Arkansas police suspect Carson City doctor killed businessman

A former Carson-Tahoe Hospital doctor is believed to be responsible for the execution-style murder of a prominent Arkansas businessman and his employee, police said Wednesday.

After a yearlong investigation, Conway, Ark., police say Carson City's Dr. Richard Conte is the only suspect, but they have filed no charges.

Conte is serving 15 years in a Nevada prison for abducting his ex-wife.

"We are obviously still following all kinds of leads, but we have since pretty well eliminated everyone -- but Dr. Conte," said Major Mark Elsinger, commander of the Conway Police Department investigation services division.

The May 18, 2002, murders of businessman Carter Elliott, 49, and employee Timothy Wayne Robertson, 25, shook the town of 45,000 residents. It was the first double homicide in the city.

The brutality of the deaths -- one gunshot wound to the head each -- and Elliott's prominence contributed to the crimes' notoriety, he said.

"This wasn't two drunks who got into a fight over a woman," he said. "This happened in an affluent neighborhood to one of our main businessmen here in town."

The beginning of the investigation garnered few leads, he said. Elliott's family never mentioned Conte, who had married Elliott's ex-wife.

"We were investigating this thing for two months before Dr. Conte came into the picture," Elsinger said.

On June 22, the investigation took an unexpected turn when Conte was arrested for the abduction of Elliott's ex-wife, Lark Gathright-Elliott. The Elliotts had two children together.

Gathright-Elliott told Douglas County authorities that Conte -- to whom she had been briefly married and recently divorced -- ambushed her at her Salt Lake City home on the evening of June 19, when she arrived home from work.

She said Conte forced her at gunpoint to drink a cocktail of sedatives, then loaded her and her belongings into his pickup truck for the 300-mile journey to Northern Nevada. At one point during the trip when she tried to hit him, she said, Conte zapped her with a stun-gun.

Once at Conte's secluded Clear Creek cabin, Gathright-Elliott said, she was handcuffed to his bed and kept sedated.

Intervention on her family's part convinced Conte to release her, and he was taken into custody by Douglas County deputies on June 22.

Elsinger said Arkansas investigators came to Nevada after Douglas County deputies found a map of Conway on Conte's computer. During their first visit, Conway investigators searched Conte's home and removed some weapons that could have been used in the murders. During a second visit a month later, they questioned Conte. Elsinger declined to reveal the details of the interview.

Reports of Conte having an alibi for the time of the murder have since been disputed by the investigation, Elsinger said. Conte has told authorities he was in Utah at the time of the murder with car problems.

A representative of Lunt Motors in Cedar City, Utah, said records indicate "Dick" Conte had repairs done to his Dodge diesel, which was towed to the location May 20. The vehicle was released May 21.

Cedar City is 1,400 miles from Conway.

Elsinger said detectives believe Conte had ample time to commit the murders on the evening of May 18 -- the last time Elliott and Robertson were seen alive -- and get to Cedar City by May 20.

"We have disproved his alibis based on evidence we were able to gather. The more you look at the evidence we do have, it just gives more and more credence to Dr. Conte being the one," Elsinger told the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper earlier this month.

Elsinger speculated Conte was driven by jealousy and the fear Gathright-Elliott and Carter Elliott would reconcile.

As for hard evidence, Elsinger said, two items have been sent to the FBI lab in Washington, D.C. He confirmed one of the items was an unspent bullet found at the scene of the killings, but would not discuss the second item.

Meanwhile, investigators are continuing to follow leads and process evidence. Whether charges will be brought remains to be seen, he said.

"We're awaiting the results from the FBI lab. Once we get the final results, we'll go from there," he said.

Conte, who was a physician for Carson-Tahoe Hospital for 10 years as an independent contractor, pleaded guilty to the kidnapping charge and was sentenced Feb. 18 to 15 years in prison. He is currently in the Lovelock Prison, a medium security facility, where he must serve at least six years before he's eligible for parole.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment