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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 »

Timothy White, 52, Brown County
  Husband of Loretta (Meredith) White of Brown County

Curtis A. Martin, 35, Columbus
  Employee of Always Inn in Nashville

Anna E. Hancher, 89, Elizabethtown
  Mother of Betty (Jerry) Bell and Lila (Eric) Wedan, both of Brown County

  • April 23
    Election Board
    9:30 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • 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
    'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 24
    Brown County/ Purdue Extension Board
    7 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • April 24
    BCHS sports for Thursday
    4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Brown County High School
  • April 24
    Rotary Club
    7:15 a.m. Artist Colony Inn, 105 S. Van Buren St.
  • 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
    Earth Day at Bean Blossom farmers market
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, State roads 135 North and 45, Bean Blossom
  • April 25
    Live music at Out of the Ordinary
    7 to 10 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 25
    Congressman Young to meet at Nashville Town Hall
    10 to 11 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 25
    'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 25
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 25
    Morel mushroom festival at Bill Monroe
    10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 25
    Live music at the Pine Room
    10:45 a.m., 1 p.m. 1008 McLary Road and Deer Run Park
  • April 25
    18th Girlfriend rummage sale at Brown County Inn
    8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brown County Inn, 51 State Road 46 East
  • April 26
    Arbor Day celebration at Brown County IGA gazebo
    10 a.m. to noon Brown County IGA, 30 Hawthorne Drive
  • 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
    Morel mushroom festival at Bill Monroe
    10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 27
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1-4 p.m. Three Story Hill at State Road 135 N., Fruitdale
  • April 27
    'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 27
    Morel mushroom festival at Bill Monroe
    10 a.m. to noon Bill Monroe Music Park, 5163 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 28
    BC Alcoholic Beverage Board public hearing
    11 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 28
    Helmsburg Sewage Board
    7 p.m. B.C. Community Church Annex, 2370 Main St., Helmsburg
  • April 28
    B.C. Board of Health
    6 p.m., 7 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 29
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • April 30
    April Red Tent women's gathering
    6 to 9 p.m. 1156 Old State Road 46 East
  • May 1
    CSCD Ecology Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • 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 1
    Nashville Town Council
    6:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • 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 2
    Live jazz at Out of the Ordinary
    7 to 10 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 2
    'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • May 2
    Antique tractor, engine, and machinery show
    9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Brown County 4-H Fairgrounds
  • May 3
    Spring Blossom Parade
    11 a.m. Downtown Nashville
  • May 3
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 3
    Morel mushroom fest, sale planned at BCSP Nature Center
    10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County State Park Nature Center
  • May 3
    Live band at 19th Hole sports bar
    8 to 11 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • May 3
    Antique tractor, engine, and machinery show
    9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Brown County 4-H Fairgrounds
  • May 4
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1 to 4 p.m. 18 W. Three Story Hill (at State Road 135 N.) Fruitdale
  • May 4
    Children can read to therapy dogs at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • May 4
    Antique tractor, engine, and machinery show
    9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brown County 4-H Fairgrounds
  • May 5
    Nashville Redevelopment Commission
    4:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • May 5
    B.C. 4-H Council
    7 p.m. 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • May 5
    Gnaw Bone Sewage District
    5:30 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
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  • May 6
    CSCD Building Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • May 6
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 7
    Nashville Main Street Committee
    9:30 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • May 7
    Brown County Commissioners
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 7
    BC SWCD
    6:30 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • May 8
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • 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 10
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 11
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1 to 4 p.m. 18 W. Three Story Hill (at State Road 135 N.) Fruitdale
  • May 13
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 14
    Thrive Alliance Board of Directors
    3:30 to 5 p.m. ACSSCI main office conference room, 1531 13th St., Suite G900, Columbus
  • May 15
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 16
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 17
    Late night dancing at Out of the Ordinary
    9 p.m. to midnight Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 18
    Humane society Dawg Gone Walk & Fiesta
    1 to 3:30 p.m. Deer Run Park
  • May 22
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 27
    Brown County Area Plan Commission
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 29
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • June 14
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road