A Clinton County Love Triangle: The Murder of Lefielia Worlds
Jealousy is a classic motive for murder. Stories of love triangles are not uncommon motives of heinous crimes. Even in the generally safe Clinton County, Illinois, jealously can lead to violent and deadly consequences. On March 13th, 1996, the Clinton County 911 dispatchers received a call about a shooting occurring at a trailer home in Posey. The shooting incident left one woman dead, and a man critically injured. This is the story of Lefielia Worlds.
Lefielia Worlds, known as “Fellie”, was born May 14th, 1960, to James and Daphene Casconi in Roseburg, Oregon. The family eventually relocated to Kell, Illinois, a small town in Marion County. Fellie married Robert Worlds, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1987. Fellie was the mother of two children. According to the Breese Journal (1996), Fellie was working at the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia when she met Teena Mueller. Tee00na, a registered nurse, was married, but the two began an affair.
Teena was married to another co-worker, James Mueller. The couple resided in a trailer home in Posey, Illinois. The couple were parents to two children, ages eleven and fifteen at the time of the shooting. Teena worked as a Registered Nurse. In 1992, the Mueller’s marriage began to suffer after James had an affair with a female co-worker. Teena was devastated, but her husband suggested that she have an affair of her own to “even the score” (Breese Journal, 1998). James was not okay with her having an affair with a man, however, and suggested she find another woman instead.
Teena had been with other women before, but not since her marriage. James and Teena placed personal ads looking for someone for Teena to have an affair with. Between 1992-1994, Teena had affairs with multiple women. Teena met Lefielia in 1994, but they didn’t start a romantic relationship until August of 1995. Teena had strong feelings for Fellie and planned to spend her life with the woman.
On October 30th, 1995, James learned of his wife’s affair with Fellie and her plans to leave him for the woman. According to Teena, “He told me to would kill her, kill me, and then kill himself” (Breese Journal, 1998). Over the next several months, Teena and James each took out restraining orders on one another, which were eventually dismissed. James stated in his petition that he was afraid of his wife because she had a gun. The two separated, alternating days at the home with their children as they battled for custody.
On March 13th, 1996, Clinton County 911 dispatchers received a call at approximately 1:20 pm from Teena Mueller. Teena sounded hysterical and upset. She explained someone had been shot. During the call, a struggle was heard, and another shot fired. A few minutes later, James Mueller called 911 reporting that he had been shot in the chest. Upon arrival to the home, Lefielia was pronounced dead at the scene, having been shot five times. James Mueller was shot once in the chest and was bleeding profusely. He was transported to a St. Louis hospital in critical condition.
Teena’s was taken in for questioning. Teena explained that she had left work early that day to spend time with Fellie. The couple arrived at the Mueller trailer, where James was waiting. It was not his week with the kids, so an argument began related to the affair and impending divorce. Fellie and James exchanged some harsh words before James left the home but returned about fifteen minutes later. The two women were in a back bedroom when James reappeared in the doorway.
Teena says her estranged husband than made a comment about his wife leaving him for another woman before pulling out a pistol from his pocket and opening fire on Lefielia. Teena said she was hysterical and pleaded with James to let her call an ambulance, but he refused to allow it. He then told her that “he would not go to prison for shooting Worlds, and she had a choice, he would give her the gun to shoot herself or he would shoot her” (Breese Journal, 1996). Teena said she told him she would shoot herself and took the gun.
Teena said she intentionally tricked her James and instantly pulled the gun on him while she called 911. During the 911 call, James rushed her to attempt to get the gun back in his possession. Teena fired one shot into James’ chest in an act of self-defense. That was her version of the events, and a neighbor corroborated the story by confirming she saw James leave and then come back, followed by hearing the gun shots.
There were some issues with the evidence, however. James Mueller’s prints were not on the gun. Could he have wiped the prints off before giving the gun to his estranged wife? However, the detective in the case said, “fingerprints are not as readable as one would expect” (Breese Journal, 1996). Once he was conscious and stable, James Mueller was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Lefielia Worlds.
