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Last updated on Monday, January 20, 2014
(NASHVILLE) - On Tuesday, the former manager of Brown County’s Little Nashville Opry will go on trial for arson.
The opry burned to the ground on September 19, 2009. Investigators claim 77-year-old James Bowyer of Morgantown set the fire in an attempt to claim $3 million in insurance money.
Police say Bowyer and his companion and business partner; Ester Hamilton, who owned the Opry; had accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in gambling debts at area casinos. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives audit showed Hamilton had bet $4.2 million during 800 visits to casinos during the four years before the fire and had lost $150,000. The audit showed Bowyer bet $1.7 million during 650 casino visits in the same time frame, with losses totaling more than $160,000.
Brown County Prosecutor Jim Oliver intends to call more than 50 witnesses and says the trial is likely to last two weeks. Detectives arrested Bowyer in March 2012 while he was working on his farm in Morgan County. The arrest came after a two-year investigation into the blaze.
Police suspect Bowyer waited until the audience and band had cleared the building that Saturday night and then poured a flammable liquid down the center aisle and onto the Opry stage before igniting it and departing out the back door around 10 p.m. 22 minutes later, a motorist called 911 to report flames coming from the structure.
65 volunteer firefighters from 14 rural departments responded to the blaze that destroyed the 28,000-square-foot music hall.
After that, police allege Bowyer drove to Morgantown to get Hamilton, and the two proceeded on to a Shelbyville casino to play the slot machines.
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