Friday, January 16, 1987 was a foggy, rainy day in Atlanta, Georgia. Inside Lita McClinton’s townhome, she and her best friend Poppy Marable, who had stayed the night at Lita’s, were discussing the day ahead. For Lita, it was going to be a momentous one. That day, a judge was scheduled to decide her divorce settlement. After eleven years of being legally wed, she was ready to begin the new chapter of her life.
The doorbell rang shortly after 8 a.m. and to Lita’s delight, it was flower delivery man with a box of pink roses. Still wearing her nightgown and bathrobe, she went downstairs to accept the flowers.
The delivery man had a 9 mm gun hidden within the roses. He fired several shots at her, one striking her in the head.
Upstairs, Poppy Marable heard the gunfire. Terrified, she grabbed her three-year-old daughter and hid in a closet. She didn’t come out until the police arrived. A neighbor heard the gunfire and found Lita on the entryway floor, still alive but mortally wounded. Lita was quickly transported to the hospital but died of her wounds. When news of her death got out, her friends and family were convinced that her soon to be ex-husband, James Sullivan, was behind her murder, even though he was residing a state away, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Lita, the beautiful daughter of a U.S. Department of Transportation official and a Georgia state representative, had met Sullivan in 1975, after she had graduated from Spelman College and was working in a boutique. He had been a customer, 34 years old to her 23, divorced with four children and white. She found him charismatic and was beguiled by how the older man courted her. Lita’s parents, however, found him arrogant, maybe even a pathological liar, and worried about how an interracial couple would fare socially, especially in the south. Lita was in love and ultimately, her parents did not interfere. She and Sullivan married in December of 1976.
The newlyweds settled into married life in Macon, where Sullivan ran Crown Beverage, Inc., a company he inherited from his uncle in 1975, while Lita worked in a department store. In 1983, he sold the business and the two moved to the ritzy Palm Beach area and into a prestigious oceanfront mansion. If the Sullivans hoped that an exclusive community like Palm Beach…