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After a Retreat From Limelight, a Death, and Rekindled Anger

August Busch IV
Marc Bryan-Brown | Getty Images
August Busch IV

There was a time when August Busch IV would enter bars here in St. Louis and approach total strangers, the ones bold enough to sip on a Coors or Miller in public. He would ask if he could buy them a Budweiser, usually politely but sometimes adding enough of a jostle to knock over the offending beverage.

This was, after all, a Budweiser town, and Mr. Busch — dark-eyed, square-jawed and known for chasing women and trouble — was the dashing new face of the family that had produced the local brew for generations.

But he was also the man in charge when Anheuser-Busch was sold two years ago to a Belgian company in a deal that earned him the enduring scorn of this city.

And for the last two months, Mr. Busch, 46, has found himself again playing the role of public villain, after his companion, an aspiring model, was found dead in his bed with a significant amount of oxycodone and cocaine in her system.

This week, the death of the woman, Adrienne Martin, 27, was ruled an accidental overdose of oxycodone, a powerful painkiller that she did not have a prescription for.

The storm of questions about Mr. Busch’s possible role were partly answered on Thursday with the announcement that — barring new evidence — Mr. Busch would not face criminal charges.

Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, said the investigation had hit a “dead end,” partly because Mr. Busch declined to answer questions about the case. “Mr. Busch has refused to cooperate since his initial statement to the police,” he said.

The city seemed braced for the dropped charges, providing new fodder for those who see Mr. Busch as a playboy whose money and influence have protected him — though not those around him — from the consequences of a reckless life. This, they note, was the second time a young woman had died while in Mr. Busch’s company, the first time being nearly 30 years ago when he was in college.

Larry Eby, Ms. Martin’s father, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision, and he promised to continue pushing for answers.

“I’m not going to stop,” Mr. Eby said. “Mr. Busch doesn’t know me but he will when I’m done.”

Mr. Busch, through his lawyer, has repeatedly declined requests for comment.

He told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month, in his only public comments on the case, that the death was “the saddest thing I’ve ever dealt with.”

“You know, I’m this notorious bachelor who always wanted someone on the side,” he added. “But I didn’t with Adrienne.”

Mr. Busch, who is often referred to locally by his suffix, “the fourth,” had mostly retreated from the public eye since the $52 billion sale of the company his great-great grandfather founded to InBev three years ago.

In the last two months, though, people in this city began repeating the decades-old stories about his brushes with the law and trading conspiracy theories about odd details of his girlfriend’s death, including why it took four days for it to come to light.

“His last name is Busch, he’s loaded, and he can do what ever he wants,” said Jason Powers, sipping a Bud Light early Thursday at the Filling Station bar.

His critics can recite the stories. Like the time in 1985 when the police engaged in a 15-minute high-speed chase that ended after they shot the tire of the Mercedes-Benz they were pursuing. After discovering the driver’s identity, the police proceeded to change Mr. Busch’s tire, according to Terry Ganey, co-author of “Under the Influence: the Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty.” (Mr. Busch was tried and acquitted of misdemeanor charges stemming from the chase.)

Two years earlier, while Mr. Busch was a student in Tucson, he flipped his Corvette after leaving a local bar, killing a waitress who was riding in the passenger seat, according to news reports at the time.

Police found Mr. Busch hours later at his home, bloody and claiming he had no memory of what had happened. Charges were never filed against him.

And now there is Ms. Martin’s death on Dec. 19. According to sometimes-conflicting reports released on Thursday, Mr. Busch told the police that he woke up before 1 p.m. and when he returned to the bedroom after making a breakfast shake he discovered that Ms. Martin was not breathing.

A household employee called the police. The cocaine and oxycodone were in empty bottles bearing Ms. Martin’s name. There was no evidence that Mr. Busch had procured or used the drugs, Mr. McCulloch said. Ms. Martin’s 8-year-old son now is living with her ex-husband.

Many here have watched the public criticism against Mr. Busch with dismay, wondering if he would have endured the same had the company not been sold while he was chief executive.

“It’s a terrible situation but I’m surprised at the vitriol,” said Pete Rothschild, a leading local developer. “Now that the brewery is sold everyone can’t wait to pile on the guy.”

William C. Finnie, a former executive at Anheuser-Busch, praised Mr. Busch for his work at the company.

“People have negative feelings about the fourth, he’s a playboy, he never went to jail for the Arizona thing, he probably won’t go to jail for this,” he said. “But Jesus, who would have wanted to be August Busch IV over the last 10 years.”