Blacksnake & Redbird:
Murder in a Sixties Southern Town


Hot Springs, Arkansas

June 24, 1966

The warm summer day began like any other in this southern resort town until thirteen-year-old Cathie Ward went horseback riding with girlfriends at Blacksnake Ranch, then died. For over half a century, her friends, including me, have mourned her suspicious death tied to rumors of rape and murder. Coupled with a vicious slaying that followed, these tandem crimes have become a part of Hot Springs history by word of mouth through scary folk tales. No one really knows what happened. But now after six years of research, interviews, and some bombshells appearing out of nowhere, the true account of this explosive story will be revealed in Blacksnake & Redbird: Murder in a Sixties Southern Town. 


A thirteen-year-old girl’s tragic death disturbs her friends and Hot Springs community until they learn it wasn’t an accident--then they’re frightened. 

Blacksnake & Redbird: Murder in a Sixties Southern Town is Hot Springs, Arkansas' true crime story that's been waiting decades to be told. It's The Lazarus Files: A Cold Case Investigation meets I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.


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 told in the wrap-up of Blacksnake & Redbird: Murder in a Sixties 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."


Bitty Martin




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