It's been four decades since Grand Ole Opry star Dave "Stringbean" Akeman and his wife, Estelle, were brutally murdered at their Ridgetop, Tenn., home. And now, one of their killers, John A. Brown, wants parole, and it's not sitting well with friends of the late entertainer.
Grand Ole Opry member Jan Howard, who attended the April 23 parole hearing of Brown, now in his 60s, was a close friend of "Stringbean." Said Howard in an April 25 email shared with Examiner, “I don’t want to see (Brown) have another breath of free air. It was not a robbery gone bad, a burglary gone bad. It was premeditated.”
At this time, his appeal for parole has been continued until October pending a psychological evaluation on Brown’s propensity for violence and any adjustment needs he might have before a release. Nevertheless, Howard's far from the lone country-music insider staunchly opposed to Brown's bid for parole.
"Brown and his cousin are murderers in the first degree and every degree," Marty Martel, president of Nashville's ROPE and host of a weekly radio show, told Examiner on April 25. "The death penalty should have been invoked at their trial so that we would not have to be going through this time of remembering our great loss of 'Stringbean' and his wife Estelle.
"Brown’s cousin died in prison and that is where Brown should spend his time, waiting to meet his maker for the terrible wrongs he committed," Martel continued. "He and his cousin took from us two beautiful human beings, and did it in such a way that was devastating to their many friends, our community, our industry and to society."
Best known by many from the "Hee Haw" TV show, the banjo-playing Akeman and his wife, unlike music stars today, resided in a small cabin that had no outdoor plumbing and no security. Conviceted murderer Brown, along with his now-deceased cousin, Doug, reportedly heard that "Stringbean" distrusted banks and kept a sizable amount of cash in his Ridetop cabin.
Remembering the tragedy
Thus, when "Stringbean" was slated for an Opry appearance, the pair broke into the Akeman home with the intent to rob the couple. Finding no cash, they opted to lie in wait for "Stringbean," hoping he had cash on his person. And he did, more than $3,000 inside an overall pocket his wife had sewn to the bib, but the robbers-turned-murders--after shooting both "Stringbean" and Estelle, who begged for her life before being shot in the head--searched too hastily to find it. (Estelle also had $2,000-plus hidden in her bra.)
The brutality of the murdered shocked and deeply saddened the comedic musician's fans, and especially the music community. In turn, today the outrage surrounding the fact that Brown is being considered for parole is still stronger than ever.
"To say that Brown is being described as responsible and he would have employment opportunities if released would go against everything I was ever taught in my lifetime," Martel added. "Let him stay in prison and spend his last years thinking about how lucky he is to be still alive for what he done.
"He does not deserve parole hearings, but I guess that is the way our system works," Martel said, referring to Brown, who was 21 at the time of the murders. "Let him pay for his wrongs with the sentence he was given with no chance of parole.
"John A. Brown will never be fit for free society again, and my vote is to let him have his cell to live and breath his last days," Martel added, "and may he have only freedom to think about what he done and now he must pay for the rest of his life. I truly hope that parole will never be an option for this killer."
- Video bonuses: To see a video commemorating "Stringbean," please click here. To eye one a video about "Stringbean's" last Opry performance and decision to perform a hymn, click here. And to see Sam Bush perform the "Ballad of Stringbean & Estelle" live from the Folk Alley Studios, please access the video embedded with this post.