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Mystery shrouds slaying of familiar face

Marcia Elliott loved sushi, made silver jewelry and dreamed of a job in the beauty industry.

She dated a radio DJ and the son of a wealthy Italian restaurant owner.

The 29-year-old also fought a raging heroin and crack cocaine habit.

"She wanted to stay clean," said her mother, Cheri Elliott, 55.

Marcia Elliott's barefoot body was found under an oak tree on the north bank of Mirror Lake on July 29. At first, police thought she died of a drug overdose, but closer examination revealed Elliott was killed.

She was the city's 11th homicide of the year, and her death remains a mystery. A striking woman with long, dark hair and eyes that flickered between blue and green, Elliott was a downtown fixture, working as a waitress, riding her bicycle and walking her basset hound, Angela.

Her father held out hope that his daughter would find her way.

"People think of them as just involved in crack and drugs, but when it comes down to your kid, it becomes real personal," said Lee Elliott, 55, a mortgage broker in downtown St. Petersburg. "When you lose your kid, it just hurts."

Investigators have no suspects and are struggling for clues in the case. They distributed two dozen fliers to downtown businesses, announcing a $2,000 reward. The only lead: a man who said he saw a woman being chased by a man near the shoreline where Elliott's body was found at 600 Mirror Lake Drive.

"Maybe she owed somebody some money," said lead detective Karl Sauer, who revisited the crime scene last week. "Maybe she got into an argument with someone out here."

Police will only say Elliott suffered "upper body trauma." Eyeglasses and flip-flops, possibly hers, were found by the lake. Police did not find signs of a struggle.

"She was not a weak girl," her father said. "I find it hard to believe that she wouldn't fight."

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A year ago, Marcia Elliott was trying to kick heroin when she went on a date with Jeffrey Brown, 31. The two were familiar faces around downtown bars and restaurants. They had drinks one evening last June at Pacific Wave restaurant and then went back to her apartment.

Sometime overnight, Brown went into Elliott's jewelry box and swallowed her liquid methadone, the opiate treatment for heroin addiction, police said. Brown died in her bed.

"That definitely sent her over the edge," said Elliott's best friend, Jane Thompson-Meade, 27. "She couldn't keep it together."

It would be one of several misfortunes in Elliott's life.

Her parents split when she was 3, and she moved with her mother about a half-dozen times, between St. Petersburg and Brooksville and Virginia and Tennessee.

In her senior year at Hernando High School in Brooksville, Elliott got pneumonia, missed two months of school and couldn't graduate. Instead, she earned a high school equivalency certificate.

Elliott pursued a future _ but didn't see it through. She began classes at St. Petersburg College, then stopped. She enrolled in beauty classes at Loraine's Academy, and modeling at Barbizon, but dropped out. She usually ended up dancing at a gentleman's club to make quick money.

"She would be all gung-ho and interested in starting something and then would quickly lose interest," said her mother, Cheri Elliott, a waitress in Virginia. "I look back and think she must have had attention deficit disorder."

Still, Marcia Elliott was meticulous about her looks, keeping her bangs trimmed and her complexion smooth with cream. She drew energy from friendships with women. A Christmas card to Thompson-Meade featured two women entwined. Elliott wrote: "The front of the card reminds me of us in a way because you can't tell where one ends and the next begins like us. We are practically one."

In her 20s, Elliott moonlighted as an art model at the University of South Florida, her family said. She served food at downtown restaurants, including Jo Jo's In Citta.

That's where she met and fell in love with the former owner's son, Christian Radosti, who lived in Tierra Verde.

She rode in his Mercedes. They went to dog races, ate sushi and partied in Ybor City. They strolled the beach at night.

"She was gorgeous," said Radosti, 31. "Marcia was a star."

Soon, they were living together. And soon, they were doing heroin together. "Our life became heroin," Radosti said. At her peak, Elliott was shooting heroin into her left arm every four hours, her mother said.

Elliott and Radosti also tried to kick heroin together, entering treatment in Clearwater. The couple's parents tried to keep them away from each other. They made them live far apart. He left for Italy and Pennsylvania.

After taking methadone for 10 months to try and overcome her heroin addiction, Elliott suffered a major setback last year.

"Marci's doing crack," a friend told her mother.

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The night before her body was found, Elliott visited the home of popular hair salon owner Jim Botts. She was with a man she met a week earlier at Mermaids, a gentleman's club on St. Pete Beach.

Botts, 48, was an old friend. When she was younger, she got her hair done at his salon. He gave her money when the power was cut to her apartment because she didn't pay the bill.

About 6:30 p.m. July 28, Elliott showed up at Botts' St. Petersburg home and disappeared in the bathroom for long stretches.

Botts said she was searching for painkillers he takes for his throat cancer. He gave her peach wine from his wine rack instead.

The man with Elliott told Botts his name was Steve, and he was a computer programmer visiting from Jacksonville. Elliott and the man left Botts' house at about 8 p.m. She was supposed to call Botts to have dinner at the Central Avenue Seafood & Oyster Bar.

"As the night went on, I never heard from her," Botts said.

Somehow, Elliott ended up at Mirror Lake, near downtown.

It's unclear whether the man from Jacksonville went with her. He did not match the description of the man who was seen chasing a woman at the lake between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

About 7:50 a.m. July 29, a passer-by found Elliott on her back. Her feet faced the shoreline. Her arms rested by her side.

"She was a ball of energy on this planet, and now she's gone," said Thompson-Meade, Elliott's best friend.

A bouquet of artificial red flowers marks the spot where her body was found.

Leanora Minai can be reached at minaisptimes.com or (727) 893-8406.

REWARD OFFERED

A $2,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of Marcia Elliott's killer. Anyone with information is asked to call St. Petersburg police Detective Karl Sauer at (727) 893-4904.

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