At age 25, Millard Lee was an awkward young man indeed. In 1902, he lived with his parents in Ben Hill County, Georgia. Millard’s father was a prosperous farmer and the family had lived in the area for many years.
“He was not a young man of much ambition and did very little to avail himself of his educational advantages,” one source described him. “He is about 5’10” tall, has light curly hair, is clean-shaven, and of a generally slouchy appearance…His face is said to be rather stupid in appearance. He is a quiet disposition but he said to be of an insinuating nature. He was never known to drink.”
Millard, for whatever reason, had not slipped gracefully into life. He had a peculiarly forceful personality channeled through an intense gaze. Just ten months earlier, he had met Lila May Suttles, a young woman of 19 years of age, and he fixated on her. Lila was a beautiful girl and had grown up in an adjoining neighborhood in Ben Hill County.. She too lived with her parents. Lila May’s father was a doctor.
All the intensity in Millard’s strange personality took shape into his obsession with Miss Suttles. He had led an aimless life but now he found a purpose.
Lila did not share Millard’s feelings. As best I can tell from the old newspaper articles, she thought of him in a friendly way though maybe as a bit of a pest. Millard was persistent. Lila was the girl for him and if she turned down his offer to stop by, he would offer to go walking with her. If she turned down a walk together, he would ask to accompany her to a church picnic. And so on. But Lila always turned Millard down.
Yesterday, May 20, was a Sunday, and the 121st anniversary of Lila’s death. She was killed in the little country church she and Millard and their respective families attended.
As soon as he spotted Lila, Millard eagerly approached her and asked if he could walk her home after the service. But Lila refused, as gently as ever. Millard slumped down in the pew behind her. What was going through his mind?
Perhaps it was hopelessness. As one contemporary article put it, “Although [Millard Lee] is a good family he is said to be a young man of little education and refinement, and was never considered Miss Suttle’s equal socially. He had never been with her much, having called at her home only a few times. Until a few weeks ago it was not noticed that he cared to be with her. Miss Suttles discouraged every advance made by Lee, but as she was a kind-hearted girl she did not care to hurt him and was polite to him on all occasions.”
Whatever was said during the service didn’t calm Millard down one bit. The minister pronounced the benediction and the parishioners rose and began to chatter and inch toward the door. Lila stood talking to another young woman.
Some parishioners near Millard heard him mutter something that sounded like, “If I can’t have her, I’ll kill her.” No one was sure what Lee was talking about and no one believed he was serious.
Lila, still engrossed in conversation, didn’t see Millard coming toward her, nor the pistol in his hand. He lifted the gun and quickly fired a shot that struck the girl in the back. “The first ball entered her back, but the young women’s corset changed [the bullet’s] course and no vital part was reached. An instant later a second shot rang out…This time, Miss Suttles, with a groan, fell to the floor between the seats. The bullet had entered her back above the corset and, striking the shoulder blade, ranged downward entering the heart.”
The churchgoers frantically pulled the girl out and laid her on the alter. Her father rushed to her side and spoke to her–but Lila May was gone.