Faster than a summer brush fire, the story moved through the Hot Springs community. Barely two months after the June 24, 1966, death of a local teenage girl, Cathie Ward, out at Frank Davis’ Blacksnake Ranch, Davis’ fourth wife, Sharron Knight Davis, hid their two boys at her parents’ home in town and then escaped him, just 33 days before their third wedding anniversary.

 

It wouldn’t be like Frank to just let this go; nobody defied him. And sure enough, shortly afterwards, he abandoned the ranch and moved back into town with his mother. There, he settled into ritualistic daily patterns, starting the day by biting into a lemon covered with two tablespoons of salt, then slugging a half-pint of whiskey, per author Bitty Martin in her true crime book “Snake Eyes.”

 

The morning cocktail was topped with a cherry of sorts, Equanil, an anxiety medication. While in the military, Davis had bleeding ulcers, sometimes causing blackouts for days. Medically discharged, he left with a disability check and a rationale for creating his own mix of painkillers.

 

Given enough time, Davis would then make his way over to the Blue Bell Cafe each day to get lunch, bringing with him a pint to doctor his Mountain Valley Water. Sometimes he’d go to the nearby liquor store to replenish his supply, killing time until happy hour at local clubs.

 

Multiple times a day Frank would call Sharron on the job at Vanity Beauty Shop to ask when were she and the boys coming home? Often, a visibly frightened Sharron left work, hiding out in her friend’s shoe shop next door until her ride home arrived. Sharron was trying to stay out of his sight.

 

If he spotted her out, Davis would drive slowly alongside her, yelling, “I’m gonna kill you!” She had no doubt he meant it. With or without her, he wanted his boys back. In her quiet way, she always put him off and finally filed for divorce. He ignored it, refused to pay child support and offered instead the chance for them to come home.

 

Davis was convinced Sharron and the boys were moving home for good on Sunday, January 15, 1967. He and his mother, Irene, waited all afternoon to welcome them back to Blacksnake Ranch. Sharron never showed, and four days later, Davis was still furious she’d stood him up. Enlisting a teenaged boy to tail her, he was alerted of her whereabouts on Thursday night, arriving in time to see Sharron run to her mother’s car and drive away.

Later, Davis pulled into the Oaklawn Redbird Service Station and Laundromat for gas. The building had an unusual design with a set of double glass doors at the front entrance, which perfectly aligned with a duplicate set at the back entrance. In a clear line of sight from front to rear, Davis could see Sharron’s mother, Pauline Knight’s car   parked near the back door, so he drove around.

 

Pulling up beside her car — driver’s side to driver’s side — Davis could see Mrs. Knight in the passenger seat, cradling the baby. In the back of her two-door was his smiling toddler. Leaving the laundromat, Sharron saw Davis and rushed to the car. She jumped into the driver’s seat and began rolling up the window. This time, so a witness reported, she made her message clear. She wanted nothing more to do with him. His response was deadly.

 

Reaching back to the floorboard of his mother’s Ford Thunderbird, Davis pulled out a Winchester 30-30 and blasted through Sharron’s window. Frantically running into the laundromat for help, Pauline Knight was next. Through the back glass door, Davis’ aim took another toll. Mrs. Knight dropped to the floor. Leaving his children for strangers to comfort, Davis drove off.

 

Police were quickly behind. At Irene’s house, they found him blacked out in a back bedroom. How had he so quickly managed to become unconscious was never clear. Coming to the next morning in a jail cell, Frank Davis claimed he couldn’t remember killing his wife. No matter. This time, there were plenty of witnesses. January 19, 1967 —the date would be marked on his case file and Sharron’s tombstone as the day he committed murder — was also Irene Davis’ 60th birthday.

 

As funeral arrangements were made for Sharron, Pauline Knight fought for her life.  Police pulled their case together and Irene Davis hired the best attorneys money could buy for her boy. That seemed plenty, but there was still Sharron’s parting shot to Frank. And, yes, it was a doozy.

 

As Dr. Hiram Ward explained to “Snake Eyes” author Bitty Martin, “His wife (Sharron) had what he’d done in the past, written in a letter, and she put it in a lockbox. She said he’d killed my daughter and a little boy that was in a pond in front of their house. The authorities drained the pond, and there he was.”

 

Sharron’s letter also revealed that Frank had bludgeoned Cathie Ward with a rock, (some say it was in the lockbox, others are unsure) then staged the accident as an incident with a runaway horse. But it seems another child, a foster kid, had witnessed it and died as a result, too. Davis was indicted for Cathie Ward’s murder, but it would be secondary to Sharron’s case.

 

On June 11, 1968 – Frank Davis’ 44th birthday — Sharron’s trial began. Eyes no doubt rolled when his attorneys went for an insanity defense. In four days, he would be found guilty and sentenced to death in the electric chair on Aug. 17 that year.

 

That should have been it, but Irene Davis wasn’t having it. An appeal was made and lost. Another was planned, but it would not be by appeal that Frank would escape Old Sparky. Instead, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, now departing office, commuted the sentences of all those on death row. In the cruelest of twists, the only man connected to the case who would be electrocuted was Sharron’s father, who died on the job 16 months after he buried his child.

 

Frank Davis managed to defy justice even further. The man whose defense was insanity was made a trusty in prison — a high-ranking inmate position allowing that prisoner to oversee others. At that time, a trusty was even able to commit crimes — including rape and murder — within the prison wire.

 

With his experience with livestock, Davis was also granted cattle to tend and his own prison horse to do so. Some said he could ride off into the sunset any time he pleased, telling of time he just “got lost” for a couple of days.

 

One of Davis’ former friends told author Bitty Martin that Davis had been at the fairground’s rodeo when he was supposed to be locked up at the penitentiary. The court stenographer of Davis’ murder trial also saw him at the Garland County Fair Arts and Crafts show. Looking straight at her, he lifted his right hand to make a gesture as if shooting her.

 

His taunting became much worse. Now raising Sharron’s two boys, a permanently disabled Pauline Knight had survived, but she lived in terror of Davis coming back for her. As related in “Snake Eyes,” Pauline went “out the back door of her kitchen onto three steps that led down to the backyard — that’s where she found Frank’s cigarette butts.”

 

Then the word came down that Frank Davis was eligible for parole, his mother Irene leaning in hard for his release. Members of the judicial system, law enforcement, the media as well as the townsfolk, responded with a loud and a righteous fury, reminding the parole board that true justice had not been served, not even close. Frank had slipped out of the death penalty, but he had by no means been held accountable for all his actions. Charges for attempted murder of Mrs. Knight had lapsed; indictment for Cathie’s Ward murder had been dropped; and there was only hearsay about the drowned boy at Blacksnake.

 

Despite the rising tide of public outrage, Frank was paroled where the Davis family and Wanda promptly made a new home. Irene died six months after Frank was paroled.

 

And who was Wanda? Seems at the time of Sharron’s death in 1967, Wanda was Davis’ pregnant girlfriend, soon to be the mother of his daughter. During a 1976 furlough in Searcy, she became his fifth wife.

 

Ten days before his 60th birthday, Frank Davis was declared dead of natural causes, having been found sitting upright in his truck. Time had finally dealt him a losing hand. Or, as they say in gambling circles — snake eyes.

 

READ ALSO: Murder Mystery: Snake Eyes, Part 1