A local author's book is still getting local and statewide attention, approaching the one-year anniversary of its release in May 2022 by Prometheus Books.
Hot Springs native Bitty Martin's "Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town" covers the 1966 suspicious death of 13-year-old Cathie Ward, one of Martin's childhood friends.
The true crime book takes place in Hot Springs, recounting Ward's death at Blacksnake Ranch. Martin attended Central Junior High School with Ward, where they became close friends.
After graduating from Hot Springs High School in 1970, Martin attended Henderson State University, obtaining a bachelor's degree in marketing. She's worked in Little Rock at the Arkansas State Parks and Tourism Research Department and the Y.W.C.A. in Hot Springs.
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Martin later changed career paths, going back to college to earn a nursing degree. She then spent about 20 years as a traveling operating room nurse, before returning to Hot Springs.
In 2014, Martin started on the research for "Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town" after another childhood friend of hers revealed a secret to her, which led to her researching more about Ward's death.
"Our parents never talked about Cathie's tragic death," the author told members of Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club on Wednesday. "It was hush-hush. So, we never really knew what happened, except that she fell off a horse at Blacksnake Ranch and was dragged to death. That's what the ranch owner said, and that's what the newspaper reported.
"We still wouldn't know the true story if not for the spooky event in 2014 that involved Cathie's skateboard and the friend who kept it since the day she died. I wouldn't have written this work if not for this unbelievable story."
Martin tells that story at the end of the first chapter in the book, she said.
Martin interviewed more than 60 people for the book, she previously said. Nine of the people mentioned had their names changed to protect their anonymity or memory and others were written as they appeared in public accounts or were allowed by permission, she said.
Beginning the research for the book in 2014, Martin said she finished the manuscript in June 2020, signing the publisher's contract in December 2020.
Even before the book's release, Martin was invited to speak at the Hot Springs Book festival last year. She held her book signing at the Central Theatre, which was right around the corner from Central Junior High School, she said.
After the book was released, "the phone started ringing with speaking requests," she said. She attended 20 speaking events last year and has about 10 more this year, she said.
The Six Bridges Book Festival in Little Rock included "Snake Eyes" last October, she said. The book also became a new entry in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas last year, and AY Magazine featured the book in a two-part series last year.
"Now, I want you all to know that the main reason I wrote this book was to tell Cathie's story, so she wouldn't be forgotten," she said. "And she hasn't, thanks to every organization, book club, media outlet and festival for embracing 'Snake Eyes: Murder in a Southern Town.'"
The book begins with Ward being found dead at the ranch. She had moved to Hot Springs from Murfreesboro with her mother and two siblings in 1960 without her father, Martin said.
"Her mother, Sarah Ward, grew up in El Dorado," Martin said. "But instead of moving there, she chose Hot Springs. Maybe she thought the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the resort town would be more accepting of a single parent, which was taboo back in the '60s.
"Cathie hid her troubled home life from her friends, but by 1966, she had overcome them, and she had blossomed into a beautiful teenager who looked much older than her age."
Ward played the flute in the band at Central Junior High School and was "the object of all the band boys' crushes," the author said.
However, Ward had met the seventh-grade quarterback at Southwest Junior High School, and they started dating.
"That was very daring and unconventional at the time because you just didn't date across school lines," Martin said.
"Everything was now going Cathie's way, but then she went out to Blacksnake, and well, we know that she died. Or was she murdered? All kinds of rumors were swirling around Hot Springs."