Arrest In Indiana’s Opry Fire

The manager of the Little Nashville Opry in Nashville, Ind., was arrested March 6 on an arson charge. James Bowyer was held on $20,000 bond at press time.

The Opry in Nashville, Ind., owed more than $280,000 in property taxes, vendor invoices, insurance and performer fees at the time of the 2009 fire, according to ATF special agent Michael Vergon.

The 2,000-seat venue attracted many of country music’s top acts since opening in 1975 but the Opry, Bowyer and his friend, owner Esther Hamilton, were all deeply in debt at the time of the fire, according to Vergon.

There is no evidence of anyone else being involved in the fire, according to Brown County prosecutor Jim Oliver.

Hamilton was a “frequent patron of several Indiana casinos,” according to Vergon, where she racked up $150,000 in losses and debts totaling about $685,000. Bowyer gambled away more than $160,000 and had just $148 in his savings account at the time of the fire, Vergon said.

Hamilton received a purchase offer of $2 million for the venue in 2008 but the deal fell through because the financing company determined it was too high. Meanwhile, Hamilton spent $250,000 from an “earnest money” deposit for personal expenses and to pay down the gambling debts, according to the agent.

Eight samples of fire debris showed traces of ignitable liquids and part of the Opry’s sprinkler system was disconnected, Vergon said.