I waited and waited for Clayton to show remorse

"A friend of mine did something truly evil and I now seriously question my own judgement," writes Lisa Scott, in this account of how her world was turned inside-out on discovering that Clayton Weatherston had killed Sophie Elliott.

One Thursday in the summer of 2008, the clock radio clicked on to Morning Report, as it does every morning in our house.

A 32-year-old Dunedin man had allegedly attacked and killed a 22-year-old woman in her home.

"It's Clayton," said my partner Paul, sitting bolt upright in bed.

"Don't be ridiculous," I said.

Paul, who worked with Clayton at Otago University's economics department, rang another of his work colleagues.

"It is Clayton," Paul said, tears running down his face. "He's killed Sophie."

Earlier that week, Clayton and Sophie, his ex-girlfriend and former student, had a screaming match in Clayton's office.

Clayton came to see Paul afterwards.

Paul told him losing his cool was stupid, that Sophie would be leaving for her new job in Wellington at the end of the week and Clayton never need see her again.

According to Clayton, Sophie was manipulative.

So what, I thought.

She's smart, ambitious, beautiful and only 22 years old.

Of course she's testing her power.

Paul was wary of taking sides in what was clearly a troubled relationship.

That night he had a moment of prescience.

"Something terrible is going to happen," he said.

The day Clayton killed Sophie was his 32nd birthday.

On the whiteboard outside his office door his Mum, who had come to take him out for lunch, had written in red marker, "Happy Birthday Clayt, you don't look a day over 40".

While she was waiting, he was at Sophie's house telling her mother that "he had something for Sophie". 

The birthday message stayed on the whiteboard in the days to follow, jarring with the police "DO NOT CROSS" tape over the door.

I thought violent crime was bred by poverty, drugs and lack of education.

That week, Clayton confirmed my ignorance from the front page of every newspaper in the country, arrogantly calm.

Hair combed into a rooster's peak and wearing new glasses, he looked like he was about to present a PowerPoint.

"God," I thought, "if Clayton could kill someone, then could anyone?"

I had last seen him on Christmas Eve, when he gave us a lift in his junk-strewn car to a party where we drank eggnog.

He was learning French to impress his new girlfriend.

Clayton could be extremely kind and generous.

We did the Otago Central Rail Trail together, in a group that included students from Kenya, Turkey and Cameroon, and Clayton spent hours helping them over the trails.

The women Clayton dated were much younger, and many of his friends were also his students.

This is a common trap for young lecturers, a variation on the Peter Pan syndrome.

Surprisingly, Clayton could be prudish for one who spoke rapturously about the beauty of young girls.

Once, after an innuendo-filled remark of mine, Clayton made a disdainful look of disgust, saying, "It's not all about sex you know."

But when the details of his crime were made public, I thought the frenzied killing hysterically feminine and highly sexualised.

The week Clayton killed Sophie, I overheard two women ghoulishly speculating about what he had done to her body, as if she had never been a person.

"I hear he wanted eyeliner before appearing in court," one laughed.

My face burning, I bit back, saying, "Shut up, you're talking about a friend of mine", knowing in that instant I hated Clayton.

Later that same night at a local bar, a table of women loudly proclaiming Clayton "a monster" was somehow informed that I knew him well.

They gave me a look reserved for whores who collaborated with Nazis, pausing before going over the gruesome details again with relish.

That Friday, Paul was called in to give a statement.

I met him in the Octagon as he walked up Stuart St from the police station.

It was a beautiful night and the after-work drinking crowd were noisily basking in the last rays of sun.

Red-eyed and exhausted, Paul broke into angry sobs.

The interviewing officer had indicated the horrific nature and number of Sophie's wounds.

"Please don't tell me," I said.

His cellphone rang, some of the department's PhD students were driving out to the Abbotsford home of Clayton's parents to offer their support. Would we come?

Clayton's Dad looks just like him, but heavier, the sandy hair thinning.

Clayton's working-class origins may have been what he was so desperately trying to escape in his extreme drive for academic success.

I can only imagine the sort of trophy a well-bred, socially confident girl like Sophie must have represented to him.

Clayton's mother had started smoking again.

We drank while his parents told stories about their boy.

It was a wake of sorts.

The students maintained Clayton's innocence; it was all a terrible mistake.

He had called his mother that day from his cell to reassure her.

"When everyone hears my side of the story I'll be vindicated, don't worry, Mum," he said.

She held on to this promise tenuously.

Clayton's parents and most of his friends still didn't know exactly what he had done.

