Arriving at his home about 11:00 that night, Willis rushed upstairs, burst into the bedroom, and sure enough, he found his wife in bed with his friend W. C. Hultz. Willis drew his revolver and started firing. Hultz caught a bullet in the side before jumping out the open bedroom window. The fall broke his arm, but the wound was not fatal and Hultz got away that night.
The next day Willis began divorce proceedings and the divorce decree was granted without opposition from his wife. He also filed a law suit against W. C. Hultz seeking $25,000 damages for the “debauchery of his wife.” Hultz had been nursed back to health by his sister and when the suit was filed he decided it would be a good time to move to Chicago.
Lemuel Willis had formerly been the sheriff of Sullivan County and W. C. Hultz was a former prosecuting attorney who was considering a run for congress. They were fellow Democrats who had worked together both professionally and politically, and, prior to September 1, were considered good friends.
By Christmas, Hultz had had enough of Chicago. He declared that he was not afraid of Willis and decided to move back to his home in Sullivan. At the same time he had his attorney offer Willis $1,000 to settle the lawsuit.
Willis’s attorney advised him to take the offer because $1,000 was better than nothing. Willis was livid. “It is not the money I want.” He said, “He has ruined my home and I will hold the judgement against him as long as he lives. I will follow him to the end of the earth and to his grave.”
At 8:30, the morning of December 24, 1893, W. C. Hultz came out of his office on Main Street, in Sullivan. In a darkened doorway nearby, Lemuel Willis was waiting, disguised as a tramp in a wig and false whiskers, wearing a ragged overcoat and rubber boots. When Hultz passed him, Willis came out of the shadows, pulled a double barreled shotgun from his coat, and shot Hultz in the back. Hultz turned around and Willis fired again, hitting him the shoulder. Luke Lucas, a stable employee ran to the wounded man’s aid and Hultz lived just long enough to tell him, “Luke, Lem Willis has shot me.”
Willis reloaded his shotgun and fled the scene. He shed his tramp costume and was getting into his buggy when a constable arrested him for murder. The streets of Sullivan were now crowded with people anxious to get a glimpse of the killer. Public opinion had been on Willis’s side after the September shooting, but shooting Hultz in the back had turned the people of Sullivan against Willis and there was talk of lynching. Fortunately no one acted; it would have been a bloody event since, in addition to the shotgun, Willis was armed with two revolvers.
It wasn’t until the following September that Willis was tried for the murder of W. C. Hultz. Believing that he could not get a fair trial in Sullivan, his attorneys had successfully moved for a change venue, and the trial was held in Vincennes, in Knox County. The trial was a sensation, with prominent Indiana lawyers representing each side. The prosecution alone called more than one hundred witnesses. Mrs. Willis broke down and sobbed hysterically on the stand and when Lemuel Willis took the stand he also burst into tears, prompting one newspaper to call it “the most pathetic scene ever witnesses in the Knox County court room.”
Willis’s plea was unique; he pled both not guilty, and insane at the time of the act. It was the second plea that moved the jury, and Lemuel Willis was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity.
"Disguised as a Tramp." Evansville Courier and Press 26 Dec 1893.
"Shot Dead by Man in Mask and Wig." The New York Times 25 Dec 1893.
"Shot his Wife's Paramour." Elkhart Daily Review 4 Sep 1893.
"Shot his wife's Paramour." The National Police Gazette 23 Sep 1893.
"The Usual Verdict." Daily Illinois State Register 21 Sep 1894.
"The Willis Trial." Evansville Courier and Press 23 Apr 1894.
"Willis Held." Marion Daily Star 30 Dec 1893.