Real Name: Lita LaVaughn McClinton Sullivan
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Date: January 16, 1987
Details: Atlanta socialite Lita McClinton met Boston millionaire James Sullivan in 1975 while she was working in an Atlanta mall. A few years later they were married, after he divorced his first wife. He lost considerable money and property from the divorce. Her family feared that he married her only because of the high power that they had. They later moved into a home in Palm Beach, Florida. During the early 1980s, they had several serious arguments. Her parents believed that he was trying to control every aspect of her life. In 1985, she filed for divorce and left him, 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. He, 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 him 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 Lita's 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' 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, she 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 it. However, the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Eight months later, he married Suki Rogers. However, three years later, they divorced. In 1991, she told police that he 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. Her family were not going to give up; her father, Emory, 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 1998, a North Carolina man named Phillip Harwood was arrested on unrelated charges. He 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, they had met with him and he paid Phillip for committing it When questioned, Phillip confessed to it 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' home that morning.
Finally, in May 1998, James was charged with felony murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Arrangements were made by his attorney for him 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.
Suspects: James has been charged with arranging Lita's murder. He is believed to have hired Phillip Harwood to commit the crime.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the July 10, 2001 episode. It was also featured on Dateline and Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege, and Justice.
Results: Solved. James was captured on July 2, 2002, by the FBI while he was living with his Thai girlfriend in a condominium located in Cha-am, Thailand. They had been under surveillance for about a month. He was extradited to Georgia to face murder charges. In 2006, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The triggerman, Phillip Harwood, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
- Lita McClinton on Wikipedia
- African-American Socialite Murdered
- Ex-wife: Sullivan Told Her He Killed His Second Wife
- Millionaire Indicted in '87 Murder of Wife
- Palm Beach Millionaire Faces Extradition in Murder Case
- Millionaire Convicted of Murder in Wife's Death
- Sullivan vs. State
- Lita McClinton on Find a Grave