For Ashley Waldron, dealing with the murder of her father Carter Elliott in 2002 was difficult. However, dealing with the possibility that the man she believes to be responsible will be released from prison Sunday is like dealing with her father’s death all over again.
Richard Conte, a former emergency room doctor from Nevada and Waldron’s former step-father, is slated to be released from prison after serving a nine-year sentence for kidnapping Waldron’s mother, Lark Gathright-Elliott. Waldron said she is praying that charges can be filed by Cody Hiland, 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, that would keep Conte in prison.
"This man admitted to kidnapping my mother, and I believe he murdered my father. I’m pleading for protection for me and my family," she said. "This situation is looming over us, and it will for the rest of my life, I just want some protection against Conte and whatever he could do if he were to get out of prison."
Conte, who is currently in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, was the Conway Police Department’s prime suspect in the murders of Elliott, 48, and his employee Timothy Robertson, 25. Elliott owned industrial solvent manufacturer Detco and was a mentor to Robertson. The pair were working together to build a deck for Elliott’s home in the Shady Valley subdivision in west Conway when they were killed on May 18, 2002.
At the time of the investigation into the murders, then Conway Police Department Maj. Mark Elsinger told the Log Cabin that the only leads the department had into the murders pointed at Conte.
"We have a large amount of circumstantial evidence that leads us to believe Dr. Richard Conte committed this crime," he said. "We have no other leads; we have followed every possible lead we have come up with and what we have come up with is Dr. Conte."
Elsinger also said at the time that if Conte had not kidnapped Gathright-Elliott a month after the murders, he wouldn’t have been a suspect.
According to investigators, Conte was obsessed with Gathright-Elliott and drove to Salt Lake City, drugged her and placed her and her clothing in the back of his truck. He took her to his Clear Creek home in Douglas County, Nev., where she was found and freed two days after being kidnapped.
Among evidence that was found to link Conte to the murders was that investigators found that Conte’s computer contained copies of downloaded Conway maps and the scanner frequencies for local police agencies.
Elsinger is no longer with the CPD but remembers the case very clearly.
"In my 30 years of law enforcement, that case was one of the most intensive that I was ever involved in," he said. "We all worked very hard on that case, the investigators did a fantastic job and if charges were filed, I’d do whatever I could to help with the case. There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Conte is guilty. There was just too much evidence that linked him to the murders, even though it was circumstantial."
Waldron and her family have remained vigilant about keeping tabs on Conte and making sure that their father’s murder is not forgotten. Waldron said that this attempt to keep Conte in prison and hold him responsible for the murders is all she has to protect her from what might happen if he is released.
"I have everything to worry about," she said. "I have faith in the Lord that he will protect me and my family, but that’s all I have. I feel like I have to keep trying and get this case resolved. I might fail, but I’d rather fail than not try at all; that is what Dad would want. He wasn’t a quitter."
Danny Cook, a business partner and close family friend, echoed Waldron’s sentiments and said that he, too, would like to see Conte held responsible because that is what Elliott would want.
"If this were the other way around and this was me, Carter would be doing everything he could to hold him responsible," Cook said. "He would want to see this guy in jail."
Waldron said that she has been in contact with Hiland and is thankful for the diligence he is giving to her father’s case.
"We have been waiting a very long time for justice," she said. "I don’t feel like Marcus Vaden (the former prosecuting attorney) gave this much attention and didn’t pursue it like he should have, but I am impressed with the way Cody has been working on this. He is in touch with our family and keeps us updated on how things are going. I just hope that he can find enough to file charges on Conte and give my family a little bit of peace."
Hiland said his office has been working hard to find a resolution to this case that is fair.
"This is obviously a very extensive file and we’ve examined it closely over the last few months," he said. "We anticipate making a decision in the very near future about whether or not to pursue prosecution."
(Candie Beck is a staff writer and can be reached at 505-1238 or at firstname.lastname@example.org)