Family reunited after woman’s kidnapping
Lark Gathright Elliott woke up in her Utah home Monday.
It was her first full day back from an ordeal that spanned two states, beginning with being kidnapped at gunpoint from her home Thursday night and ending Friday drugged and handcuffed to a bed at the Carson City-area home of the man allegedly responsible for it all — Dr. Richard Conte, her ex-husband.
“Lark didn’t show up for work on Thursday. Sometime in the late afternoon on Friday was when we really started beginning to get concerned about her. This was out of character for Lark, ” explained her brother Richard Gathright from Elliott’s Salt Lake City home Monday.
Gathright, an attorney in Pompano Beach, Fla., said his niece called him to express concerns about her mother’s disappearance. While he waited for word, he received an e-mail, purportedly from Elliott,45, saying she was OK.
Gathright said he knew it couldn’t be from his sister.
“There were certain things in the e-mails that made it clear the person sending them was someone who had knowledge of certain aspects of the family. When I saw the e-mail I received, I recognized it was not my sister.”
Family members began calling friends and family to locate Elliott.
One of the people Elliott’s daughter, Ashley, called was Conte, 54.
“She confronted him,” he said. “She said to Dick, ‘There’s something wrong. You’re saying you don’t know where she is, but I want to know what’s going on. I don’t believe you.'”
Gathright said when Elliott’s son Trey got on the phone, Conte admitted he had Elliott with him, handcuffed to his bed and drugged.
“At that point we knew we had a real serious problem,” Gathright said.
As Trey spoke with Conte, Ashley began calling police in Utah and Carson City.
Upon hearing the circumstances, Conte’s longtime friend, Dr. Kevin Clark, began negotiating the release of Elliott, Gathright said.
“He got on the phone with Dick at Dick’s place in Carson City and said, ‘What are you doing? What are you trying to accomplish? You’re not going to hurt Lark. You’re not going to hurt yourself,'” Gathright recalled. “That seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Kevin got Dick to release Lark.”
Elliott stumbled from the home on Friday evening. A friend of Conte’s who had just arrived took her into her car and drove down the driveway.
Conte surrendered peacefully to police.
“He knew the police would be there,” Gathright said.
Elliott was taken to Washoe Medical Center where she was treated for pain and loss of feeling in her thumbs from the restraints. Gathright said his sister was bruised and tired when she was released.
Lark Elliott was surprised to see her ex-husband in the middle of the night Wednesday.
She was even more surprised when he allegedly put a gun to her head and threatened to shoot her if she didn’t take the medication he was offering.
“She refused to take it at first. He took a taste of them and said, ‘They’re not going to kill you, they’ll just knock you out,'” according to Gathright. “She thought to herself, ‘Well, if I’m going to die, I might as well die this way,’ and took the pills.”
With Elliott handcuffed and near-unconsciousness, Conte allegedly packed up her things into garbage bags.
“Dick packed anything that she would reasonably want to live someplace else. He cleared her out of her home, lock, stock and barrel,” he said.
Conte then allegedly put Elliott and her belongings in a diesel truck for the journey back to Nevada.
At points during the nine-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Utah, a drugged Elliott would attempt to get away.
“She hit him in the head with a tire iron once and she got (hit with) the stun gun,” Gathright said.
He said when she awoke next, she was at Conte’s home in the Clear Creek area south of Carson City.
For more than 20 years, Conte was a friend to the Gathright family. He was respected and well-liked, Gathright said.
“This is a family who was very, very close to Dick. We are extremely disappointed over what has transpired,” he said.
“He’s a recognized emergency response surgeon and very highly thought of in the Carson City community and he did an awful lot of good for our family.”
Elliott and Conte were married Dec. 1, 2001, but the union was short lived, Gathright said.
“He was infatuated with my sister. She was everything he ever wanted and he did interesting things, had been around the world and had a fairly high level of wealth that allowed him to do those things,” he said. “But Dick’s style of living was very primitive. He would have deer meat hanging from a hook in the living room. And she was more of a city person, sophisticated. It became very apparent that living together as husband and wife wasn’t going to work. Dick just didn’t want to accept that.”
He said despite what transpired being completely out of character for Conte, the family is in fear of him.
“Lark is a terrible victim. She is in fear for her life. She didn’t think she was going to make it out of there,” he said. “We don’t know ultimately what he intended to do. Maybe he thought he could capture her and bring her around to loving him.”
Gathright said the family doesn’t want to see Conte in jail for the rest of his life, nor do they hate him.
“We are absolutely sick he has to stay in jail. We liked this guy. We don’t want him hurt, but we have to do everything possible to keep him incarcerated. Fundamentally Lark and her family must be protected at all costs. Secondarily, Lark did not undertake this; Dick did, and he is going to have to bear responsibility for the things he did,” he said.
The family hopes $1 million bail will keep Conte behind bars for a while.
“He is a world traveler. He has associates in Europe and more than one passport. We are afraid if he is released, he will disappear only to come back at some other time.”
Gathright doesn’t believe Conte is responsible for the murders of Elliott’s ex-husband Carter Elliott and his employee Timothy Robertson in Conway, Ark., on May 16.
He said when investigators went into Conte’s home after his surrender Friday, they found a mapquest.com map of Conway, Ark., on his computer.
An unnamed source close to the investigation said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department contacted the Conway Police Department because items in Conte’s home appeared to be related to the Carter-Elliott murder.
“Lark was being tracked by Dick. Dick was trying to keep tabs on her. So maps and other evidence that might have surfaced in (the search warrant of Conte’s home) don’t necessarily connect him to the death of Carter Elliott,” Gathright said.
“People are trying to tie some relationship to the death of Ashley’s and Trey’s father to Lark’s kidnapping. No one had any reason to believe Dick would have anything to do with that. He didn’t have motivation; he didn’t have access. There are plenty of people in Carter’s past and in Carter’s dealings that would.”