Local Obituaries

Lexington philanthropist, who suffered family tragedy, dies

Mary Agnes Melton, 83, a Lexington woman whose family was killed in a notorious murder case in the 1970s but who went on to become a quiet but ardent supporter of the local arts community, died Friday in Sanibel, Fla.

Mrs. Melton's first husband, the Rev. John K. Barnes, and their two teenage children, Francine and John E., were killed at the family's Russell Cave Road home in 1973 by two men who had escaped from the Federal Building downtown.

After the tragedy, Mrs. Melton decided that the best thing to do was keep busy, said Bill Atkins. The two women were friends for nearly 40 years.

Atkins said Mrs. Melton continued in her role as then-president of the Woman's Club of Central Kentucky, and she was active with and contributed to a host of other organizations, including the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Lexington Philharmonic.

She started the Vassar Club of Central Kentucky and was a trustee of Stuart Hall, both schools from which she had graduated.

She was at one time an assistant society editor of The Lexington Leader and was a drama critic for The Lexington Herald for many years.

Everett McCorvey, director of University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, said Mrs. Melton led the board of the Opera of Central Kentucky and supported its successor, the Lexington Opera Society.

"She has been, really, a pillar of the arts community," he said. "Mary Agnes was one of the silent donors who made sure that opera continued to be viable in Lexington."

But, he said, "she never wanted her name out there. ... Any donation she made, it was always anonymous."

Atkins said Mrs. Melton often spent winters in Florida and was supportive of local theater, as well as the church she attended there.

"She was a very generous person all her life," Atkins said. "She really lived a very full, active life. She was a gracious lady all the way through."

Barnes, Mrs. Melton's first husband, was the rector at St. Hubert's Episcopal Church on Grimes Mill Road in Ford, and their daughter and son, ages 18 and 14, were students at Sayre School.

On Oct. 1, 1973, Wilmer Elvis Scott and William Sloan escaped from federal custody by jumping from the third floor of the Federal Building, according to newspaper accounts.

They overpowered a woman who was in the Sayre School car line with her children, forced her to drive to her home, bound the family and left in the woman's car with a rifle and knives.

They then drove to the Barnes home, where they shot and killed John Barnes and the teens.

They later drove John Barnes' car to Falmouth, where they killed three other people at a motel the next day before being apprehended. The men were convicted of the murders.

Mrs. Melton, known then as Mary Agnes Barnes, was at an Episcopal church convention in Louisville at the time of the killings.

Her memorial service is to be held at St. Hubert's, which she continued to attend.

"The following Sunday (after the murders), Mary Agnes was in her normal place at St. Hubert's," Atkins said.

Mrs. Melton was the widow of Dr. Baxter Melton. She is survived by two stepdaughters.

Services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Saturday. Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Milward Funeral Directors' North Broadway location.

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