Alice Robb thought she was digging into the story of a ballet company that debuted in 2017 and rapidly crashed and burned. "I had no idea that I would be spending the next three years piecing it together, or that it was a story only in the earliest stage of unfolding," she writes for Vanity Fair. Robb's lengthy piece begins with a ballet focus: The newly formed American National Ballet, founded by Doug and Ashley Benefield, promised to do what other companies didn't—welcome talented, racially diverse dancers who were "physically unconventional" for their field (one female was 5-foot-10, another was "more muscular" than typical). The dancers descended on Charleston, South Carolina, that fall; within two months, the company had collapsed, the promised $2.5 million in funding never having materialized.
But from there, Robb digs into the whirlwind romance, marriage, and extreme unraveling of the Benefields. The two met in 2016 at the home of former presidential candidate Ben Carson. Ashley was a 24-year-old former dancer who loved guns and was part of Donald Trump's campaign entourage; Doug was a 54-year-old widow with a 15-year-old. The two married 13 days later. The tale that follows is soap opera-like: tension over Doug's closeness with his daughter; gushy love that gave way to the stress of starting the ballet company; a gun allegedly thrown against a wall in anger; another allegedly fired into the ceiling; separation; allegations of poisoning; a baby; a tracking device and private investigator; a fraught reconciliation; and ultimately, a fatal shooting. (Read the wild tale in full here.)