Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lita McClinton Sullivan Murder Case

When Death Came Knocking

In January 1987, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of a well-to-do Atlanta family, Lita McClinton, 34, was on the verge of legally ending her marriage to millionaire James Vincent Sullivan. She had endured a decade of his philandering, lies and emotionally abusive behavior; she simply wasn't going to take it any longer.

Lita McClinton-Sullivan
Lita McClinton-Sullivan

From the beginning, Lita fought to make her marriage work. The couple had gone through numerous counseling sessions, and Lita had even agreed to sign a postnuptial agreement providing that she would receive a $2,500 monthly alimony payment in the event of the failure of the marriage. It seemed she was willing to do almost anything to reduce the stress in her marriage. However, when it became clear that Sullivan had no intention of giving up his adulterous ways Lita decided to fight legally for that to which she believed she was entitled: half of his $5 million estate.

In the fall of 1985, Lita packed up her belongings from the couple's Palm Beach, Fla., oceanfront mansion and fled to their $430,000 Atlanta townhouse to be closer to her beloved family and friends. She needed all the support she could get to help her through what would become a very turbulent divorce. Despite the postnuptial agreement, it appeared that Lita had a significant chance of being awarded half her soon-to-be ex-husband's estate. Yet, the final judgment had still to be made. The divorce settlement was scheduled for January 16, 1987.

Box of flowers found at the scene of the crime
Box of flowers found at the scene of the crime

That morning, hours before the judge was set to decide on her case, Lita heard someone at her front door. Still in her bathrobe, she answered the door and encountered a tall white male carrying a box of flowers. Unbeknownst to her, he was also carrying a 9mm gun. Before Lita had time to react, the man fired several shots at her, one of which struck her in the head. The man fled as she fell to the floor, unconscious but still alive.

Lita's blood-stained foyer
Lita's blood-stained foyer

Lita's neighbor, Bob Christianson heard the shots and rushed to her. Moments earlier, he had seen the suspicious-looking man with flowers in front of Lita's house. When he heard the shots, "he immediately thought that Sullivan had ordered his wife to be killed," Susan Spencer reported for CBS News.  

Police outside Lita's condominium
Police outside Lita's condominium

Lita was rushed to the hospital where doctors frantically worked to save her life. Sadly, their efforts were to no avail; Lita died in the hospital of her wounds. When family and friends learned of Lita's death there was no doubt in their minds that Sullivan was responsible, even though he was hundreds of miles away in Palm Beach. The problem would be proving it.

 

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