‘Friend' accused in West Georgia mystery

Marcelle “Marcy” Elliott  looked goth -- with a tattoo on her forearm, piercings and black clothes -- but radiated a sunny disposition. A Facebook photo shows the 21-year-old University of West Georgia student hugging and smooching a tree on Earth Day.

“She was a character you wanted to know more about,” said Emily Woodcock, a West Georgia student who met Elliott when they moved into Bowdon Hall as freshmen.

Yet only a few of Elliott's friends knew about her friendship with Carrollton resident Farrah Strength, 29, who lived in a house with a hearse parked outside. Violence had visited her life before, when her mother fatally shot her father in 2003.

Carrollton police said Strength and a friend, 31-year-old Joshua Clay, kidnapped Elliott the night of July 22. They strangled her, put her in a car, and dumped her body in a swamp, police said.

No motive has emerged, but investigators said Strength confessed in this deadly case of woman-on-woman violence. The dynamics of that relationship may unravel the mystery that grips Carrollton, a college town about 50 miles west of Atlanta.

Caitlin Cox, a philosophy student at West Georgia, said she’d known Elliott about two years and met Strength once.

“Marcy and Farrah, or aka ‘Casper,’ had been friends for years,” Cox said. She said the nickname came from the cartoon ghost, -- “Except for not so friendly.”

Carrollton police said the two women were “really, really close” but had a falling-out about a year ago and hadn’t talked since.

“They studied together, things like that,” Carrollton Police Capt. Chris Dobbs said Monday. Though Strength didn't attend the college, the women had a mutual interest in psychology and forensics.

Dobbs said investigators are trying to figure out the relationship “but it has not come from anybody that they were intimately involved.” He also said it was unclear if Clay was a boyfriend or just a friend.

Cellphone records helped police break the case.

Elliott had been living with her parents in Kennesaw, but on July 22 drove 50 miles to Carrollton to retrieve some books from Strength. Her car was found outside an apartment complex.

Elliott was strangled inside Strength's residence, a tiny mustard-colored house surrounded by trees and shrubs, police said. From the house on Lovvorn Road, the body was taken to a swamp near Laurel Road, police said. Another car parked at the house, not the hearse, was used, Dobbs said.

"The hearse hadn’t been driven in a while," he said. "It was parked out back with grass growing up around it."

When Elliott's family reported her missing, police checked her cellphone records. Strength was one of the last people called. Police questioned her and she led them to the body last Wednesday night.

Strength had previously been into the goth scene, Dobbs said, and had worked at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. She lived with her mother, Christine Strength.

On May 8, 2003, Christine Strength opened fire on her husband, Jerry Strength, with a pistol in each hand. He died and the case was taken to a grand jury, which declined to indict. Authorities said Jerry Strength had physically abused his wife and daughters for years.

When Farrah Strength found out her father was dead, investigators said she said: "Good."

The Elliott family moved to Kennesaw from Fayetteville when Marcy Elliott was in high school, according to a friend, Chad Allison. The two attended Starr's Mill High School in Fayette County and talked on the phone nearly every day, he said.

“We talked a lot about depression … she helped me through it,” he told the AJC.

Even though Elliott liked to dress in black clothing of the Goth style, it was more of a fashion statement than lifestyle.

“She was funny. She was sweet. Always down to earth,” Cox said. “She was doing really good in school. She was into writing and reading.”

The love of a good book may have lured Elliott to her death.

David Elliott, Elliott's father, said Strength told his daughter  to come pick some books she was giving away. Strength reportedly said she and her mother were moving to Mississippi.

"All Marcy told us is she knew someone who had some books for her,” Elliott said. “There was no book found.”