In ‘The Demon in Disguise,’ Park City author tells true-crime story of father’s murder
Parkite Ashley Elliott will appear at Dolly’s Bookstore
Parkite Ashley Elliott has a story to tell.
It starts with the spring 2002 murder of her father and her friend in Conway, Arkansas, and continues with her mother’s kidnapping in Utah.
The story also covers Elliott’s outrage at how she perceived that these cases were handled by law enforcement, and the ordeal she experienced maneuvering the criminal justice system to get a capital-murder trial and guilty verdict for the suspect, her one-time step-father.
Elliott will touch on these topics when she does a book signing of her memoir, “The Demon in Disguise,” starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, at Dolly’s Bookstore, 510 Main St.
The idea for Elliott to write the book came from her therapist, who was helping her cope with the post traumatic stress and general anxiety disorders she developed after these incidents.
“The book was to be written from a therapeutic standpoint, which would give me time to process information and feelings, while knowing the possibility that I would be retraumatized from the triggers that would upset my daily activities,” Elliott said.
The soon-to-be-author knew she would need help if she was to embark on the project and found co-author Michael J. Coffino, a published author who also happens to be an attorney.
“From the moment we talked, I knew he was the person who would help me do this, because he was going to help me navigate the legal system and offer me a different perspective than just my emotional one,” Elliott said.
After obtaining information about the two cases through Freedom of Information Act requests, Elliott and Coffino began writing the book, which they finished in December.
“Towards the end of the process, I would allot myself time every morning to write everything and anything I wanted to write about in regards to the crimes,” Elliott said. “It ended up being an emotional throw-up that I gave to Michael, but through my transparency, Michael was able to get a better understanding of who I was, which made for a beautiful collaboration.”
Coffino was more than just a co-writer to Elliott.
“He was like a step-in therapist, who kept things grounded,” she said. “I could say what I wanted to say, and he would offer me feedback and ask me to look at things from a different point of view.”
Elliott initially decided to write the book for herself, because she still stewed over how the cases were handled and how no one in her mother’s extended family seemed to share her feelings of anger, shock and helplessness.
“I wanted to know what had happened to my family, and it never really was my intention to share my story with whomever decided to buy it,” she said. “But it was so impressed upon me by Michael and my therapist about how important it is to share these kinds of things, because everyone goes through pain. Everyone goes through trauma, isolation and being alone.”
Elliott also wanted to write a truthful story.
“We live in such a social-media world that nobody wants to be real, and I think our humanness gets lost,” Elliott said. “So, I wanted to share real experiences and what that did was establish a truth that wasn’t secondhand from an investigator or an attorney.”
One of the truths that emerged from Elliott’s fight to get investigators, prosecutors and family members to take her concerns seriously was how her perception of the criminal justice system differed from reality.
“To be honest, I thought it was like you see in the movies,” she said. “You have the person who did it. You go to court. They go to jail for life.”
What Elliott didn’t know was all cases rely on whether or not the prosecuting attorney files charges.
“They really have no one to answer to,” she said. “They can build the case with their team, based on what the police and investigators find out, but if they feel like they don’t have enough material to build a case, they don’t have to.”
Throughout the writing process, Elliott experienced a roller coaster of emotions.
“I knew I would be putting the most vulnerable portions of my life on display for anyone who purchases the book to experience, and at one point, I was like I can’t do this,” she said. “Luckily, my publisher and co-author were great. They told me to take my time, and I was able to continue after talking with my husband and a few of my close friends who encouraged me to share the story.”
Elliott and Coffino finished the book in December and sent it out to publishers, and it was picked up by Köehler Books.
“I was very grateful for that, but it was kind of weird to have someone excited about a book that was about such a vulnerable time in your life,” she said.
Since writing the book, Elliott has become a victim advocate.
“I think the more people who speak up about things of this nature, the better,” she said.
“Everyone experiences tragedy, pain, loss and shame. Those are things that are common threads for everyone, and I hope people can relate and know they are not alone.”
When: 5:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 8
Where: Dolly’s Bookstore, 510 Main St.
Web: dollysbookstore.com/event and ashleyelliottauthor.com
Poet and activist Tricia Hersey described burnout as trauma during a Sundance Film Festival panel discussion called “Going Nowhere: On Burnout and Attention Crisis” on Saturday at the Filmmaker’s Lodge.
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