Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town

Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town is a true crime nonfiction book written by Bitty Martin of Hot Springs (Garland County) and published by Prometheus Books in 2022. The book received much acclaim, garnering positive reviews, brisk sales, and requests from across the nation for the Arkansas-based author to appear on true crime media programming. Over the six years she spent writing the book and interviewing more than fifty sources, Martin uncovered underlying secrets about the death of a teenage girl in what was originally called an accident but later revealed to be a murder.

The book’s title is evocative not only of the scene of the crime but also the era in Hot Springs history when it was a haven for gamblers and gangsters, with “snake eyes” referring to a throw of dice. Martin illuminates Hot Springs as a place that was not like other small Southern towns. She notes sophisticated visitors and well-dressed men from out of town who frequented casinos such as the Southern Club and bet on horses at Oaklawn Racetrack. Among those who regularly came to Hot Springs were notorious mobsters such as Al Capone. Another, Charles “Lucky” Luciano was apprehended after a nationwide manhunt while he was strolling along Hot Springs’ Bathhouse Row in the company of a friendly local police detective.

The book concerns the 1966 death of a thirteen-year-old girl, Cathie Ward, who was author Martin’s classmate. Martin has said that Ward’s death while horseback riding at Hot Springs’ Blacksnake Ranch haunted her for decades.

The narrative begins on June 24, 1966, with Cathie Ward on a summertime excursion to go horseback riding at Blacksnake Ranch, on the outskirts of Hot Springs. Later that day, the forty-two-year-old ranch owner, a skilled horseman named Frank Davis, told police that Cathie was killed in a riding accident after being dragged by a runaway horse despite his efforts to save her.

Almost immediately, suspicions arose due to the owner’s unsavory reputation in Hot Springs. Rumors of rape and murder began to circulate. When the ranch owner was later arrested for viciously killing his wife and shooting her mother in broad daylight in downtown Hot Springs, the investigation into Cathie Ward’s death was re-opened.

In her research, Martin combed court documents and crime scene records, as well as conducting dozens of personal interviews. The book offers testimony that was not available at the time of the murder, generally because many Hot Springs residents remained frightened of Frank Davis, declining to talk for fear of reprisals. Davis was known to be violent, and there were rumors of the murder of a young boy on his ranch who may have witnessed Cathie’s death. After Davis murdered his wife, some felt he would be imprisoned, allowing them to speak more openly; for example, an ex-wife claimed that Davis put a gun to her head, threatening her if she revealed his confession that he killed Ward.

After Davis’s conviction for the murder of his wife, prosecutors attempted to try him for the murder of Cathie Ward but dismissed the charge due to insufficient evidence. Through documentation, Martin’s book illuminates what might have been presented in court if the trial had gone forward. Martin’s book also illustrates a bizarre series of events involving Davis’s escape from prison, a reprieve from the electric chair by Arkansas governor Winthrop Rockefeller, and Davis’s parole in 1980. The convicted murderer went free, dying in Oregon three years later. Martin has said that even though Frank Davis was not convicted for the murder of Cathie Ward, her book contains information from people who no longer felt terrorized by Davis.

Author Julia “Bitty” Martin was born in Hot Springs, where she grew up. Along with Cathie Ward, Martin attended Central Junior High, later graduating from Hot Springs High School. Martin attended Arkansas Tech University in Russellville (Pope County), studying business administration and management. She went on to earn two college degrees: a Bachelor of Science in business administration in marketing from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (Clark County) and a degree in registered nursing (RN) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Martin worked in advertising and marketing, including for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Times, and KATV-Channel 7, the ABC television affiliate in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She later served as a traveling operating room nurse at major hospitals across the country before returning to her hometown in 2014.

Former president Bill Clinton described Snake Eyes as “a gripping true crime tale well-told. The story of a nice young girl lost far too soon and those determined to find the truth and get it out. It happened in the author’s hometown, and mine, and played out against its culture of denial and decency, crassness and caring.”

For additional information:
Bitty Martin. (accessed November 9, 2022).

“Bitty Martin: Discussion of Snake Eyes at the Six Bridges Book Festival.” Ron Robinson Theater, Central Arkansas Library System, October 23, 2022 (accessed November 9, 2022).

Farris, Mike. “Bitty Martin—Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town.” New York Journal of Books, June 5, 2022. (accessed November 9, 2022).

Martin, Bitty. Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town. Lanham, MD: Prometheus Press, 2022.

“‘Snakeyes’ [sic] Author Sets Book Signing, Program.” Hot Springs Sentinel Record, May 12, 2022. (accessed November 9, 2022).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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