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On May 12, 2002, police in Conway, Arkansas received a 911 call that two people had been found shot to death at a private residence in an affluent area of town.
Upon their arrival, they found two men lying dead in the foyer of the home, having sustained gunshot wounds to the back of the head. The positions of their bodies — both were lying face down, with their palms upward — was strange. The presence of a white towel on one man’s head and white towel fibers on the other let police know the killer had used the cloth to muffle the sound of the gunshots. They also found a baseball cap with a single .45 caliber round inside.
“My professional opinion was it had all the hallmarks of an execution,” Jim Barrett, detective sergeant for the Conway Police Department, told Oxygen’s “An Unexpected Killer" airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Brandy, the woman who was the first to find the victims, identified the bodies as a businessman named Carter Elliot and a younger man who was a close friend of his named Timmy Wayne Robertson. Brandy, who’d been in a relationship with Carter, told police Robertson had been living with Carter temporarily.
“I just crumpled to the ground and felt like I had been punched in my stomach and all I could do was cry my eyes out,” Carter's daughter, Ashley Elliot, recalled to producers.
As the families began to grieve, investigators turned to answering their biggest question: Who had killed these two men, and why?
Police combed the scene and interviewed neighbors, but no one had heard anything unusual on the day of the shooting, leaving police without any possible suspects. They brought in Brandy for an interview and she told investigators she’d spoken to Carter on the phone the previous night while she was in Memphis, Tennessee; Carter had said he was at home at the time. When Brandy and a friend went to his house the next day after her Memphis trip she found Carter and Robertson's bodies. She couldn't think of anyone who would have wanted to hurt the two men.
Meanwhile, the results of the victims’ autopsies painted a disturbing picture: Both men had been shot while lying face down on the floor. The killer used the same kind of bullet that was recovered from the baseball cap at the crime scene to do it.
Police then turned their attention to the people who knew the victims well. Carter and his ex-wife, Lark, had an acrimonious split 10 years ago after they spent 18 years together. They called Lark in for an interview, where she told them that, following her divorce in 1992, she moved to Salt Lake City, Utah and married a doctor named Richard "Dick" Conte. She maintained her innocence and investigators were able to confirm she was, in fact, thousands of miles away in Utah at the time of the killings.
“This thing was certainly a black cloud that hung over the city of Conway. It was a tragedy,” Cody Hiland, a prosecutor for Faulkner County, told producers. “I think our community needed accountability. They needed for this cloud to be lifted.”
Then, a disturbing event turned the entire case around. Carter’s ex-wife, Lark, suddenly vanished. After she failed to turn up to work one day, police performed a welfare check and found her house empty. When her daughter, Ashley Elliott, called Conte, her mother's now-ex, it became clear what had happened. In between repeatedly apologizing, Conte explained he’d kidnapped Lark and taken her to his remote cabin in an attempt to convince her to resume their relationship.
Police rushed to the cabin and were able to talk Conte into surrendering. Once he was in an interview room with investigators, he admitted to kidnapping Lark in an attempt to win her back, claiming he’d gone crazy after she ended the relationship. He also mentioned Lark's ex-husband, Carter Elliott, had been murdered. Investigators in Utah contacted authorities in Arkansas to confirm Conte's strange claim. They rushed there to speak to Conte themselves and find out what else he knew.
Conte told investigators he’d been working on the night of the murders, but when investigators searched his home, they found ample evidence Conte had been living a darker life than most people probably suspected. His house was dirty and there were guns everywhere, as well as hidden cameras throughout the house.
“Everywhere in that cabin, you could pretty much reach a firearm,” Barrett recalled to producers.
Perhaps most disturbingly, authorities found maps with highlighted routes to Conway, Arkansas, where Lark’s ex-husband, Carter, lived. There were also notes Conte had taken about Carter’s life, as well as bullets — the same kinds of bullets that were used to kill Carter and Robertson.
“For Dick Conte to have the same type of ammunition really raised our suspicions that Dick Conte committed these homicides,” Troy Braswell, a deputy prosecutor for Faulkner County, told producers.
Back in Arkansas, investigators met with Lark, who said Conte was someone who was living “two different lives." Although Conte, an emergency room physician, portrayed himself as an upstanding member of the community, he secretly had a dark side and a cache of weapons in his home. It was something Lark did not want to be a part of, which led to the end of their relationship. Following the split, Conte kept harassing her, she told police.
“The motive in this case was clear. Dick Conte was willing to do whatever it took to get Lark back,” Braswell said. “That meant taking out his competition, Carter Elliott, and Timmy Wayne Robertson got in his way.”
Prosecutors had a tough road ahead of them: They had only circumstantial evidence — no physical evidence linked Conte to the double homicide. However, after accepting a plea deal for kidnapping Lark, Conte was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which gave prosecutors the time needed to make their case for murder.
Nine years later, Dick Conte stood a chance of being released early, much to the chagrin of Lark and Ashley, who feared for their safety. Two days before he was scheduled to be released, Conte was charged with murder and extradited to Arkansas to stand trial.
Prosecutors explained to the jury Conte had dressed as a SWAT team member to gain entry to Carter’s house and had then ordered both men to lie on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs before shooting them both. The unused bullet left behind at the scene was his signature that he left behind.
A jury took less than an hour to convict Conte of capital murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.
“I felt relieved. I feel like justice had been served, and he received the punishment that he deserved,” Ashley said.
Conte died in prison in 2017.
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