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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 »

Dwayne E. Martin, 55, Nineveh
  Husband of Cathy J. (Wilson) Martin of Nineveh

Ralph E. Flora, 65, Trafalgar
  

Neva Poyner, 88, Jeffersonville
  Former resident of Morgantown

  • March 30
    Registration deadline for gardening soils workshop
    Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • March 31
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • March 31
    Nashville Development Review Commission
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • March 31
    Representative's staff to conduct local office hours
    10 a.m. to noon County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • March 31
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 1
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 1
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees retreat
    10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parkview Church of the Nazarene, 1750 State Road 46 East
  • April 1
    BC Emergency Management Advisory Council
    8 a.m. Ambulance Base, 53 State Road 46 East
  • April 1
    Brown County SWCD
    6:30 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • April 1
    BC Commissioners
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 2
    Rotary Club
    7:15 a.m. Artist Colony Inn, 105 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 2
    Go Club meeting Thursday
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 2
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6:30 p.m. BC Intermediate School, 260 School House Lane
  • April 2
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 2
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • April 2
    BC Property Tax Assessment Board Of Appeals
    9 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 2
    CSCD Ecology Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • April 3
    Nashville/Brown County Government Offices CLOSED
  • April 3
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 4
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • April 4
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • April 4
    Carnival and egg hunt at Hamblen Township Fire Department
    9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Hamblen Township Volunteer Fire Department, 5612 Gatesville Road
  • April 4
    Egg hunt at grocery store
    11 a.m. Brown County IGA, 30 Hawthorne Dr.
  • April 4
    Egg hunt at Deer Run Park
    1 p.m. Deer Run Park
  • April 4
    Egg hunt at assisted living facility
    2 p.m. BC Health & Living Community, 55 E. Willow St.
  • April 5
    Church events slated for Easter Sunday
    .m. Brown County Community Church, 2370 Main St., Helmsburg
  • April 6
    Gnaw Bone Sewage District
    5:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 6
    Metaphysical exploration group to host open meeting
    6 to 8 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 7
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • April 7
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 7
    Bean Blossom Sewer Board
    7:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 7
    CSCD Building Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • April 7
    Nashville Redevelopment Commission
    4:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 8
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 8
    CRC Steering Committee
    6:30 p.m. CRC, 246 E. Main St.
  • April 9
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 9
    Local Coordinating Council
    10 a.m. Comm. Corrections Office, Suite B, lower level of Veterans Hall, 902 Deer Run Lane,
  • April 9
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • April 9
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 9
    BC Convention & Visitors Commission
    8:30 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 10
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North.
  • April 10
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 11
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • April 11
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • April 12
    Mother’s Cupboard Soup Bowl benefit planned
    5 to 7 p.m. The Seasons Lodge, 560 State Road 46 East
  • April 16
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 16
    Local history and heritage presented at the library
    6:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 17
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 18
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • April 18
    Rock & mineral club
    6 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • April 24
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 25
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 26
    County history center dedication slated
    2 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • April 26
    Wildflower foray slated at historic site
    TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • May 16
    Historic site hosts outdoor art contest
    7 a.m. to 4 p.m. TC Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, Belmont