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Faye Della Copeland
Birth name: Faye Della Wilson
Born: 1921
Harrison, Arkansas
Died: December 30, 2003
Cause of death: natural causes
Number of victims: 5 confirmed; suspected to be as high as 12
Country: USA
State(s): Missouri
Date apprehended: October 17, 1989

Faye Copeland (1921 - 30 December 2003) and her husband Ray were convicted of killing five drifters (and likely killed at least seven more, though no bodies were recovered), and ultimately became the oldest couple ever sentenced to death in the United States— Faye was 69 and Ray was 75 at the time of sentencing. Faye was the oldest woman on death row until her sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1999.

Prior to the murder convictions, Ray had a long history of crimes, ranging from petty theft to grand larceny. He was convicted of writing bad checks on a number of occasions. The Copelands were caught and charged with murder after a drifter spotted human remains on their land. Evidently, Ray had hit upon the scheme of hiring drifters, having them pay for cattle at auction with bad checks (which Ray by then was loath to do personally, given his prior convictions), then killing the drifters once they were no longer of any use, with a single bullet to the back of the head. It is unclear if Faye had any knowledge of this scheme, and her lawyers argued that she suffered from battered woman syndrome.

On November 1, 1990, 69-year-old Faye Copeland went to trial. According to articles in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Faye claimed she did not know her husband was a murderer. Although her marriage to Ray was fraught with abuse, the jury convicted her of four counts of murder and one of manslaughter. Faye had written a list of names that included the murdered drifters, each of whom had an X next to his name (as did 7 others, who remain missing). As Faye was sentenced to death by lethal injection, she sobbed uncontrollably. When Ray Copeland was told about the verdict on his wife his reply reportedly was, "Well, those things happen to some you know"; he apparently never asked about Faye again. Ray is rumored to have been a spoiled child, often demanding things. Although he came from a poor family, if Ray wanted something, it was said to have been soon acquired for him by any means possible. He was strongly disliked by neighbors, who believed he beat Faye and their four children.

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 30, 2003, 82-year-old Faye Della Copeland died at the Morningside Center nursing home in Chillicothe, Missouri, from what Livingston County coroner Scott Lindley described as natural causes. She left behind five children, seventeen grandchildren, and (at last count) twenty-five great-grandchildren.

Ray had died previously of natural causes while awaiting execution.

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.


  • Book, The Copeland Killings, by Tom Miller

External links



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