When the Lebanon, Ind., couple got into a domestic dispute in late March, Andrew Wilhoite “allegedly struck her in the head” with a concrete, gallon-sized flower pot, placed her in his car and dumped her body in a nearby creek, according to the Indiana State Police.
Despite the circumstances surrounding his wife’s killing, Wilhoite — who initially lied about her whereabouts but later admitted to killing her after she attacked him, according to prosecutors — won his Republican primary on Tuesday for one of the three open seats on the Clinton Township Board.
Election data shows that Wilhoite received 60 votes, while two other Republican candidates for the three seats received 106 and 100 votes. No Democratic candidates were on the ballot in the Clinton Township Board primary, but non-Republican candidates still could make the ballot by November, WXIN-FOX59 reported.
Wilhoite, whose age is given as 39 in an Indiana State Police statement released in March, has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held in Boone County Jail without bond. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison, or even the death penalty, according to state law.
Wilhoite’s jury trial is scheduled to begin in late August, and his name will be removed from the ballot if he is convicted of a felony before the general election on Nov. 8. He also has the option of removing his name from the ballot before July 15 but had not done so as of early Friday, records show.
Wilhoite’s attorney is not listed in court records. The Clinton Township Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.
Andrew Wilhoite raised livestock in Lebanon, about 28 miles outside of Indianapolis, according to the Reporter. He helped run the family business, Wilhoite Family Farms. Nikki Wilhoite worked in dentistry, according to her obituary.
On March 18, Nikki Wilhoite submitted a petition for legal separation in Boone County Circuit Court after she found out that her husband had allegedly cheated on her, according to court records. In the same week, she documented that she had finished up her last round of chemotherapy for breast cancer, with which she was diagnosed the previous fall.
On the day she formally sought a separation from him, Andrew Wilhoite posted a photo of his smiling wife of 12 years, expressing his support for her as she went through cancer treatment.
“This lady just finished her last round of chemo today,” Wilhoite wrote in a Facebook post that has since been made private. “Very proud of you.”
The unraveling marriage became more tenuous about a week later. The farmer told authorities that his wife initially attacked him March 24 and yelled at him to leave the house but that he ended up pushing her out the front door. Wilhoite said that as she charged at him around 10 p.m., he reached for a concrete flowerpot in the dirt and struck her with it, according to the affidavit.
“Andrew was asked if Elizabeth was still breathing, and Andrew stated he didn’t know because he didn’t check,” police wrote.
Not knowing what to do, Wilhoite placed his wife in his truck and drove to Ross Ditch, wrote Indiana State Police Detective Adam Buell. From there, “Andrew described that he drove to a bridge over the creek and threw her over the wall and into the creek,” according to police. He disposed of the broken planter along the highway as he was making a corn delivery, the affidavit says.
After Nikki Wilhoite did not report to work, detectives were called to investigate her whereabouts on March 25.
“An exhaustive search of the area with K-9 bloodhounds and deputies continued for several hours and we were not able to locate Nikki,” the Boone County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release about the initial efforts. “The investigation eventually evolved into a possible homicide investigation.” Since Andrew Wilhoite’s mother is a county councilwoman, the sheriff’s office said it asked the state police to run the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.
Authorities found traces of blood in the couple’s bedroom, and Wilhoite acknowledged they had been fighting about his extramarital affair. But the farmer initially told detectives that he had slept on the couch and did not see his wife before he left for work the next morning, according to authorities.
When detectives continued to question him and relatives around the farm, he eventually asked to speak to an attorney, WTHR TV reported. It was at that point that Wilhoite changed his account of the events, acknowledging that he had hit her in the head with the planter and dumped her body in the creek. Around 3 a.m. on March 26, Indiana State Police said they had recovered Nikki Wilhoite’s body “partially submerged in approximately three feet of water” after Andrew Wilhoite told officers where to find her.
“All signs point to that she died at home,” Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood said in March. “Nothing indicates that she drowned.”
The coroner later confirmed that she died of the blow to the head.
The news has rocked the rural community. Nikki Wilhoite’s obituary lists her spouse not as her husband but as the “father of her children.” Neighbor Laura Vaughn told WXIN in March that if Andrew Wilhoite is guilty, “he should pay severely for what he did to his wife and mother of his children.”
“How can you do that to the mother of your kids?” she said.
Even though Wilhoite faces the murder charge, that did not stop his candidacy for the township board. He still has a right to be on the ballot unless he’s convicted, Brad King, co-director of the bipartisan Indiana Election Division, told the Tribune-Star.
“There is no legal reason he can’t be a candidate,” King said. “Under our system, you are innocent until you are proven guilty. If a person is convicted of a felony, then they are no longer eligible to be a candidate and are ineligible to hold office.”
Boone County Republican Chairwoman Debbie Ottinger told the outlet that she cannot remember a time when an incarcerated candidate has won a primary.
“Our hope is that he asks to be removed from the ballot and we can just replace him,” she said, “but I don’t know if anyone has talked to him about that.”