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She and another inmate came to Brown's aid, Bowler says, lifting the respected scholar and dragging her into the showers. The American-born, Bangkok-based museum director had survived Vietnam as a war correspondent, hanging with the likes of David Halberstam and Ted Koppel, and had been close to death after losing her right leg in the wake of a motorbike crash in Thailand in the '80s.But it was from a modern American prison that the globetrotting Southeast Asian art historian would emerge in a body bag on May 14, 2008. In dire need of emergency care, Brown died about seven hours after inmates say she collapsed in front of the officer."She likely would have appeared very ill and in great pain," with intestinal fluids leaking through a perforation into her abdomen, "and she probably would have been unable to tolerate palpation [exam by touch] of her abdomen during this time." Such a condition required emergency treatment, Reay concludes.Brown's family thinks she shouldn't have been in the 500-bed detention center south of Sea Tac Airport in the first place.But she became a suspect when additional evidence surfaced early this year.In a series of January raids, agents found an e-mail she'd sent to a gallery operator suspected of defrauding the IRS.Federal prosecutors "obviously took something to a grand jury that was sitting around on a Friday afternoon, and returned the world's vaguest indictment," says attorney Ford.

The Browns were "the all-American patriotic family," he says. "Roxanna Maude Brown's intrepid life unspooled over six decades, from the American Midwest to the Asian Southeast, before it ended abruptly in Seattle.

But on May 9 agents swooped into her Seattle hotel room, where she was waiting to speak the next day at a University of Washington academic conference.

Brown made contradictory statements to agents, they say, though she held to her story that others misused her signature, according to a federal court affidavit. Without her, the feds appear to have a weaker case against other suspects.

Brown had cooperated with federal agents as they developed their case over five years, helping them identify suspects and providing information.

Court records show she opposed removing valued objects from their homeland, and said that if her signature had shown up on fraudulent documents, it was without her knowledge.