Hot Springs author Bitty Martin’s book, “Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town,” will be published May 16 by Prometheus Books.
The true story is set in Hot Springs and chronicles the suspicious death of 13-year-old Cathie Ward at the Blacksnake Ranch in 1966, which prompted the ranch owner to commit murder, according to a news release from the Garland County Historical Society. .
Martin attended Central Junior High School with Ward and the two were close friends.
The GCHS presented a program with Martin at the Garland County Library on Tuesday. The author gave an encore presentation after the Hot Springs Book Festival.
Martin graduated from Hot Springs High School, earned a marketing degree from Henderson State University, and was employed in research at Arkansas State Parks and Tourism. She later served as executive director of Hot Springs YWCA, according to the release.
She then earned a nursing degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and became a traveling nurse.
The Hot Springs native decided to start writing “Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town” after her childhood friend Leslie Tracy Swinford let Martin in on a secret in 2014 and she began researching it. Ward’s death.
“We didn’t know what really happened to her and we still didn’t know in 2014 when I called my childhood friend Leslie and told her I was coming home from New York for two weeks, and I wanted to go research at the library on Cathie Ward,” she said.
“Leslie said she wanted to come with me and she told me a secret she had been keeping since Cathie died,” Martin said.
The author said she did not know the date of Ward’s death until she visited the historical society, where some old burial records were kept. She found that Ward died on June 24, 1966, and was buried in Murfreesboro.
“Two days later, I linked Leslie’s secret to a mysterious event that occurred on the 48th anniversary of Cathie’s death,” Martin said. “And I took that as a cue to start digging into this story.”
Martin said she did a lot of research and interviewed over 60 people for the book.
She discovered that Ward had moved to Hot Springs with her mother in the early 1960s without her father.
“I’m sure Cathie had a hard time fitting in with us kids who lived in Hot Springs our whole lives and had dads at the dinner table every night,” Martin said. “We didn’t know her secret struggles or that she would become the little girl who died at Blacksnake Ranch.”
Martin said Ward enjoyed skateboarding and had left his skateboard with Swinford days before his death. Swinford kept skateboarding for years, but eventually it was lost. Martin’s new book contains the story of how skateboarding finally found its way back to Swinford on the 48th anniversary of Ward’s death.
“It was my proof that she wanted this story told,” she said.
One of Ward’s wishes was to go horseback riding at Blacksnake Ranch, Martin said. As Martin and Swinford returned from church camp, Ward’s wish was reportedly granted on June 24, 1966, but she did not return from the ranch alive.
“As we were going down the hill, I saw Cathie walking on the sidewalk, so I yelled and waved at her,” Martin said. “Well, Leslie saw her too and she yelled at her. Cathie never looked our way. She had her head down and she looked very determined to come home this afternoon. Leslie and I never forgot that memory, but how did we see her if she was out at Blacksnake Ranch?”
The story of Ward’s death made headlines the next day, Martin said. The article stated that Ward was killed in an accident at Blacksnake Ranch, apparently being dragged by a horse.
Rancher Frank Davis claimed he was chasing the runaway horse, but was unable to catch it. However, Davis was a skilled rider according to some of Martin’s sources.
“I thought this book would be about Cathie, but her main story ends on page 35 and Frank Davis picks up the book,” Martin said.
“He always had to do what he wanted and when he couldn’t he relied on his mum to make things happen,” she said. “But this time she couldn’t. And it all got out of hand one winter evening at the Redbird Laundromat when Frank committed cold-blooded murder. But this time there were witnesses.”
Martin will host a book signing on May 22 at 2:30 p.m. at the historic Central Theater, where she said “there will be some surprises and it could be emotional.”
“I must say that I could not have written this book without the help of all the people, organizations that are listed at the end of the book under acknowledgments,” she said. “This story has waited a lifetime to be told.”