ST. LOUIS – For generations, the Busches of St. Louis were the first family of American beer-making, the city's most devoted boosters, and bearers of the most famous name in town. But they have also been touched by scandal, tragedy and allegations of reckless behavior.
Now the Busch name is in the headlines again, this time after an aspiring young model was found dead in the gated home of August Busch IV, the former Anheuser-Busch CEO and heir to the Budweiser fortune. The death is under investigation.
The woman, Adrienne Nicole Martin, was Busch's girlfriend and there was "absolutely nothing suspicious" about her death, said Busch's attorney, Art Margulis.
The 27-year-old woman was dead when police and paramedics responded to a 911 call from Busch's estate Sunday in Huntleigh, a wealthy St. Louis suburb. St. Louis County forensic administrator Suzanne McCune said there were no signs of trauma or illness, and an overdose was among the possible causes of death.
Busch IV, 46, joined the family business in the mid-1980s and worked his way up. He was chief of marketing when the brewer rolled out many of its most popular TV ads, including the Budweiser frogs.
When Busch IV took over as chief executive upon his father's retirement in 2006, Anheuser-Busch owned roughly half the U.S. beer market thanks to its two giant brands, Budweiser and Bud Light. Two years later, Anheuser Busch Cos. was sold to Belgian company InBev in a $52 billion deal that created the world's largest brewer.
With the merger, Busch IV turned out to be the last in a long line of Busches to run the company, whose roots dated to the mid-1800s. He is a member of the InBev board but no longer has any role in day-to-day operations.
"He had a reputation as a bit of a risk taker," said Terry Ganey, a veteran journalist who co-wrote the 1991 book "Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty." "That is demonstrated by the fact that he drove powerboats, motorcycles, jet planes and helicopters and participated in sports that could do him some physical harm. But as an executive, I think he operated in his father's shadow."
InBev maintained St. Louis as its U.S. headquarters after the merger, but many in St. Louis felt the region had lost an icon that rivaled the Gateway Arch and baseball's Cardinals — which used to be owned by the Busch family.
"Rightly or wrongly, it will always be recalled that he was the CEO when the company was sold," Ganey said.
Trouble seemed to follow Busch well before he got out of the family business.
In 1983, Busch IV, then a 20-year-old University of Arizona student, left a bar near Tucson, Ariz., with a 22-year-old woman. His black Corvette crashed, and the woman, Michele Frederick, was killed. Busch was found hours later at his home. He suffered a fractured skull and claimed he had amnesia. After a seven-month investigation, authorities declined to press charges, citing a lack of evidence.
Two years later, Busch IV was acquitted by a jury in St. Louis on assault charges resulting from a police chase that ended with an officer shooting out a tire on his Mercedes-Benz.
Undercover narcotics officers began the chase after Busch's car nearly struck them, police said at the time. Busch was also accused of trying to run down two detectives. He said he was fleeing because he thought the unmarked police car carried would-be kidnappers.
Margulis said Busch and Martin had dated for about a year. In an undated posting on the modeling websites istudio.com, she wrote that she was studying to be an art therapist and aspired to help children. She wrote that she had worked for Hooters and participated in swimsuit competitions.
"I really would like to do beer advertising!" she wrote. "Since I have only just begun I can't wait for my exciting times ahead!"
The Busch family has a long history of commitment to the St. Louis area through philanthropy and community involvement. The brewery's world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales were an opening-day tradition at the Cardinals' ballpark, which is still called Busch Stadium.
The family owns the popular Grant's Farm, a 281-acre wildlife preserve in St. Louis County. Tours are free and visitors can see the home of the Clydesdales. Over the years, the brewery donated water and other items to help victims of virtually every major natural disaster.
There have been other troubles for members of the Busch family.
In 1934, August Busch Sr., who was president of the company, killed himself with a revolver at Grant's Farm. In 1976, Peter Busch, the son of August Busch Jr. and half-uncle of August Busch IV, shot and killed a friend, David Leeker. Peter Busch claimed the gun went off accidentally as he tossed it on a bed. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received five years' probation.