Roger Brisbane III was First Vice President and general counsel of the New York Museum of Natural History during the events of The Cabinet of Curiosities. He was the direct supervisor of anthropologist Dr. Nora Kelly, who frequently found herself in conflict with Brisbane. Special Agent Pendergast also disliked Brisbane and called him a "petty bureaucrat".
Brisbane represented a new wave of museum management, led by businesspeople rather than scientists. His role included fundraising for the museum, as well as controlling the budget of a number of departments, including Anthropology. He had a "sleek and self-assured" look, with smooth, pink, cologned skin, wavy brown hair, and perfect teeth. He wore expensive English-made clothes including silk ties.
Brisbane loved gemstones and minerals. He wanted to be a gemologist as a young man but was pressured into a career in law by his father. He attended Yale university. When he was made first vice president, he took the opportunity to fill the cases in his office contained some of the museum's most prized gemstone specimens.
Brisbane's office formerly belonged to Dr.Whitney Frock, and Nora remarked on how different it had looked then, when it was inhabited by a real curator and scientist. She came to Brisbane to request $18,000 to have carbon-14 tests conducted on samples from her dig in Utah. Brisbane instead told her that she needed to cut $18,000 from her existing budget. He explained that the new dinosaur exhibit halls had cost more than anticipated and so all research budgets were being cut 10%. Nora became angry with him and called him a "miscarried scientist...playing at being a bureaucrat". She realized that she had overreached and apologized.
He referred to the research areas of the museum as the "rag and bone shop", and disdained the "useless, tweedy, overpaid curators" working there. One of his activities included finding "exceptional circumstances" by which he could fire tenured employees, avoiding the need for more general budget cuts. He had a file of employees who had organized a Super Bowl pool during work hours, and planned to recommend as many of them as possible for termination.
Later, Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast approached Dr. Kelly to seek her assistance investigating the remains found at the Moegen-Fairhaven Construction Site on Catherine Street. The two went to Brisbane to seek his approval, but Brisbane quickly denied the request, saying he did not want to involve the museum in "unwelcome controversy". Pendergast reproached him and presented him with a copy of the museum's charter with the City of New York, which required that museum employees perform pro bono public service to the city on request. Brisbane was upset, but agreed to let Kelly help if her involvement was kept confidential and didn't interfere with her museum duties.
Nora Kelly assisted Pendergast in analyzing the remains and discovered that they were the work of a late-19th-century serial killer, Enoch Leng. Kelly's boyfriend, journalist Bill Smithback published an article in the New York Times about the case and it became a minor media sensation. The article named Nora Kelly as the scientist that had been providing assistance to the police and the FBI.
When Brisbane and museum director Dr. Collopy learned of the article, they went into damage control mode. They decided to stand behind Kelly, at least publicly. They ordered Kelly to attend the opening of the museum's new Primate Hall and feted her civic-mindedness.
Behind closed doors, Brisbane suspended Kelly's access to all museum collections and forbade her to speak to anyone about museum business, including Pendergast and Smithback. He insinuated that he would have fired her if the article hadn't made her temporarily "bulletproof".
After the publication of the article, a series of copycat killings began and the museum became embroiled in the scandal. The police investigation focused on museum employees, because of their presumed access to archive materials related to Leng, and because one of the victims, Reinhart Puck, was killed inside the museum.
Precinct Captain Sherwood Custer, head of the investigation, became convinced that Brisbane was the killer. He questioned other museum employees about Brisbane's activities, and whether he had access to the archives about Leng. Library assistant Oscar Gibbs told Custer that Brisbane had recently screamed at Puck and threatened to "bury him".
Custer searched Brisbane's office and found a derby hat and a coat, which matched the description of those worn by the killer. Brisbane angrily explained that they were left over from a costume party at the museum, and remarked that dozens of employees had seen him wear them. Custer, convinced he had his man, had Brisbane arrested and taken into custody.
The police held a press conference where they announced that Brisbane was the murderer, but Custer's instincts were entirely wrong. Brisbane's lawyer provided alibis for the periods of all three copycat murders, and Brisbane was released. He sued the city for wrongful arrest, and Captain Sherwood was relieved from duty and reassigned to street duty.
Nora Kelly, Pendergast and Smithback tracked Enoch Leng down to a boarded-up mansion on Riverside Drive. There they found Leng recently deceased, and the real killer, real estate developer Anthony Fairhaven. Fairhaven died after he handled poison-coated objects in Leng's lab, and Pendergast, who inherited the mansion after Leng's death, buried him secretly in the basement.
After Brisbane's release, the media cried that the "Surgeon killer" was still on the loose, but no further murders occurred and the matter was quietly dropped.