45 Years Ago: David ‘Stringbean’ Akeman, Wife Estelle Murdered
On the night of Nov. 10, 1973, beloved comedian and country musician David "Stringbean" Akeman — whose banjo prowess was as legendary as his penchant for jokes — and his wife, Estelle, were murdered after interrupting a burglary at their home.
According to a lengthy 2014 story from the Tennessean on the murder, the couple was returning from the Grand Ole Opry, where Stringbean had performed songs such as "Y'all Come" and "Hillbilly Fever" earlier in the night. "Stringbean, like Grandpa Jones, since the Hee Haw shows, is playing a lot of colleges," host Tex Ritter said by way of introduction, noting the musician's high-profile tenure on the long-running TV variety show. "He's playing all over the country, and he doesn't work for his old price anymore. Give a hand to Stringbean!"
The rest of the night unfolded without incident, and the couple headed back to their cozy cabin in Goodlettsville, which is located 20 miles north of Nashville. As Estelle parked the car — a Cadillac, the couple's signature vehicle — Akemen apparently noticed that something seemed off on the porch and grabbed his .22 rifle.
As he entered, Stringbean encountered two robbers, John A. Brown and his cousin, Marvin Douglas Brown. One of them shot Stringbean. Estelle, meanwhile, had crept toward the house but ran away toward the street after hearing the shots and commotion. She too was shot dead, after reportedly begging for her life. The Browns got away with $250 (found in Stringbean's overalls pocket), some bags and guns, and the couple's station wagon.
Grandpa Jones discovered the Akemans dead the next morning, after heading to their house for a pre-scheduled hunting trip. Their murders devastated (and frightened) Nashville.
"They were just about as happy a couple as I'd ever seen," Jones said on a Nov. 17, 1973, WSM-AM radio special. "I think they suited each other the best of any two people I've ever seen."
Added Buck Owens: "If you knew Stringbean, you had to love him. He was at peace with himself, at peace with the world."
The Browns were caught and went to trial, where Grandpa Jones testified against them — including sharing the damning observation that one of the stolen guns was a firearm he himself had given Stringbean. Both men were convicted and sentenced to two life terms in prison.
Marvin Brown died in 2003 while serving out his prison term. However, on Nov. 3, 2014, John Brown was released from the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville after serving 41 years (out of a 198-year sentence) in jail. According to the Tennessean, he was going to take a job in the custodial department of the Cornerstone Church in Madison, Tenn., where his wife was a member.
In a surprising twist, it was reported in 1996 that police found $20,000 in damaged paper money behind a chimney brick in the Akemans' home. While the couple was notorious for carrying large sums of cash on them — in fact, that's likely why they were a robbery target — this claim of unearthed treasure hasn't been confirmed, The Tennessean noted in its 2014 story.