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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 »

Betty (Zink) Bailey, 86, Morgantown
  

John W. Dine, 61, Morgantown
  Husband of Anne (Alexander) Dine of Morgantown

Timothy Matthias Lenges, 41, Indianapolis
  Son of Peter J. and Jewell Faith (Corbin) Lenges of Sweetwater Lake, Nineveh

  • September 2
    Magic club
    5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 2
    B.C. 4-H Council
    7 p.m. 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • September 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 2
    Chamber of Commerce
    8 a.m. Willow Manor, 72 Willow St.
  • September 2
    Nashville Redevelopment Commission CANCELED
    4:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 2
    CSCD Building Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • September 3
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • September 3
    Nashville Technical Review Committee
    1 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 3
    Hamblen Fire Protection District
    7 p.m. Hamblen Fire Station, 4650 Sweetwater Trail, Nineveh
  • September 3
    BC SWCD
    6:30 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • September 3
    Brown County Commissioners
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • September 3
    Woodworkers club
    7 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 4
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 4
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • September 4
    WRAPS meetings
    7 to 9 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 4
    CSCD Ecology Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • September 4
    Nashville Town Council
    6:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 4
    B.C. Election Board
    2:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • September 4
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Van Buren Elementary School, 4045 State Road 135 South
  • September 5
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • September 5
    Bean Blossom farmers market Friday
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, State roads 135 North and 45, Bean Blossom
  • September 5
    Garden club plant sale at farmer's market
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, State roads 135 North and 45, Bean Blossom
  • September 6
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 6
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • September 7
    Live fingerstyle at dance barn
    4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • September 8
    BC Animal Control Board
    7 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
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    Paper craft club organizes first meeting as part of county extension homemakers association
    5:30 p.m. Wishful Thinking, 150 Old School Way
  • September 9
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • September 9
    Friends of the Library: Author Perry to speak, sign books
    7 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 9
    Chamber of Commerce
    8 a.m. Willow Manor, 72 Willow St.
  • September 10
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • September 11
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • September 11
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 11
    Nashville Arts & Entertainment Commission
    10 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 12
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • September 12
    Bean Blossom farmers market Friday
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, State roads 135 North and 45, Bean Blossom
  • September 13
    Hoosier Hops and Harvest at Story Inn
    1 to 7 p.m. Story Inn, 6404 State Road 135 South
  • September 13
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 13
    Second Saturday Village Art Walk
    5 to 8 p.m. Downtown Nashville
  • September 13
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • September 13
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • September 13
    Raptor center fundraiser at Abe Martin Lodge
    5 to 9 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1810 State Road 46 East
  • September 15
    BC Commission on Public Records
    2 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • September 16
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 18
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • September 18
    WRAPS meetings
    7 to 9 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • September 19
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • September 19
    Bean Blossom farmers market Friday
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, State roads 135 North and 45, Bean Blossom
  • September 20
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • September 20
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • October 2
    WRAPS meetings
    7 to 9 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • October 11
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • October 11
    Second Saturday Village Art Walk
    5 to 8 p.m. Downtown Nashville
  • October 25
    BCSP Halloween activities
    5 to 6 p.m., 8 to 10 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1810 State Road 46 East