Clinton County Police Captain Jim Hummert testified at trial that while waiting for an ambulance, James Mueller asked his wife why she had shot him. She responded that she was in fear for her life. The evidence regarding the fingerprints was presented, but again the experts explained that not all surfaces are suitable for fingerprint testing (Breese Journal, 1996). The defense presented a case that James deeply loved his wife and wanted to reconcile.
The defense also stated that a custody battle between the Muellers for custody of their two children was heated. The defense claimed that Teena pulled the gun on James, and in an attempt to disarm her, the gun fired five times killing Fellie. The weapon used in the crime was a .380 automatic pistol. The defense attempted to put Teena’s lifestyle choices on trial, grilling her about why she chooses to have sex with other women.
On the day of the murder, James Mueller allegedly waived papers around stating he was awarded custody of the children. The defense pointed to this as a motive for Teena to attempt to shoot her husband and frame him for her lover’s murder. Despite the defense’s attempts to point the finger at Teena, a Clinton County jury found James Mueller guilty and sentenced him to forty-five years in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
James Mueller successfully appealed his conviction, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. He claimed that the shooting of Lefielia Worlds was an accident as he defended himself from his wife’s aggressions. A second trial began in Hillsboro, IL in 1998. During this trial, the defense claimed that Teena and Fellie “tortured him with their lesbian relationship” (Breese Journal, 1998). James Mueller claimed that Teena pulled the gun on him, pulling the trigger as he struggled to take the weapon from her. He adamantly denied purposely killing Fellie.
The defense also claimed that James was struck in the head with the weapon after being shot. The defendant did have a head wound noted when he arrived at the hospital, possibly supporting this claim. The 911 call from Mueller was played, in which he said, “My wife shot her girlfriend and now she’s shot me” (Breese Journal, 1998). The defense also suggested that James Mueller receiving a report recommending he be granted full custody and Teena pay him child support angered her, causing the violent altercation.
The prosecution pointed out that Teena did own a gun, but that gun was not the weapon used in the domestic violence incident. During the first 911 call, James can be heard in the background saying “don’t, don’t don’t” (Breese Journal, 1998). The defense claimed he was pleading for his life, but the prosecution suggested he was pleading with her not to call the authorities. The jury in his second trial did not believe the defense’s story, however, and once again found him guilty of first-degree murder. This time, however, his sentence was only thirty years.
Mueller planned to seek a third trial but was not successful. He maintained his innocence throughout the years, placing the blame on his now ex-wife. He filed a civil suit against her, seeking $500,000 in damages for the injuries he received when she shot him. The lawsuit claimed he suffered injury to his liver, stomach, small intestine, and vertebrae. The bullet remained lodged near his spinal cord with doctors stating it was too dangerous to attempt removal. The suit was eventually dismissed.
I attempted to learn more about the victim, Lefielia Worlds, but found very little in my research. She is missed by many family members including her two children. James Mueller is not found in the Illinois Department of Corrections inmate system, suggesting he has been paroled. This case did not provide rock solid forensic evidence but relied on the testimony of witnesses, circumstantial evidence, and common sense. This is the case of a Clinton County love triangle ending in tragedy.
Breese Journal (1998). Mueller files suit against ex-wife. 09 Apr 1998
Breese Journal (1996). James Mueller held for trial in murder of Centralia woman. 25 Apr 1996
Breese Journal (1996) Wife recounts killing of her lover: prosecution hopes to prove guilt of Posey man. 27 Jun 1996
Alber, V. (2006). Mueller seeks third murder trial. The Breese Journal. 03 Aug 2006
Breese Journal (1996). Woman shoots husband after murder of her lover. 21 Mar 1996
Breese Journal (1998). Details of 1996 murder resurface this week in Hillsboro courtroom. 24 Sep 1998