What do banjos, a fishing line, a robbery, and mice have in common? They all feature in this unusual, but tragic, double murder.
At 10:15 p.m. on Saturday 10th November 1973, banjo player David Akeman was performing on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. He was 57 years old and was nicknamed ‘Stringbean’ because of his 6’2” height coupled with a slight build. He had been on the TV variety show ‘Hee Haw’ and enjoyed telling jokes as part of his musical repertoire. He had even played with bluegrass star Bill Monroe from 1943 – 1945.
While Akeman played, and his 60-year-old wife Estelle listened in the audience, two men were paying close attention to the show on the radio. They planned to rob Stringbean’s country cabin, and they wanted to make sure their victim was still on stage and wouldn’t interrupt them in the act. The thieves had heard rumours that Akeman didn’t trust banks and kept all his money at home, and they couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. But after searching the cabin, they couldn’t find the hidden cash anywhere, so they decided to wait until the singer returned home, to threaten him into handing it over.
At 10:40 p.m., Stringbean and Estelle got into the car and left the Grand Ole Opry for the 30-minute journey home. As soon as they turned into the drive, they realised something was wrong. It wasn’t just money management that Stringbean preferred to do alone; he had also rigged up his burglar alarm himself – a piece of fishing line stretched across the driveway. He saw that it had been activated, so he pulled out his .22 calibre pistol which he carried for protection and approached the house. Estelle went after him.
Before he had a chance to process what was happening, one of the robbers burst out of the cabin and shot Stringbean three times in the chest. Estelle ran back towards the car, screaming for help, but Brown shot her three times in the head, just 40 yards from her front door. It wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. the following morning that their bodies were found.
A reward of $25,000 was put up for information leading to the arrest of the killers, and thanks to a tip from a convict who negotiated a reduced sentence, police arrested 23-year-old cousins John and Doug Brown. They had stolen a chainsaw, some guns, and $208 from the Akeman home, but hadn’t spotted the money in Stringbean’s overalls or the wads of dollar bills hidden in Estelle’s bra, totalling over $2,000. By all accounts, the pair had lived a frugal life, but had squirrelled away a significant amount of money elsewhere. But where was it?
In November 1974, John and Doug Brown were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Doug died in prison in 2003, and John was paroled in 2014.
In 1996, the new owner of Stringbean’s home made an intriguing discovery, and the question as to what the eccentric singer had done with his money was finally answered. Thousands of dollars had been hidden inside the chimney – but it was too late. Over the years, every single note had been chewed by mice until nothing but tiny shreds of paper were left.
The Mammoth Book of More Bizarre Crimes by Robin Odell and Paul Donnelley