In the priggish handwriting of a precise 12-year-old girl, Clayton wrote from jail: "It certainly has been a tough time of late and I have been remiss in addressing my correspondence. My current situation feels a bit surreal, like a bad dream I think. I am experiencing an ongoing catharsis which, I anticipate, will continue for a long while. Throughout I remain my own harshest critic. The whole situation is tragic."

It is no exaggeration to say that Paul cried every day for the next six months.

We found out from others in the department that this constant crying was common.

Orphans on the news, televised dog trials, anything could set it off.

At the depositions hearing, the pathetically slow stenographer made everyone repeat everything twice.

Paul wept in court as he admitted that he had once liked Clayton very much.

On January 9 this year, a memorial service for Sophie was held next to the cherry tree planted for her on the Otago University campus.

The eulogies and speeches sounded whispered, meek; a fine drizzle lit on everyone's hair.

"Circle us with light," said the celebrant, "and keep the darkness out."

"Everyone loved Sophie," said her father Gil, "everyone except one person, who hated her."

We went back to the Ravensbourne house for refreshments, former friends of the killer paying our shame-filled respects over savouries, while upstairs the ghost of terrible violence lingered.

On every wall were tributes to Sophie, her academic diplomas and a photograph of her brother receiving her posthumously awarded first-class honours degree in her place.

"Maybe we should leave after what has happened here," said her mother Lesley, "but Sophie loved this place."

The lush trees smelled of rain.

I imagined having to run to the nearest neighbours for help in this almost rural part of Dunedin.

Sophie's Mum agreed the killing was somehow sexual.

Worried about her daughter's relationship, Sophie had reassured her, "I'm using protection."

The blackness of this irony slapped us all.

Driving home, I rang my daughter, also called Sophie, to tell her how much I loved her.

At the trial, Sophie's mother had to again go through the ordeal of describing Clayton straddling and continuing to stab her already dead daughter.

I laughed bitterly at the Stone Age chauvinism of the provocation defence and cried in open-mouthed horror as Clayton smiled and simpered at the camera, the ringleader of his own circus, boasting of his achievements and precocious genius.

"This is what a killer looks like," I thought.

Sophie was promiscuous, said the defence, she was "mean" to Clayton, she was jealous and controlling, she was trying to destroy him.

Here was the victim, raped in court in front of her parents.

Surreally, the re-enactment of her death had already been filmed for television.

Once I dreamed I debated with Clayton and prevented the worst from happening.

Paul dreams he is hunting Clayton, chasing him through a forest.

When he catches up he slices him in half, only to find out it isn't Clayton at all.

In the third week of the trial, I found out what Clayton had done.

Sophie Elliott died of massive blood loss after Clayton inflicted 216 stab or cut wounds and seven blunt force injuries on her slight frame.

She would have been alive and attempting to defend herself in the initial stages of a prolonged and focused attack in which Clayton concentrated on disfiguring her face and body - even hacking off hunks of the beautiful long brown hair of which she was so proud.

Clayton had left her body lying across a partially packed suitcase disfigured and displayed without dignity.

In his monumental pettiness, when he killed her, he was carrying her cheque for damage she had caused to his door.

Stupidly, people have said, "Clayton was always a monster".

Some now pretend they were never his friend and ostracise any who admit it, but you can't undo a person and remake them again as a means to explain their actions or forgive your own.

A friend of mine did something truly evil and I now seriously question my own judgement.

Am I even a good person? I once prided myself on the cast of quirky characters who surrounded me, friends from all walks of life, but now I wonder, "What else lies beneath the skin?"

These days I find myself over-zealously protecting Paul and my Sophie in an almost guard-dog fashion, afraid someone might hurt them, wanting to shelter them from bad relationships.

I don't make new friends and wrap myself in those I have.

Clayton was in my house, around my child, and I invited him there.

A stain of shame and a feeling of responsibility cloaks me.

Knowing now that Clayton belittled and abused Sophie behind closed doors while painting her black to his friends, and that not one tremor of his true nature registered with me, makes me feel sick.

I waited and waited for Clayton to show remorse, to say he was sorry, for him to exhibit any emotion other than smug superiority and when that never happened, I just felt numb.

Paul and I watched as Clayton smirked condescendingly at the prosecution, denied the memory of her killing and, in a crass attempt to have the last word, said that Sophie was never his idea of beautiful.

"You know the best way to describe how this feels?" Paul said.


Lisa Scott is a Dunedin writer.

Add a Comment