Martha McKay was kind to Travis Lewis, who was convicted and released after he killed her mother and cousin in 1996.
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