Victims: Sally Snowden McKay, 75, and Joseph “Lee” Baker, 52
Murderer: Travis Lewis, 16
Location: Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas
Crime date: September 10, 1996
Murder method: Gunshots
Crimes: Double murder
Sentence: 28 years
Victim: Martha McKay, 63
Murderer: Travis Lewis, 39
Location: Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas
Crime date: March 25, 2020
Murder method: Stabbing and bludgeoning
Crimes: Murder & theft
Lewis was sentenced to 28 and a half years in prison for murdering Sally McKay and Joseph Baker, a prominent Memphis blues guitarist. He was paroled after 23 years in 2018. He went onto murder Sally’s daughter Martha McKay in 2020. All three murders were committed at the historic Snowden family home. Lewis drowned after murdering Martha as he attempted to flee police.
Martha had befriended Lewis after he went to prison and supported his early release. When Lewis was released, Martha gave him a job doing work at the Snowden home. She later fired him after he allegedly stole from the home. Lewis is example # 14 on our page on Dangerous Early Release in the section on juvenile criminals.
Woman found murdered on same Snowden property at Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas, where mother was killed nearly 24 years earlier
An Arkansas woman was murdered Wednesday at the historic Snowden family home allegedly by the same man who killed her mother and her mother’s nephew, on the same property, nearly 24 years ago, authorities said.
Martha McKay, 63, a member of the Snowden family, was found dead on Wednesday inside the colonial-style house at Horseshoe Lake in Crittenden County, Arkansas.
Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen told Dateline that deputies responded to an alarm at the Snowden house on Wednesday where Martha lived. When they arrived, the back door was open. As they searched for an intruder, they saw a man jump from an upstairs window, he said.
The intruder, later identified as 39-year-old Travis Santay Lewis, ran to a nearby car and attempted to drive away, but authorities said the vehicle got stuck in the yard. That’s when Lewis ran from the car and ran into the lake.
“He was observed going under the water and never came back up,” Sheriff Allen said in a news release. “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.”
The bodies of the victim and the suspect have been sent to the Arkansas Medical Examiner’s Office for cause and manner of death.
According to Sheriff Allen, Lewis was 16 when he pleaded guilty to the September 10, 1996 Horseshoe Lake murders of Martha’s mother, Sally Snowden McKay, and Sally’s nephew, Joseph Lee Baker, who was a well-known Memphis blues/rock guitarist. It was believed Lewis shot Sally and Lee because they startled him as he attempted to rob the house. The building was then set on fire, Sheriff Allen added.
Lewis was sentenced to 28 ½ years in prison and ordered to serve at least 70 percent of it, according to the plea bargain. After spending 23 years behind bars, Lewis was paroled in 2018, Sheriff Allen said.
Martha McKay, who moved to Horseshoe Lake from San Francisco after her mother’s murder, had turned Snowden House into a high-end bed-and-breakfast and wedding venue.
“I met her a few times and she was a nice, interesting lady. She really restored that place back to its original beauty,” Sheriff Allen said. “It’s such a tragedy, and, well, mind-boggling that a 16-year-old would commit these murders and then you know, allegedly come back and do something so horrible again.”
Sheriff Allen told Dateline there were reports that Martha had been in touch with Travis Lewis during his time in prison, as well as after he was released.
“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.
A man convicted of a pair of infamous Arkansas murders in 1996 is suspected of returning to the home of the crimes and killing the daughter of one of his original victims, officials said.
Martha McKay was found dead at the historic Snowden home in Horseshoe Lake after deputies responded to an alarm there, according to Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen.
As they initially searched the house, deputies saw the suspect, Travis Lewis, jump from an upstairs window, run to a vehicle and drive it across the yard, where it got stuck.
“The suspect then jumped from the car and ran and jumped into the lake,” Allen said in a statement. “He was observed going under the water and never came back up.” Lewis’s body was then recovered from the water by a search and rescue team. The apparent drowning has yet to be confirmed by the state medical examiner, who is expected to determine his official cause of death later this week, authorities said.
In 1996, Lewis pleaded guilty to the murders of Martha’s mother, Sally Snowden McKay and Martha’s first cousin, Lee Baker, who was a popular local musician.
Lewis killed Sally and Lee after being surprised by them while he attempted to steal from the Snowden home, officials said.
Lewis, 16 at the time, was charged as an adult, Allen said. But some of the victims’ family opposed a capital sentence for Lewis’s original conviction. Among them was Martha, who befriended Lewis while he was in prison, Dottie Jones, Martha’s first cousin, told the Memphis Flyer. He was paroled in 2018.
The Snowden family, along with their massive lakeside property, is well-known in the region.
Martha McKay was one of ten grandchildren of the home’s original owners, Bob and Grace Snowden, according to the Snowden House website. She returned to Horseshoe Lake in 2004 to buy it from the rest of her family and fully renovate it. The property has recently served as a wedding venue.
Neighbors reportedly said that McKay had been stabbed. Her official cause and manner of death will be determined by the state medical examiner, Allen said.
Authorities are still investigating.
One of Arkansas’ most notorious murderers returned to the scene of his crime 24 years later to kill his victim’s daughter — and then drowned as he tried to flee cops, according to officials.
Travis Santay Lewis — who had been out on parole since 2018 — was last seen alive diving into Horseshoe Lake, a half-hour southwest of Memphis, on Wednesday. Officials recovered the 39-year-old killer’s body using sonar equipment.
He’d just murdered heiress Martha McKay inside her opulent, century-old lakefront mansion, Snowden House, which was being run as a bed and breakfast, officials told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
McKay’s body was found inside; it was not immediately clear if she’d been stabbed or bludgeoned to death. She was in her 60s, according to officials.
Lewis had been just 16 when he fatally shot McKay’s mother, Sally Snowden McKay, 75, and the mother’s nephew, Lee Baker, 52, a few houses down from the mansion in 1996.
Lewis, whose parents had lived on Snowden family-owned property, was sentenced to 28 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty,
The murders became infamous in local lore because the Snowdens were an influential family and because Baker was a famed Memphis guitarist who had played for Big Star and frontman Alex Chilton, according to the Appeal. The historic Snowden House was used in the 1994 John Grisham movie “The Client.”
On Wednesday, police responded to an alarm at the mansion. Arriving cops found the house back door open.
Lewis “jumped from an upstairs window and ran to a vehicle that he drove across the yard and got stuck in the yard,” Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen told the Appeal.
“The suspect then jumped from the car and ran and jumped into the lake,” Allen continued. “He was observed going under the water and never came back up.”
McKay’s remains were only found after deputies went back to the house following the chase, according to Allen.
Some neighbors told the paper that McKay had been stabbed, while others say she was bludgeoned with a hammer.
“I felt like I was royalty, with the big house and servants,” McKay had said in a 2015 interview, in which the Appeal called her “The Lady of the Lake.”
“Everything was fresh from the garden, fresh eggs and all, and we even had a peach orchard,” she’d said. “We got to swim every day, and it was just ideal.”
The Commercial Appeal has quite a crime story about the murder of a woman at the historic Snowden House on Horseshoe Lake in Crittenden County, near the scene of the murder of the victim’s mother 24 years before.
There’s more: Authorities say the suspect in this week’s death of Martha McKay is Travis Santay Lewis, convicted of killing McKay’s mother, Sally Snowden McKay, and her mother’s nephew Lee Baker, a Memphis musician, in 1996. They were killed in a house near the Snowden house, used today as a wedding and events venue. Lewis, who lived at Horseshoe Lake in 1996 and whose parents lived on Snowden property, was paroled in 2018. He reportedly drowned in the lake after jumping in as he tried to elude deputies who’d responded to an alarm at the house.
Lots more at the CA account. The Snowden family had deep and prominent roots in Memphis.
Big-hearted, gregarious and always up for an adventure, Martha McKay surrounded herself with friends.
“There was something about her that people really loved,” her sister Katie Hutton tells PEOPLE. “She left an impression on people. She had that gift.”
McKay’s family and friends were devastated when she was killed on March 25, 2020, at Snowden House, the historic antebellum-style home on Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas, she bought from her family in 2004, restored and reopened as a luxury bed-and-breakfast.
McKay, 63, was found stabbed and bludgeoned to death at the top of the stairs, near a bag filled with her belongings, as well as a utility knife.
Authorities were shocked when they pulled the body of her killer out of the lake (he’d jumped in and drowned during a police chase): it was Travis Lewis, who’d been convicted at 17 for the horrific 1996 murders of her mother, Sally Snowden McKay, 75, and her cousin, Joseph “Lee” Baker, 52, a prominent Memphis blues guitarist.
Lewis pleaded guilty to the murders but never confessed, maintaining that another man killed the two, say police.
Knowing how forgiving McKay was, family and friends were still shocked when she befriended him after he went to prison (Lewis was sentenced to 28 ½ years after pleading guilty).
Family friend Frank Byrd, who’d driven McKay to the state penitentiary to see Lewis, told her he didn’t think it was a good idea, but “she didn’t answer me,” he says.
Her family also warned her to be careful. “We had said, ‘Just stay away from him. It’s a bad juju type of thing.’ But she wouldn’t do it,” says Hutton.
A longtime Buddhist, McKay wrote Lewis letters in prison and supported his early, paroled release.
“We were contacted every time he came up for parole,” says Hutton. “None of us would OK it except for her.”
McKay also felt bad that he was so young when the murders took place – and believed his claim that someone else was responsible, says Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen.
When Lewis was finally released on parole in 2018, McKay quietly gave him a job doing work on the property, Hutton says.
