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Review: The Demon in Disguise
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Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Tuesday, September 14, 2021

 

Something about reading true crime that grabs my interest that is different from a work of fiction. Perhaps because the story is true, and the crime affects the narrator. Maybe it is my empathy for the victims and families directly or indirectly connected to the crime. And again, there are those narratives where life can prove stranger-and more titillating than fiction. Such is the case of  -a riveting tale that exposes the darkness that can lie in wait in the human spirit.



Ashley Elliott, was raised in Conway, Arkansas. When she was twenty-five, and just before her upcoming marriage, her life was turned upside down. Her forty-nine-year-old father, Carter Elliott, and his employee, Timmy Wayne, were murdered, each with a bullet to the head. A month later, her mother, Lark was assaulted, drugged, and kidnapped.

For the next ten years, Ashley was bent on bringing to justice the man whom she believed committed both horrendous crimes, Dr. Richard Ralph Conte. Conte was married to her mom for a brief time after her parents divorced.

Dick, as he is referred to in the book, was not charged with the murders until 2011. In 2003, he confessed to the kidnapping of Lark and was sentenced to fifteen years with minimum parole eligibility of six years. Upon his release from prison in 2011, he was extradited from Nevada, where he was serving his sentence, to Arkansas, where he would be stand trial for the homicides of Carter and Timmy.

In the Preface Ashley informs her readers that her story is not so much as to present an exposé of the criminal justice system, but to come to better terms with what took place one late Saturday night in a small Arkansas town in 2002.

As she states, "I had to know more because those ghastly crimes ripped apart what was left of my family and cast a dark shadow over my life. I had to know because who wouldn't want to know what brought about such horrors? Isn't that the natural thing to do?"

From the very outset of the narrative, readers are granted the opportunity to put on their detective hats and tag along with Ashley, absorbing the minutiae of these twisty horrific crimes as she endeavors to put together the circumstantial evidence.

The first part of the book presents readers with a background picture of Ashley's household. Her father is described as the breadwinner. He is gregarious, absent most of the time, a driven man who was untamed and immature. 

Whatever else was required fell on the shoulders of her mom. They were living their "version of a Norman Rockwell painting." But in reality, such was not the case. Inside showcased a flawed family. Her father had a short fuse, and it took little to set it off.  

Her mother had enough of her father, and they broke up when Ashley was fifteen. It didn't take long for her mother to plunge into the singles world, dating, drinking, and partying.

It was Ashley's uncle, Kevin Clark, who introduced Dick Conte to her mother. Over time, the couple grew closer, leading to their brief marriage. 

Ashley never understood why her mother was attracted to Dick, other than he was successful and could care for her in comfort.

What was peculiar about Conte was his fascination with weapons, which decorated his chaotic home in Carson City. The dwelling even came equipped with hidden surveillance cameras that captured everything people did while in the place. This should have been a wake-up call for her mother.

Ashley also recounts her engagement party to her future husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her divorced parents were at the party and seemed to have a wonderful time together. Conte was not invited, but it was later learned that he was lurking in the parking lot spying on the guests, and in particular Ashley's parents, who were "carrying on like teenagers in heat."

The second part of the book walks us through the investigation of the murders of Carter and Timmy. Several theories were advanced regarding the killings. These included an irate boyfriend or husband seeking revenge for Carter's flirtations with their girlfriends or wives. Perhaps Carter had unpaid gambling debts. Other possibilities were investment opportunities that had gone sour, or a disgruntled employee, even possible entanglement with the Mafia. Her mother was also a suspect.

None of these panned out, and the investigation lost momentum until it was re-energized in 2011 under the guidance and leadership of a new prosecutor. 

The concluding part of the book describes Conte's trial in 2013. Prosecutors relied on circumstantial evidence as well as two inmates who came forward to testify against Conte. 

Ashley and her co-author, Michael J. Coffino have approached the story submitting the facts without exaggeration, overstatement, or glee. Obviously, Ashley and Coffino have undertaken substantial research prior to writing the book, and it shows.

A crime story can pull you along for whatever ride the writer has in store, and who doesn't cherish a good thriller or true crime yarn? But the crime can also hook a writer, and as Ashley points out, the book is what transpired in her world when her father was murdered and mother kidnapped. Ashley's account of her journey is told from the singular perspective of her pain and trauma. It feels like a protracted wrestling match between the slow wheels of judicial system and her unceasing resolve in pursuit of justice for her parents.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Ashley

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
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Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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