Nobody covers Brown County like The Democrat Buy PDF| Advertise| Contact Us
Hoosier Harvest Cookbook
 
Hot Topics
 
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.

  • September 4
    Farmers market in Bean Blossom
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • September 4
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • September 4
    "Rounding Third" at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 5
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 5
    BCHS class of 2005 reunion slated
    3 to 6 p.m., 8 p.m. Deer Run Park; Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • September 5
    "Rounding Third" at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 6
    Read to dogs at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 6
    'Ant-Man' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 7
    'Ant-Man' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 7
    Government offices CLOSED
  • September 8
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 8
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • September 8
    Peaceful Valley Heritage meeting
    6:30 p.m. BCCF, 209 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 8
    CSCD Roads, Security commissions
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. CSCD Office, 8377 Cordry Drive, CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • September 8
    Retired teachers
    noon Hotel Nashville, 245 N. Jefferson St.
  • September 8
    Nashville Parking & Public Facilities
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 9
    Nashville Town Council
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 10
    'Ant-Man' at the Playhouse
    7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 10
    Nashville Arts & Entertainment Commission
    10 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 11
    "Rounding Third" at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 12
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • September 12
    Bible camp planned
    8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, 5802 Old Settlers Road behind Brownie's restaurant
  • September 12
    "Rounding Third" at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 12
    Beer and live music at inn
    12:30 to 4 p.m. Story Inn, 6404 State Road 135 South
  • September 12
    Live birds of prey at fundraiser
    5 to 9 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • September 12
    Concert, dinner for emergency services
    7 p.m., 8 p.m. to midnight Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • September 13
    'Ant-Man' at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • September 14
    Beeline beekeepers club
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 15
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • September 17
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 18
    BucCornEar Festival fundraiser returns
    4 to 8 p.m. JTFD, 4831 Helmsburg Road, Helmsburg
  • September 18
    'A Miracle for You' services with evangelist Jerry Holland
    7:30 p.m. The Pentecostals
  • September 19
    BucCornEar Festival fundraiser returns
    8 a.m. to 8 p.m. JTFD, 4831 Helmsburg Road, Helmsburg
  • September 19
    'A Miracle for You' services with evangelist Jerry Holland
    6 p.m. The Pentecostals
  • September 20
    'A Miracle for You' services with evangelist Jerry Holland
    2 p.m. The Pentecostals
  • September 26
    CCC reunion slated at state park
    10:30 a.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • September 28
    American history DVD to play at library
    1 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 28
    American history DVD to play at library
    1 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • October 4
    Read to a dog at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane