Blacksnake & Redbird: Murder in a Southern Town
Hot Springs, Arkansas
June 24, 1966
The warm summer day begins like any other in this southern resort town until thirteen-year-old Cathie Ward goes horseback riding with girlfriends at Blacksnake Ranch, then dies. Coupled with a vicious slaying months later, the tandem crimes become a part of Hot Springs history by word of mouth through scary folk tales. For over half a century her friends, including me, have mourned her suspicious death tied to rumors of rape and murder. No one really knows what happened. But now after six years of research, interviews, and some bombshells appearing out of nowhere, the true shocking account is told in Blacksnake & Redbird: Murder in a Southern Town.
At first, sheriff’s deputies consider it an accident. That’s what forty-two-year-old serial-husband Frank Davis tells them when a thirteen-year-old girl is found dead at his riding stables. But when rumors begin and the rest of his world falls apart, he commits a violent murder in public and becomes front-page news. He takes residents of this southern town on a scary rollercoaster ride with a surprise ending that leaves them frightened and questioning if he’s dead-or-alive.
Bitty Martin & childhood friend, Leslie Tracy Swinford, take Cathie Ward’s 1966 skateboard on a visit to her Murfreesboro, Arkansas grave in 2018.
Each year on June 24th, Bitty and Leslie drive an hour west of Hot Springs, Arkansas to Cathie’s grave in Murfreesboro. They always bring flowers and an angel or a skateboard replica. Back in 1966, Cathie left her Nash Fifteen Toes skateboard at Leslie’s house days before she died. She never retrieved it and after her death, Leslie kept it as a dear remembrance of her friend. Wherever she moved, Cathie’s skateboard accompanied her. After the millienium, it was lost and the amazing story of how it came back to Leslie is disclosed in Blacksnake & Redbird: Murder in a Southern Town.
When Bitty and Leslie drove into the cemetery in 2020, they were happy to see some worn-out silk flowers by Cathie’s headstone. They walked to her grave and added fresh flowers and a miniature skateboard. This time, unlike the past, Bitty stood and told Cathie the chain of events that transpired after her death, the whole story boiled down into a brief synopsis. At the end of their visit, Leslie bent down, put two fingers to her lips, then touched the headstone to give a kiss goodbye. “We’ll see you next year, Cathie,” she promised. As they began to walk away, Bitty turned and said, "I hope wherever your soul might be, it’s in another life filled with happiness and joy."