In January 2008, 22-year-old Sophie Elliott was packing up her life. She was preparing to move from her family home in Dunedin, NZ, to the country’s capital of Wellington to take up a post at the Treasury. Sophie’s mother Lesley was helping her get ready for the big move when Sophie’s ex-boyfriend, Clayton Weatherston, showed up. Weatherston was a tutor of Sophie’s at her university, and they had an intense on-off relationship; Sophie had recently disclosed to family and friends that he had assaulted her and it was over.
Weatherston disappeared with Sophie into her room. She returned to her mother within five minutes, saying Clayton was just sitting there, not speaking. It was the last time Lesley Elliott would talk with her daughter. Sophie went back to her room, and was stabbed 216 times by Weatherston.
Written by Lesley Elliott, Sophie’s Legacy recounts the story of Sophie’s brutal murder, and the trial of her killer, Clayton Weatherston, as experienced by Sophie’s family. The book also serves as Elliott’s way of restoring her daughter’s character, which was viciously attacked over the course of the trial in the defence’s efforts to discredit Sophie and minimise – even justify – Weatherston’s actions. Finally, it is a warning to young women like Sophie, who might find themselves caught up in similar situations, to get out before it is too late.
I would say the opening chapters are the hardest to read, but really, the entire book is a struggle. It’s one of those books that is hard to review, a gut-punch of a story that you cannot criticise but merely try to digest. I finished it just under an hour ago, and I’m still struggling. Elliott does not hold back, laying her grief, anger and loss bare, and as a result, any reader would probably be left reeling. Elliott’s honesty in describing what happened to her daughter is admirable – she states that she “wrestled” with how much detail to give but acknowledges that “we have to face reality”. Through her diary entries, photos, and efforts to get contributions from others about her beloved daughter, Elliott has established a clear picture of Sophie and the tragedy of her death.
It is testament to the Elliott family’s strength that they have salvaged something from the horror they have been through. Lesley Elliott writes about creating the Sophie Elliott Foundation, which aims to “raise awareness about the signs of abuse in dating-relationships”. She and her husband also advocate for changes to New Zealand’s justice system, so that other families do not have to go through seeing their murdered loved ones seemingly ‘put on trial’.
This is a harrowing read, but one worth going through.
For more information about the foundation and issues raised in Sophie’s Legacy, go to http://www.sophieelliottfoundation.co.nz