Ray and Faye Copeland
|Born||December 30, 1914
|Died||October 19, 1993
|Occupation||Cattle farmer; thief, swindler, forger, killer|
|Spouse(s)||Faye Della Wilson Copeland (1940–1993, his death)|
|Conviction(s)||Murder (Convicted 1991)|
Span of crimes
|October 17, 1989|
Faye Della Wilson Copeland (August 4, 1921 – December 23, 2003) and Ray Copeland (December 30, 1914 – October 19, 1993) became, at the ages of 69 and 76 respectively, the oldest couple ever sentenced to death in the United States. They were convicted of killing five drifters at their farm in Missouri. 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 in 1940, he met Faye Wilson, and they were married soon afterward. They quickly had several children and, thanks to Ray's criminal reputation, had to keep moving their family around while money was tight. During this time, Ray served several jail sentences, until he finally came up with a plan to improve his illegal money-making methods so as to be undetected.
|Faye Della Wilson Copeland|
|Born||Faye Della Wilson
August 4, 1921
Harrison, Arkansas, U.S.
|Died||December 23, 2003
(Commuted to life imprisonment on August 6, 1999; paroled 2002)
|Spouse(s)||Ray Copeland (1940–1993, his death)|
Span of crimes
|October 17, 1989|
Since Ray 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, where they would use his bad checks to buy the cattle for him. After the transactions, Ray 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 Ray was once again sent to jail. Upon his release, he resumed his criminal activities, but this time he made sure his farmhands were not as connected to him as before. This went on until a previous employee, Jack McCormick, called the Crime Stoppers hotline in August 1989 to tell them about the Copelands. McCormick claimed that he had seen human bones on their farm while he was employed there and also claimed that Ray had tried to kill him.
Police were initially skeptical of the claims, but after checking Ray'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, the bodies of three young men were discovered in a nearby barn. As the search continued, more bodies were found, all killed with the same weapon: a .22 caliber Marlin rifle that was later found in the Copeland home.
It became clear that Ray killed his employees in the pursuit of money, but Faye's actions were initially questioned. During the investigation, a piece of evidence came to light that connected her to the crimes: a quilt that she had made out of the clothing of the victims. When she went to trial in November 1990, her defense 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 demonstrated that she knew of Ray's actions and did nothing to stop him. The jury convicted her of four counts of murder and one count of manslaughter. She was given four death sentences for the murders and life without parole for the manslaughter.
In March 1991, Ray went on trial, was convicted of five counts of murder and sentenced to death. Upon hearing that Faye had been sentenced to death by lethal injection as well, showed no emotion and his replied, "Well, those things happen to some, you know." However, neither execution would take place.
Ray died of natural causes on October 19, 1993. His body was cremated. Faye's attorneys appealed her conviction, contending that the jury had not been allowed to hear evidence that Ray had abused her for years. On August 6, 1999, Judge Ortrie Smith overturned the death sentence, but let the convictions stand and commuted her sentence to five consecutive terms of life without parole. On August 10, 2002, Faye suffered a stroke which left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Weeks later, in September 2002, Governor Bob 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 of Chillicothe, Missouri, where she died of natural causes at the age of 82. She left behind five children and seventeen grandchildren.
- Dennis K. Murphy, of Normal, Illinois; killed Oct 17, 1986
- Wayne Warner, of Bloomington, Illinois; killed Nov 19, 1986
- Jimmy Dale Harvey, 27 of Springfield, Missouri; killed Oct 25, 1988
- John W. Freeman, 27 of Tulsa, Oklahoma; killed Dec 8, 1988
- Paul J. Cowart, 21 of Dardanelle, Arkansas; killed May 1, 1989
In other media
The Copelands' story has been fictionalized in a comic book Family Bones, written by Faye's nephew, Shawn Granger. 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 Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
- Greig, Charlotte (2005). Evil Serial Killers: In the Minds of Monsters. New York: Barnes & Noble. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0760775664.
- Bovsun, Mara (25 March 2008). "The case of the vanishing vagrants". The New York Daily News. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
- Miller, Tom (1993). The Copeland Killings. New York: Pinnacle Books. pp. 1–304. ISBN 1558176756.
- Granger, Shawn (2007). Family Bones Volume 1. La Verne, CA: King Tractor Press. pp. 1–176. ISBN 0978748603.
- Granger, Shawn (2010). Family Bones Volume 2. La Verne, CA: King Tractor Press. pp. 1–170. ISBN 0978748611.
- The Nevada Daily Mail Nov 2, 1990
- "Forensic Files Episode List". Forensic Files. Cable News Network. 27 August 2001. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
- "THE NEW DETECTIVES – Season 5 Ep 2 "Partners in Crime"". FilmRise. The Discovery Channel. 26 December 1999. Retrieved 3 March 2017.