmetics chemist he’d hired as a consultant.
It was on another research effort that Han was much more focused right before his murder. It involved extraction of compounds known as CBDs that are found in hemp and marijuana plants. Han, like many others, believed CBDs have great potential in treating cancer itself as well as side effects associated with its treatment. CBDs do not induce euphoria, but they stimulate appetite, fight nausea, calm anxiety, and fight pain. It appears these compounds might be effective in shrinking the tumors developed in lab mice bred to get breast cancer. Whether they can fight tumors in humans — as Han apparently believed — is the subject of three double-blind experiments now taking place in Israel, Germany, and the United States. We do know Han was importing large quantities of hemp plants — which contain CBDs — from China and having them processed for their oils in Burma. We have reason to believe Han was experimenting on a new special formulation involving CBD-laden hemp oil and a mixture of traditional herbs. Based on interviews I’ve had with several doctors with whom Han enjoyed good relations, as well as long-term patients, Han was clearly excited he was on the verge of making a major breakthrough with this formulation shortly before he and his family were murdered. It also appears the accused killer was involved in this effort. According to secondhand reports, Pierre Haobsh was present at a meeting Han convened to solicit investors into this venture. Han reportedly pledged to invest $400,000 of his own money. And some workers at Han’s clinic were familiar enough with Haobsh to believe him to be a researcher or lab worker in this endeavor.
In the meantime, many thanks for the tea, Henry Han, and we’ll find out what we find out.