Described by its website as ‘stately’ and ‘elegant,’ Snowden House, with its marble floor and sweeping staircase, was the perfect setting for a murder mystery.
In fact, the grand building, situated on the water’s edge of Horseshoe Lake, served as a location for a movie adaptation of one of John Grisham’s crime novels.
Tragically though, the home has not just seen fictional murder, but also the real thing...
It started in 1996 when Sally Snowden McKay, 75, and her nephew, musician Joseph ‘Lee’ Baker, 52, were found shot dead inside the historic property.
It was understood they’d disturbed a burglar and the suspect – 16-year-old Travis Lewis – had shot them in fright. He then, reportedly, set fire to the house.
There was no escape however, and the teenager, who had been living with his parents nearby, was quickly arrested and charged with the double murder.
Despite saying someone else had been involved, on April 7, 1998, Lewis pleaded guilty to the crime.
Tried as an adult, he was handed a 28-and-a-half year jail sentence of which he had to serve at least 70 per cent.
Sally’s big-hearted daughter, Martha McKay, believed he deserved to be rehabilitated.
A practising Buddhist, she forgave Lewis for what he’d done and began writing to him in prison.
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. She also accepted Lewis’ 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.
She even visited Lewis in jail, despite her family warning her against it.
‘We had said, “Just stay away from him. It’s a bad juju type of thing”,’ Martha’s sister, Katie Hutton, told People magazine.
But Martha, who was loved by everyone she met, wanted to help him.
‘We were contacted every time he came up for parole,’ Katie said. ‘None of us would okay it except for her.’
When Lewis was eventually freed in 2018, after serving 22 years, Martha quietly gave him a job.
By this time, she had moved to Snowden House, having bought it from the rest of the family.
She had renovated and restored the run-down property, with all its ghosts and dark past, into a high-end bed-and-breakfast and wedding venue.
It meant that Lewis, 39, was literally back at the scene of his crime with Martha, locally known as the Lady of the Lake, demonstrating the ultimate forgiveness.
It could have finished like that – the perfect end to a tragic tale.
But on Wednesday March 25, 2020, police responded to an alarm at Snowden House.
History was repeating itself as they quickly discovered a body. Martha, 63, was found at the top of the marble stairs wrapped in a blanket.
She’d been stabbed.
Noticing a back door open, the two officers were searching for an intruder, when they saw a man jump from an upstairs window.
Running to a car, the man drove across the yard, but got stuck, and instead headed on foot for the lake.
‘He was observed going under the water and never came back up,’ Sheriff Allen said.
The man had drowned.
Specialist equipment was used to search the lake, and the body of the suspect was located and recovered.
The identification must have caused considerable shock. He was discovered to be Travis Lewis.
Twenty-three years after killing Martha’s mother, he had struck again – in the same location – murdering the daughter who had so selflessly forgiven him.
An autopsy found a mixture of illicit drugs in his system at the time of his death.
It was also discovered that Lewis had been fired and banned from Snowden House a month before the murder.
Martha had become wise to the truth about Lewis.
His own mother, Gladys, who had worked as a housekeeper at Snowden House for years, had reportedly warned Martha that her son was returning to his old ways.
And then an entry in Martha’s diary, which was discovered after her death, revealed her suspicions that Lewis was a thief.
After reading the diary, Katie discovered her sister had sold a chandelier for $14,000 cash, stashing the money in Snowden House.
Travis was at the house the day she came home with the money, which then vanished, so Martha had fired him.
‘It’s kind of like a bad dream or deja vu, like really, back to this again,’ Martha’s cousin and Lee Baker’s son, Joe, told the media.
The community and family have been left reeling that forgiveness and compassion could be returned with such contempt.
‘I’m just beyond sad that it turned out this way for her,’ Joe said.