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Former Opry manager arrested on arson charge

After nearly three years, an arrest has been made in the Little Nashville Opry fire case.

The former manager, 75-year-old James D. “Jim” Bowyer, was booked into the Brown County Jail Tuesday, March 6 on a charge of Class B felony arson. His bond is $20,000.

Officers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Brown County Sheriff’s Office arrested him Tuesday.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, Brown County Det. Scott Southerland said Bowyer was found working on his farm on Railroad Road in Morgan County.

“He didn’t seem surprised,” Southerland said.

A probable cause affidavit alleges that on the night of the fire, Sept. 19, 2009, Bowyer poured an ignitable liquid onto the stage of the popular country music venue just outside Nashville on State Road 46 West.

The report alleges that Bowyer left the Opry just before 10 p.m. to pick up owner Esther Hamilton for a night of gambling.

At 10:25 p.m., flames could be seen shooting through the roof.

“Fire science experts and investigators believe that Bowyer could have set the fire immediately after the technicians left, and still have made it to Mrs. Hamilton’s house at the time he and Mrs. Hamilton reported,” said Brown County Prosecutor Jim Oliver.

The wooden building burned intensely, with fire consuming most of the structure before firefighters got it under control just before midnight.

More than 60 firefighters from 13 departments in Brown and surrounding counties worked the scene until 11 a.m. the next day.

Less than two weeks later, authorities announced that the fire had been intentionally set.

According to the affidavit, massive debts appear to have been the motivation for torching the music hall where national acts such as Johnny Cash, Toby Keith, George Jones and Loretta Lynn had performed over the Opry’s 34-year span.

At the time of the fire, Hamilton and her company, Little Nashville Enterprises, owed more than $70,000 in past due property taxes, about $40,000 in vendor invoices, $13,000 to renew the insurance premiums and nearly $160,000 to performers for the remainder of the season.

Court records show the Opry had received ticket sales revenue, but had less than $9,000 in its bank account to cover the expenses.

During the press conference, Oliver mentioned the gambling habits of both Hamilton and Bowyer, whose finances, the prosecutor said, were “one and the same.”

The affidavit states that over the four years leading up to the fire, Hamilton spent more than $4 million at the casinos during some 800 visits, and Bowyer played nearly $1.7 million in slot machines during 650 visits. The record shows their losses totaled more than $300,000.

According to Oliver, investigators found no evidence linking Hamilton to the arson.

“We don’t have any information at this time that leads us to believe that Esther Hamilton participated in or conspired in the burning of the Opry,” Oliver said.

The prosecutor said that since the fire, investigators have issued more than 40 subpoenas, served several search warrants and followed many leads to reach the point of arrest.

“Investigators worked tirelessly to review mountains of evidence and mountains of information and analyze that in order to bring this case to prosecution,” Oliver said. “I’m pleased that we are finally in position that we can file this, and I look forward to moving forward with the prosecution.”

Bowyer is scheduled for an initial hearing in Brown Circuit Court at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

-- Kevin Lilly, Brown County Democrat

CLICK HERE for more information on this case.

CLICK HERE for a TIMELINE of Little Nashville Opry news.

Obituaries
See Full List »

Doris Mae (Purvis) White, 80, Morgantown
  Mother of Lucinda Mae (Dennis) Pope, Peggy Lynn (Rick) Butler, Nancy Jane (Stanley) White, and Dennis Ray White, all of Morgantown

