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March 9, 2022

Serial Killers You've Never Heard Of: Ray and Faye Copeland - America's Oldest Married Serial Killer Couple

Serial Killers You've Never Heard Of: Ray and Faye Copeland - America's Oldest Married Serial Killer Couple

The Copelands hired hitchhikers and drifters in their twenties, whom Ray would kill after winning their trust and convincing them to buy cattle with checks drawn on accounts they set up at his request. Ray would shoot his victims in the back of the head with a.22-caliber Marlin bolt-action rifle, then bury the remains on their land or the property of another barn Ray utilized. Dennis Murphy was murdered and his body was dumped in a well. Faye also constructed a quilt out of their victims' clothing. She also compiled a list of their farmworkers' identities, including both proven and suspected victims. An 'X' would appear at the end of the victims' names, indicating that they had been killed.

Ray was born on December 30, 1914, shortly after World War I began. During his childhood, he and his parents, Jess and Laney, frequently migrated about the country, until the Copeland family settled in Ozark Hills, Arkansas. Ray gained a younger sister and younger brother along the way. The Copelands were soon one of the many victims of the Great Depression, and Ray had to drop out of fourth grade to help his family maintain their little farm. He appeared to be a pampered child, constantly asking for things and quickly getting whatever he wanted. He committed his first crime when he was 20 years old, stealing two hogs from his father and selling them in a town nearby. His dad found out but refused to file formal charges.

Ray proceeded to commit more crimes in the years after, generally stealing livestock, but he also began to commit more severe crimes, including forging government checks in Harrison, Arkansas, for which he was sentenced to a year in county jail in 1936. Ray met Faye Della Wilson, then 19 years old, on a routine visit to a physician's office in the spring of 1940. Faye Wilson was born on August 4, 1921, to Rufus and Gladys Wilson, an industrious Harrison couple who raised seven children in a dirt floor cottage despite having little money. Ray and Faye began dating and were married officially six months later. They had their first child, a boy named Everett, less than a year later. Billy Ray, Everett's younger brother, arrived two years after Everett. Ray and Faye moved their family to Fresno County, California, in 1944, and had their only daughter, Betty Lou, the following year.

Their third son, Alvia, was born two years later, in 1947, and their fourth son, William Wayne, was born two years later, in 1949. Ray was suspected of stealing horses from a local farmer the same year William was born, and while no charges were made, his image in Fresno County was tarnished, and Ray was forced to relocate the family back to Arkansas. Ray was jailed for livestock theft again less than a month after their relocation. He was convicted of grand larceny and given a one-year prison sentence. Ray moved his family to Rocky Comfort, Missouri, after serving his sentence, and was arrested for cattle theft again; this time, he was sentenced to assist in manual labor at the judge's farm. Ray began relocating his family from town to town in 1953, following the same pattern as his parents when he was a boy, and he was arrested at least five times for forging fraudulent checks during this time.

The Copeland family returned to Missouri in the summer of 1966, where Ray and Faye were successful in purchasing a modest farm with 40 acres of land in Mooresville. Faye quickly found work at a local glove factory. Ray was disliked by his neighbors, who saw him as a spiteful elderly guy who beat his family. These charges were eventually refuted by Faye and the Copeland children. Ray devised a plot to defraud people into purchasing livestock and then get away with it, knowing that another arrest for forgery would land him in prison for a long period of time due to his lengthy arrest record. His strategy was to show up at cattle auctions that employed hitchhikers and drifters as hands and have the man he was buying cattle from write a check from his book, sign it, and then sell the livestock before the check bounced.

He would then claim innocence to the authorities, who would later come to investigate, and Ray would accuse the seller of forging the signatures on the checks. Because the guys he bought the cattle from were hitchhikers and drifters, they'd already left town to continue their journey, exposing them to forgery accusations. Despite the fact that the technique was commonly known, Ray was able to get away with it dozens of times until Gerald Perkins, one of Ray's scam victims, was grilled by police and exposed the fraud. Ray was apprehended shortly after and sentenced to nearly two years in prison for check fraud. Once he was released from prison, Ray changed up his scam a little bit. Instead of having his scam victims write checks from his account, Ray hired drifters as farmhands and told them to get a post office box and open an account in their name, then have them write checks from their accounts at cattle auctions; his explanation to them was that auctioneers disliked him for one reason or another and would not give him "a fair shake."

Ray would then kill the guy after the scheme had been carried out. Ray's plan worked, and the couple was able to claim five to twelve victims. They employed 57-year-old Jack McCormick during their crimes, who quickly caught on to their scheme. Ray attempted to kill McCormick when he sensed his suspicions, but McCormick managed to run and warn the authorities, who were already aware of Ray's jail record, and gathered evidence to support McCormick's accusations in order to obtain a search warrant for the Copeland property. Three bodies, a list of farm helpers written by Faye, and a quilt created from the victims' clothing were uncovered during a week-long search on the Copeland property.

 Investigators examined another barn purchased by Ray the next week and discovered two more dead. Ray and Faye were taken into custody. Prosecutors quickly offered Faye a deal: if she provided the locations of further remains to detectives, her only charge would be conspiracy to commit murder, with only a few months in jail in exchange for her cooperation. Faye, on the other hand, appeared to cover for her husband, telling prosecutors that she was unaware of Ray's murders. The Copelands were charged with five counts of first-degree murder. Faye, then 69 years old, went on trial on November 1, 1990, claiming that Ray murdered without her knowledge and that she suffered from battered woman syndrome. However, the evidence against her was strong, and she was found guilty of all five offenses, receiving a death sentence by lethal injection for four of them and a life term without the possibility of parole for the fifth.

 Ray was found guilty of the accusations against him and condemned to death by lethal injection on March 7, 1991, when he was 76 years old. Ray died two years later at the Potosi Correctional Facility, where he was awaiting death. Faye's death sentence was reversed on August 6, 1999, due to insufficient evidence. However, because of the outstanding murder convictions, she was to remain in prison. Several women's rights activist groups expressed displeasure at her imprisonment, claiming that she was no longer considered a threat to society. No one, however, paid attention to the objections.

 Following an attempt to reinstate Faye's death sentence a month prior, Tom and Jeanette Block, founders of the Missourians Against State Killing (MASK) organization, continued to fight for Faye's release from prison by requesting that people send in letters of support, with a petition for her release also getting ready to be granted by then-Governor of Missouri Roger Wilson. Faye had a stroke on August 10, 2002, leaving her mostly paralyzed and unable to communicate; as a result, she was paroled weeks later to the Morningside Center nursing facility in Harrison, Arkansas. Finally, Faye died on December 30, 2003, at the age of 82.

 

Victims

1986:

21-year-old Paul Jason Cowart was killed on October 17th

27-year-old John Freeman was killed on November 19th

1988:

27-year-old Jimmie Dale Harvey was killed on October 25th

(Unknown age) Wayne Warner was killed on December 8th

1989:

27-year-old Dennis Murphy was killed on May 1st ( body found in a well)

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