Real Name: James Vincent Sullivan
Aliases: None Known
Wanted For: Murder
Missing Since: May 1998
Details: Millionaire James Sullivan met Atlanta socialite Lita McClinton in 1975 while she was working in an Atlanta mall. A few years later they were married, after James divorced his first wife. He lost considerable money and property from the divorce. Lita's family feared that James married her only because of the high power that the family had. The couple later moved into a home in Palm Beach, Florida. During the early 1980s, Lita and James had several serious arguments. Her parents believed that he was trying to control every aspect of her life. In 1985, Lita filed for divorce and left James, moving to a townhouse in Buckhead.
They were in the middle of nasty divorce proceedings when a deliveryman arrived at Lita's door on the morning of January 16, 1987. The man, carrying a dozen roses, asked if she was Lita when she answered the door. When she responded "yes", he shot her once in the head. She was killed instantly. Several witnesses saw the man fleeing the scene of the crime, but could not identify him. Although James was at their home in Palm Beach, authorities believed that it may have been a contract hit.
Forty minutes after the murder, James received a collect phone call from outside of Atlanta. The distance between Lita's home and the phone booth was exactly forty minutes. Telephone records showed that three men checked into a Georgia motel using false identification and made calls to James's home. A flower vendor remembered a nervous man buying the flowers that were found at Lita's home. Authorities learned from associates that James did not want to lose his fortune with another divorce. He also said that he wouldn't be surprised if Lita suffered a "tragic accident". Also, Lita was killed on the same day that she was scheduled to testify in court for the divorce case.
Although the gunman was never identified and the murder weapon was never found, a few months after Lita's murder, James was arrested and charged with her murder. However, the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Eight months after the murder, James married Suki Rogers. However, three years later, he and Suki divorced. In 1991, she told police that James had admitted to her that he had hired someone to kill Lita.
In 1992, James was arrested and charged in federal court with arranging Lita's murder. However, the case was again dismissed. Lita's family were not going to give up; her father Emory McClinton, a former US Department of Transportation, and mother Joann, a Georgia state representative, were among Atlanta's most prominent African American families, and were able to keep the case alive. They also filed a $4 million civil suit against him and won.
In February of 1998, a North Carolina man named Phillip Anthony Harwood was arrested on unrelated charges. Harwood had previously worked for James, moving furniture for him. His girlfriend told police that he had implicated himself in Lita's murder. She also said that shortly after the murder, they had met with James and he paid Harwood for committing the murder. When questioned, Harwood confessed to Lita's murder and claimed that James hired him. He also admitted that he was the man that had picked up the flowers and had made the phone call to James's home that morning.
Finally, in May of 1998, James Sullivan was charged with felony murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Arrangements were made by his attorney for Sullivan to surrender to authorities, but that never happened. Authorities believe that he fled the country shortly after the arrest warrant was made. They suspect that he may be in Ireland, where he has a dual citizenship.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the July 10, 2001 episode. The story was also featured on Dateline and Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice.
Results: Captured. The FBI received tips that James Sullivan was in Cha-am, Thailand and had been living in a condominium with his Thai girlfriend since he vanished in 1998. On July 2, 2002, Sullivan was arrested at their home and was extradited to Georgia. He was convicted of the murder in 2006 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The triggerman, Philip Anthony Harwood, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
- James Sullivan Update on Unsolved Archive
- The Rise And Fall Of James Vincent Sullivan
- Ex-wife: Sullivan Told Her He Killed His Second Wife
- Millionaire Indicted In '87 Murder Of Wife
- Wanted U.S. Man Is Arrested in Thailand
- Palm Beach Millionaire Faces Extradition In Murder Case
- A verdict for a 19-year-old murder case
- Millionaire James Sullivan Spared Death Penalty In Wife's Murder