Ray and Faye Copeland
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (February 2014)|
|Ray and Faye Copeland|
|Born||December 30, 1914 (Ray Copeland)
August 4, 1921 (Faye Copeland)
|Died||October 19, 1993 (Ray Copeland)
December 28, 2003 (Faye Copeland)
Cause of death
|October 17, 1989|
Ray Copeland (December 30, 1914 – October 19, 1993) and Faye Della Copeland (August 4, 1921 – December 28, 2003) became, at the ages of 76 and 69 respectively, the oldest couple ever sentenced to death in the United States. They were convicted of killing five drifters. When her sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1999, Faye Copeland was the oldest woman on death row.
Ray Copeland was born in Oklahoma in 1914. While he was growing up, his family moved around, struggling to survive during the Depression. As a young man, he began a life of petty crime, stealing livestock and forging checks, until he was caught and served a year in jail. After his release, he met his wife Faye. They quickly had several children and money became tight. Ray continued to steal livestock and forge checks, but his increasingly bad reputation meant that the Copeland family had to keep moving around. During this time, Ray served several jail sentences, until he finally came up with a new plan: a way of improving his illegal money-making methods so as to be undetected.
Since Copeland was well known as a fraud, he could not buy and sell cattle on his own. To get around this problem, he began to pick up drifters and hobos and employed them as farmhands. He would take his employees to the market and they would buy the cattle for him, using his bad checks. After the transactions, Copeland would sell the cattle quickly and the farmhands would disappear without a trace. For a while, the scam worked, but the police caught up and Copeland went to jail again. Upon his release, he resumed his criminal activities, but this time he made sure his farmhands weren't as connected to him as before. This went on until a previous employee, Jack McCormick, called the Nebraska Crime Stoppers hotline in August 1989 to tell them about the Copelands. McCormick claimed that he had seen human bones on the farm while he was employed there and also claimed that Ray had tried to kill him.
The Nebraska police were sceptical of the claims, but after checking Copeland's criminal record, they decided to investigate further. In October 1989, they visited the Copeland farm armed with a search warrant, dozens of officers and a team of bloodhounds. Initially, they did not find any incriminating evidence, but after further searching, three bodies of young men were discovered in a nearby barn. As the search continued, more bodies were found, all killed with the same weapon, a .22 Marlin rifle that was later found in the Copeland home.
It became clear that Ray was a cold-blooded murderer who killed his employees in the pursuit of money, but Faye's actions were initially questioned. During the investigation, a piece of evidence came into light that connected her to the crimes as well: a quilt that she had made out of the clothing of the dead men. When she went to trial in November 1990, her defence mounted on a picture of her as a dutiful wife and mother who had endured beatings and general ill-treatment from her husband. However the quilt remained a reminder that she knew full-well that her husband was a serial murderer and did nothing to stop him. The jury convicted her of four counts of murder and one of manslaughter.
Ray and Faye Copeland were sentenced to death by lethal injection. Ray, upon hearing that Faye had the same sentence showed no emotion and his reply reportedly was, "Well, those things happen to some you know" and he apparently never asked about Faye again. At ages 69 and 76, Faye and Ray became the oldest couple in the United States ever to receive the death sentence. However neither execution took place. Ray died of natural causes on October 19, 1993 while waiting for his execution. On August 10, 2002, Faye Copeland suffered a stroke, which left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Weeks later, in September 2002, Governor Holden authorized a medical parole for Faye, fulfilling her one wish that she not die in prison. She was paroled to a nursing home in her hometown. The following year, on December 28, 2003, she died aged 82 at the Morningside Center nursing home in Chillicothe, Missouri, from what Livingston County coroner Scott Lindley described as natural causes (disease). She left behind five children, seventeen grandchildren, and (at last count) twenty-five great-grandchildren.
In other media
Their story has been fictionalized in a comic book, Family Bones, written by Faye Copeland's nephew, Shawn Granger. The case was also documented in a Forensic Files episode and more recently in an episode of Wicked Attraction entitled "Murder at Twilight". The play "Temporary Help" by David Wiltse, which appeared off-Broadway in 2004, was also based on this story.
- The Copeland Killings by Tom Miller.
- Family Bones by Shawn Granger.
- "The Morgue Archives July-August, 1999". Mayhem Net.
- Lohr, David. "The True Story of Ray and Faye Copeland". TruTV Crime Library.