But before her death, she fired him. Police had heard about a theft at McKay’s house before her murder, says Crittenden County Chief Investigator Todd Grooms. After she died, Hutton read in her diary that she’d sold a chandelier for $10,000 cash, which she stashed in the house.
Travis happened to be there that day, says Hutton. “Then the money vanished. She fired him after the money disappeared,” she says.
The family is still reeling from the fact that the same man killed her sister, mother, and cousin – 23 years apart.
“We are all just in disbelief,” says Hutton.
It was Sept. 10, 1996, when a man entered a home on Arkansas’ Horseshoe Lake, fatally shooting two inhabitants, Sally Snowden McKay and her nephew, Lee Baker. More than 23 years later, deputies say the same man returned to kill again. Travis Lewis, paroled in 2018, killed McKay’s daughter, Martha McKay, a few houses down from the initial crime scene on Wednesday before jumping into the lake and drowning, Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen says, per the Commercial Appeal. Responding to an alarm, two deputies “found an open back door and upon clearing the house located a possible suspect who jumped from an upstairs window,” Allen says. He adds that Lewis, 39, jumped into a vehicle and drove across the yard, becoming stuck, per WMC. He then “ran and jumped into the lake. He was observed going under the water and never came back up.”
Authorities used sonar equipment to locate the body of Lewis, who had drowned, according to Allen. McKay, in her mid-60s, was “found deceased inside the house” where she lived. She’d been stabbed, according to neighbors who spoke with deputies, per the Appeal. Oddly, the property—the century-old Snowden House, featuring marble floors, a grand staircase, and heirlooms from some of the first homes in Memphis, Tenn., 34 miles to the northeast—was the setting for the 1994 movie adaption of John Grisham’s murder mystery The Client. Lewis, whose parents formerly lived on Snowden-owned property at Horseshoe Lake, was a teenager when he pleaded guilty to the 1996 murders of McKay’s 75-year-old mother and 52-year-old cousin and was sentenced to 28.5 years in prison. His subsequent contact with McKay, if any, is unclear.
KC Baker May 06, 2020
Known as “The Lady of the Lake,” Martha McKay loved playing hostess at Snowden House, the grand 1919 family estate on Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas, that she’d restored and reopened as an upscale bed-and-breakfast more than a decade ago.
After living on the West Coast, Martha, 63, returned to the land her influential family had owned for generations: 1,000 acres of lakefront property with Snowden House, a white, columned mansion, as its centerpiece.
“She loved that house,” her longtime friend and neighbor Frank Byrd tells PEOPLE.
The parties, reunions and weddings held at Snowden House brought laughter to a place haunted by the 1996 murders of Martha’s mother, Sally Snowden McKay, and cousin, Joseph “Lee” Baker, on the property.
When the two were fatally shot inside Sally’s home, “Martha was devastated, like we all were,” her sister, Katie Hutton, tells PEOPLE.
In the years to come, everyone thought they’d left the darkness behind them — until the morning of March 25, 2020, when Martha’s bloodied body was found wrapped in blankets at the top of the stairs.
The woman known for her larger-than-life “presence” and good heart had been stabbed and bludgeoned by an intruder.
While being chased by police, the man jumped out of the window and into his car. But when the vehicle got stuck on the property, he scurried out of the side door, jumped into the frigid lake – and drowned.
Hours later, authorities who pulled the man’s body out of the lake were shocked to realize it was Travis Lewis, the 39-year-old man who’d gone to prison at age 17 after pleading guilty to killing Martha’s mother and cousin years ago.
Lewis, who’d grown up at Horseshoe Lake, had cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana in his system, autopsy results show, Crittenden County Chief Investigator Todd Grooms says in a statement about the case.
When police discovered Martha’s body at the top of the stairs, they also found a cloth bag on top of a nearby chair containing several valuables and a bloody kitchen knife, says Grooms.
“It was determined that he intended to steal these items,” he says. “However, it was not determined whether his intentions were to burglarize McKay’s home and she was killed in the process or if his intention was to murder McKay then opted to steal the items.”
Whatever his motive, he had found a benefactor in Martha.
As a longtime Buddhist, Martha believed in forgiveness, says Crittenden County Sheriff Mike Allen, and she had reached out to Lewis in prison.
Her support continued when Lewis was released on parole in 2018, and she quietly gave him a job working on the property alongside his mother, Gladys, who’d been a housekeeper at Snowden House for years.
The arrangement seemed to work, until the day Gladys told Martha, “Just stay away from Travis, because he’s going back to his old ways,” says Hutton.
Before her death, she had severed her ties with Lewis.
It wasn’t until after Martha’s death that her family learned a secret from her diary.
Before Martha’s murder, Hutton says, her sister sold a chandelier for $10,000 cash, stashing the money in Snowden House.
Travis was at the house the day she came home with the money, which then vanished, says Hutton, noting that Martha quickly fired him.
Hutton still has so many questions, but knows one thing for certain: “Martha didn’t deserve to be killed. She didn’t deserve anything that happened to her.”