The defense and prosecution finished presenting evidence on the same day in the Little Nashville Opry arson trial.

The owner of a southern Indiana concert hall says she wasn’t having financial troubles when it was destroyed in a fire that prosecutors say was arson.


Esther Hamilton testified Tuesday in the trial of former Little Nashville Opry manager James Bowyer on charges he set the fire that destroyed the business Hamilton started with her late husband in 1975.

Forensic Accountant Alan Strange from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives testified the Opry did not have the funds to pay for the act scheduled to perform on Sept. 26. Strange told of Hamilton’s financial dealings from 2003 up to the fire in 2009. He said based on statements from her accountants, the Opry was in financial decline, and ticket receipts had been $1.7 million in 2003, compared with $900,000 in 2009.

He said both Hamilton and Bowyer removed money from Opry accounts, and he could document what Hamilton was doing with the money, but could not track what Bowyer had done with money.

Strange says that according to records from the two riverboat casinos, the French Lick casino and Indiana Live, Hamilton visited casinos on 816 days between mid-2005 and mid-2009, and Bowyer visited casinos on 650 days.

Casino records show that, during that time, Hamilton spent $4.2 million, including money she brought in, winnings and credit, and she lost about $152,000. Strange said Bowyer spent about $1.7 million and lost $163,000 in the same period. At the time of the fire, he said, Hamilton owed the four casinos around $73,000.

Strange said based on his research, the Opry did not have the money to pay for the act scheduled. He also says there were four promissory notes in the Opry’s office after the fire indicating the Opry would pay Bowyer $300,000.