The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle

David 'Stringbean' AkemanI’ve been digging the new Sam Bush album Circles Around Me. One song that really struck me is the ballad of String Bean and Estelle. I sort of knew the story of String Bean being murdered and all that but the details never made it down the chain of command. Folk lore has a way of clouding itself in a veil of mystery. Interestingly the Ballad of String Bean and Estelle tells the story very clearly and enunciates some interesting aspects, albeit in a poetic and songwriter’s sort of way. So it gets a big thumbs up from me. Check it out at the link below.

Wikipedia tells the story like this, really interesting.

A modest and unassuming person, Akeman enjoyed the simple life of hunting and fishing. Accustomed to hard times during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Akeman and his wife, Estelle, lived frugally in a tiny cabin near Ridgetop, Tennessee—their only indulgence, a Cadillac automobile. Depression-era bank failures also inspired Akeman, like many others of his generation, to not trust banks with their money. It was general gossip around Nashville that Akeman usually kept significant amounts of cash on hand, despite his not being terribly wealthy by entertainment industry standards.

On a Saturday night in November 1973, the Akemans returned home after performing a show at the Grand Ole Opry, and were shot dead upon their arrival. Thieves had lain in wait for hours. The Akemans’ bodies were discovered the following morning by neighbor and fellow performer Grandpa Jones (Louis Marshall Jones).

A police investigation into the double homicide resulted in the conviction of cousins John A. Brown and Marvin Douglas Brown, both of whom were 23 years old at the time of the murders. At trial, it was revealed that the two had ransacked the cabin and then killed Stringbean. Estelle shrieked when she saw Stringbean hit with the bullets. A few moments later, after begging for her life, she was gunned down as well. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals described the scene, “Upon their return, Mr. Akeman spotted the intruders in his home and evidently offered some resistance. One of the Brown cousins fatally shot Mr. Akeman, then pursued, shot and killed Mrs. Akeman. At their trial, each defendant blamed the other for the homicides.”[1]

The thieves left with nothing more than a chain saw and some guns. In 1996, 23 years after their murders, $20,000 in cash was discovered behind a brick in the chimney of the Akemans’ home. The paper money had rotted to such an extent that it was not usable. (the United States Consumer Price Index indicates that the purchasing power of $20,000 in 1973 would be equivalent to the purchasing power of some $98,565 in 2008.)

Marvin Douglas Brown fought his convictions in the Tennessee appellate courts. On September 28, 1982, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s order denying a new trial.[2] Marvin Brown ultimately granted an exclusive interview to Larry Brinton of the Nashville Banner. In the interview, he admitted his participation in the burglary and murders, but contended that John Brown fired the fatal shots.

Marvin Brown died of natural causes on January 8, 2003, at the Brushy Mountain Prison, in Petros, Tennessee. He is buried in the prison cemetery. John A. Brown remains incarcerated in a Tennessee Special Needs Facility. In July 2008, the Tennessee Parole Board deferred parole for 36 months. He is next eligible for parole in July of 2011. The A&E cable television network profiled the case on a 2003 episode of its City Confidential series.

David and Estelle Akeman are buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. During the run of Hee Haw, after Stringbean’s death, the scarecrow was left as a memorial.