true crime

In 1996, Sally McKay was murdered. 23 years later, the same man killed her daughter.

This post deals with distressing content of murders and might be triggering for some readers. 

The Snowden family are famous in the local community of Horseshoe Lake in Arkansas, United States.

Lived in by generations of the Snowden lineage, they own the historic three-story, 6,000-square-foot mansion that is aptly named the Snowden House. It is white, with tall columns lining the entry.

But the estate – as elegant and grand as it may be – is also the setting of the family’s haunting history of unthinkable tragedy.

It began on September 10, 1996, when Sally Snowden McKay, 75, and her nephew, a well-known Memphis blues artist Joseph “Lee” Baker, 52, were found shot to death on their Snowden property, in Sally’s home.

It had, of course, completely devastated the family.

Bizarrely, it was a 16-year-old boy, by the name of Travis Lewis, who was responsible for the double murder. Before the murders, Lewis was living with his parents at a property owned by the Snowdens on Horseshoe Lake.

It is understood Lewis attempted to rob the mansion, and when Sally and Lee frightened him, it led to the fatal shots. He then set fire to the house, according to local news media.

Lewis pleaded guilty to the crimes, and was sentenced to over 28 years in jail, of which he was required to serve at least 70 per cent of. In 2018, Lewis was released on parole after living behind bars for 22 years.

Meanwhile, Sally’s daughter Martha McKay, or “Lady of the Lake” as she became known, had bought the Snowden house from the rest of the family with the mission to renovate, restore and reopen the historic property. More than a decade ago, she turned the beaten-down property into a high-end bed & breakfast for visitors to enjoy.

Martha was also a buddhist, with one of her primary guiding values in life being forgiveness.

Among those who she chose to forgive, was Travis Lewis, her mother’s killer.

In fact, Martha McKay wrote to Lewis whilst he was in jail. According to Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen, she felt empathy and sadness for Lewis given how young he was at the time of the murders, and accepted his allegation that another person was involved in the crime.

“I think it was her mission to find out what happened to her mother, and to find out if someone else was involved,” Sheriff Allen said.

When Lewis was released from prison on parole, she even employed him on the property, where his mother Gladys also worked as a housekeeper, according to People.

Then on the morning of March 25, 2020, history repeated itself. Martha’s body was found on the same property her mother had been killed on, 23 years earlier. Her corpse laid at the top of the marble steps inside the Snowden House, wrapped in blankets. Next to her, was a blood-stained knife and a bag of precious possessions.

The police responded to an alarm at the house, and upon arriving, noticed the backdoor had been left open, suggesting an intruder was responsible for the horrific scene.

Martha McKay murder
Image: Crittenden County Sheriffs Department.

"Deputies today responded to an alarm at the historical Snowden House in Horseshoe Lake," Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen said in March.

"Two deputies that arrived found an open back door and upon clearing the house located a possible suspect who jumped from an upstairs window and ran to a vehicle that he drove across the yard and got stuck in the yard.

"The suspect then jumped from the car and ran and jumped into the lake. He was observed going under the water and never came back up."

The suspect drowned.

"The Arkansas Game and Fish and Crittenden County Search and Rescue were called, and Game and Fish used their sonar equipment and Search and Rescue was able to locate and recover the body of the suspect," Sheriff Allen continued.

Authorities discovered they had pulled up the body of Travis Lewis. At 39-years-old, he had killed a mother and daughter, 23 years apart.

The autopsy found a mixture of methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine was in his system at the time of death. Investigators also revealed that Travis Lewis had been banned from the property one month prior to the murder of McKay, according to WREG.

"It was determined that he intended to steal these items [in the aforementioned bag]," the investigator later explained. "However, it was not determined whether his intentions were to burglarise McKay’s home and she was killed in the process or if his intention was to murder McKay then opted to steal the items."

“It’s kind of like a bad dream or deja vu, like really, back to this again," Joe Baker, Martha McKay's cousin and Lee Baker's son told WREG in March. "For me, it speaks to some of the issues with the parole system in Arkansas.

"I think that she really felt in her heart he deserved to be rehabilitated, which I think really speaks to her character after such a tragic event happened to such a close family member," he said.

"I’m just beyond sad that it turned out this way for her."

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