A riveting narrative that pieces together the life and murder of Black socialite Lita McClinton Sullivan—and the journey to bring her true killer to justice.
The murder of Lita McClinton Sullivan sent shockwaves through the affluent Atlanta suburb of Buckhead, Georgia like few other crimes before it. The neighborhood, with its stately mansions and top-tier schools, was simply not the kind of place where women were gunned down in cold blood in broad daylight. How many socialites had enemies so dangerous they would be murdered by a hitman pretending to deliver roses at 8:15 in the morning?
Lita was an intelligent, accomplished, and stunning Black woman from a respected Atlanta family, but her interracial marriage to millionaire Jim Sullivan was still a newsworthy occurrence in 1970s Georgia. Lita and Jim were opposites in many ways: he was a decade older; she grew up a debutante in the South, he came from working-class Boston; she was Black and he was white. But they fell in love and their differences only fueled their determination to make it work.
At first, Jim was extravagant and adoring, but behind closed doors he became oddly frugal and controlling. He’d throw lavish dinner parties while wearing his dead uncle’s underwear. He kept Lita on a tight allowance and nickel and dimed her every expense. Compounded with the blatant racism in the middle-Georgia town of Macon, Lita grew isolated and alone, and soon suspicious of Jim’s ever-roving eye. When he sold the company he inherited for millions, Jim bought a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida—without telling Lita.
With its beachfront mansions and private-club culture, Palm Beach residents were almost entirely white, and Lita was never truly welcomed at the black-tie galas and gossipy garden parties. And when she found another woman’s lingerie in her bed, she decided she’d had enough. After a decade of marriage, she loaded up her belongings in a U-Haul and never looked back.
But as the legal battle over the divorce raged and Jim’s financial outlook grew precarious, he had a chance encounter with a long-haul trucker who was also a smooth-talking ex-con who said he could he’d "take care" of Jim’s wife problem. . . .
In A Devil Went Down to Georgia, award-winning magazine writer and book author Deb Miller Landau details the shocking events that followed Lita’s murder in 1987, including the surprising lack of evidence; racial bias inherent in the justice system; the McClinton family’s dedication; and the international manhunt for Lita’s killer. Full of twists and turns, legal battles, and a family’s unrelenting dedication to justice, Landau's rigorous investigation is the first complete account of this tragic American crime and brings long-overdue recognition to Lita and reveals how her family finally achieved justice.
Deb Miller Landau first began investigating Lita McClinton Sullivan's murder for Atlanta Magazine in the early 2000’s and has since become an authority on the case. Her article on the murder was anthologized in Harper Perennial's Best American Crime Writing, and her work has been cited by news stories and TV documentaries, including America's Most Wanted, Dateline, Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege & Justice, FBI: Criminal Pursuit and, most recently, Oxygen Network's 2022 Real Murders of Atlanta. Additionally, she appears as a primary on-screen expert in BET's 2019 docudrama, Murder in the Thirst.
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