When 54-year-old Doug Benefield met retired ballerina Ashley Byers who was 30 years his junior, at a political fundraiser in 2016, they bonded over their love of guns. Ashley’s interest in guns made such an impression on Doug that he called her “Ashley Oakley” in a flirtatious text message after their first encounter. (This was a reference to Annie Oakley was a U.S. Western 19th century sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.) It was a flirtatious bond with ominous foreshadowing. What Doug didn’t know when he teasingly called her “Ashley Oakley” is that he would meet his demise at the end of Ashley’s gun.
At first, though, Ashely and Doug’s relationship flourished quickly. It ignited and exploded like a firework.
Doug wanted to help Ashley’s dreams come true. She worked as a hype person for Donald Trump at the time, but she really wanted to return to her passion: ballet.
Ashley had been unable to continue her ballet career because of her tall stature. The ballet industry is notoriously exclusionary. Ashley wanted to create a more inclusive ballet company, and Doug promised to help her.
Only 13 days after their first meeting in Florida at the home of Republican politician Ben Carson, Doug and Ashely got married in Charleston, South Carolina, where Doug lived.
Doug didn’t tell his 15-year-old daughter Eva about the whirlwind marriage, though. His wife, and Eva’s mother, Renee had only died nine months before from a heart condition.
Eva was still grieving the fresh wound of her mother’s death and was not exactly excited about her father’s new relationship with a woman only a decade older than herself.
One day Doug called Eva down to talk to them about their relationship. She told them that the only thing she’d want to know about their relationship is if they were engaged. That’s when they dropped a bomb on Eva: They were already married.
Doug tried to convince Eva to accept Ashley in a motherly role, but Eva wasn’t interested. Tensions in the house only increased when they allowed Eva to move a friend into the house with them.
During one heated argument, Doug shot a hole in the ceiling of the house. His friend Trip Cormeny told CBS that Doug felt immense regret about discharging the gun in the house.
Still, it was a sign that Doug was comfortable using a gun during times of conflict. This scary incident didn’t put a damper on Doug and Ashley’s marriage, though. Only two days after the gun incident. they went forward with a formal wedding reception.
They also had other big plans in the works, a project called American National Ballet, or ANB.
ANB would be based in Charleston, SC and Doug soon said he’d found $10 million in funding for an inclusive ballet that would not discriminate based on height, body type, shape, or skin color.
In many ways, Doug and Ashley didn't know what they were getting into, but they had high ambitions and hopes. In the summer of 2017, they held auditions.
Ashely reached out to dancer Sara Murawski, who had just been fired as the principal dancer of the Pennsylvania ballet for being too tall. She had just finished a season as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Joining the
ANB after this disappointment could have been an amazing opportunity if it were real. The ANB, however, was an illusion. Some would call it a scam.