Mark Wayne Waggoner Sr., 58, Seymour
  Brother of Annette Kimberlin of Nashville

David E. Stillabower, 66, Nashville
  Companion of Mary McGahey of Nashville

  • April 17
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • April 17
    Rotary Club 'revelry' night
    5 to 6:30 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 17
    Nashville Town Council
    6:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 17
    BCHS sports for Thursday
    4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m.
  • April 17
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 17
    Nashville Literary Club
    1:40 p.m., 2 p.m. IGA parking lot
  • April 17
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6 p.m. Brown County High School, 234 Schoolhouse Lane
  • April 17
    CSVFD
    7:30 p.m. CSVFD fire station, 101 Firehouse Road, Nineveh
  • April 17
    Novel Bunch book club
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 17
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 17
    "The Passion of the Christ" movie at church in New Bellsville
    6 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 17
    BC Community Corrections Advisory Board
    4 p.m. BCC Corrections office, 902 Deer Run Lane, Suite B.
  • April 18
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 18
    Government offices CLOSED
  • April 18
    Dave Miller at sports bar
    7 to 9 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 18
    Youth turkey hunting clinic at Yellowwood
    5 to 8 p.m. T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 18
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 18
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 18
    Good Friday, Easter services at Harmony Baptist
    7:30 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 19
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • April 19
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • April 19
    Live music at sports bar
    7 to 9:30 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 19
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 19
    Late night dancing at Out of the Ordinary
    9 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 19
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    3 p.m., 6 p.m. Brown County Intermediate School, 260 Schoolhouse Lane
  • April 19
    Pest prevention/treatment presentation by holisitic health group
    2 to 4 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 19
    Live band at dance barn
    6 p.m., 7 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • April 19
    BCHS sports for Saturday
    9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m.
  • April 19
    Duncan Cemetery clean up Saturday, April 19
    9 a.m. 4100 Yellowwood Road, off State Road 46 West
  • April 19
    Easter egg hunts in the area
    1 p.m. Deer Run Park
  • April 20
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 20
    All are welcome at Easter services
    7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
  • April 21
    Brown County Council
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 21
    B.C. Solid Waste Management Board
    5:15 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 21
    Brown County Water Utility 2014 annual meeting
    6 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County High School, 234 School House Lane
  • April 21
    BCHS Varsity sports for Monday
    5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. Brown County High School, Brownstown Central
  • April 22
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • April 22
    Brown County Area Plan Commission
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 22
    BCHS sports for Tuesday
    5 p.m., 6 p.m. Brown County High School, Indiana Creek
  • April 23
    Board of Zoning Appeals
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 23
    BCHS sports for Wednesday
    5 p.m. Brown County High School, Providence Jr./Sr. HS
  • April 23
    Live music at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 23
    BC Parks & Rec. Board
    5:15 p.m. BC Parks & Rec. Office, 1001 Deer Run Lane
  • April 24
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • April 24
    BCHS sports for Thursday
    4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Brown County High School
  • April 25
    Live music at sports bar
    7 to 9 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 25
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 25
    Friends of the library plant sale
    3 to 6 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 25
    Game night at dance barn
    6 to 10 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • April 25
    Live music at Out of the Ordinary
    7:30 p.m. to midnight Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 25
    Dave Miller at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • April 26
    Live band at dance barn
    6 p.m., 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • April 26
    Dance lessons at Out of the Ordinary
    7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. to midnight Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Friends of the library plant sale
    9 a.m. to noon Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 26
    Plant sale at BCSP Nature Center
    9 a.m. until sold out Brown County State Park Nature Center
  • April 26
    Harpeth Rising band at The Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 26
    Hope for Hearts Farm free women's extravaganza
    9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hope For Hearts Farm, 1005 State Road 45, Bean Blossom
  • April 26
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 27
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1-4 p.m. Three Story Hill at State Road 135 N., Fruitdale
  • April 29
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 1
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 1
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    3 p.m., 6 p.m. Helmsburg Elementary, 5378 Helmsburg Road
  • May 2
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 2
    Live band at 19th Hole sports bar
    6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • May 3
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 3
    Live band at 19th Hole sports bar
    8 to 11 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • May 4
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1 to 4 p.m. 18 W. Three Story Hill (at State Road 135 N.) Fruitdale
  • May 9
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 10
    Store to host bike blessing, open house
    10 a.m. to 5 p.m. House of Thunder, 4413 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 10
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • May 11
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1 to 4 p.m. 18 W. Three Story Hill (at State Road 135 N.) Fruitdale
  • May 14
    Thrive Alliance Board of Directors
    3:30 to 5 p.m. ACSSCI main office conference room, 1531 13th St., Suite G900, Columbus