Serial Killer Couple Ray and Faye Copeland

The Oldest Couple Ever Sent to Death Row

Ray and Faye Copeland
Family Photo

Ray and Faye Copeland lust for killing came with their retirement years. Why this couple, both in their 70s, went from being loving grandparents to serial killers, who used the clothing of their victims to make winter quilts to snuggle under, is both morbid and perplexing. Here is their story.

Ray Copeland

Born in Oklahoma in 1914, Ray Copeland's family never spent much time in the same place. When he was a child, his family was constantly moving, on the hunt for employment. The situation worsened during the Depression, and Copeland dropped out of school and began scrounging for money.

Not satisfied with earning meager wages, he got involved in scamming people out of property and money. In 1939 Copeland was found guilty of stealing livestock and check forgery. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

Faye Wilson Copeland

Copeland met Faye Wilson not long after he was released from jail in 1940. They had a brief courtship, then married and began having children one after another. With several additional mouths to feed, Copeland quickly returned to stealing from livestock ranchers. While this may have been his chosen profession, he wasn't very good at it.  He was constantly getting arrested and did several stints in jail.

His scam was not very slick. He would buy cattle at auctions, write fraudulent checks, sell the cattle and try to leave town before the auctioneers were informed that the checks were bad. If he failed to leave town in time, he would promise to make the checks good, but never follow through,

In time, he was banned from buying and selling livestock. He needed a scam that would allow him to operate despite the ban, one that he could profit from, and that the police could not trace back to him. It took him 40 years to think one up.

Copeland began hiring vagrants and drifters to work on his farm. He set up checking accounts for them, then sent them to buy livestock with bad checks from their accounts. Copeland then sold the livestock and the drifters would be fired and sent on their way. This kept the police off his back for awhile, but in time he was caught and returned to jail. When he got out, he went back to the same scam, but this time he made sure the hired help would never be caught, or even heard from again.

The Copeland Investigation

In October 1989, Missouri police received a tip that a human skull and bones could be found on farmland owned by an elderly couple, Ray and Faye Copeland. Ray Copeland's last known stint with the law involved a livestock scam, so as police questioned Ray inside his farmhouse about the scam, authorities searched the property. It did not take them long to find five decomposing bodies buried in shallow graves around the farm.

The autopsy report determined that each man had been shot in the back of the head at close range. A register, with names of the transient farmhands who had worked for the Copelands, helped police identify the bodies. Twelve of the names, including the five victims found, had a crude 'X' in Faye's handwriting, marked next to each name.

More Disturbing Evidence

Authorities found a .22-calibre Marlin bolt-action rifle inside the Copeland home, which ballistics tests proved to be the same weapon as the one used in the murders. The most disturbing piece of evidence, besides the scattered bones and rifle, was a handmade quilt Faye Copeland made out of the dead victim's clothing. The Copeland's were quickly charged with five murders, identified as Paul Jason Cowart, John W Freeman, Jimmie Dale Harvey, Wayne Warner and Dennis Murphy.

Faye Insisted Knowing Nothing About Murders

Faye Copeland claimed to know nothing about the murders and stuck to her story even after being offered a deal to change her murder charges to conspiracy to commit murder in exchange for information about the remaining seven missing men listed in her register. Although a conspiracy charge would have meant her spending less than a year in prison, compared to the possibility of receiving the death sentence, Faye continued to insist she knew nothing about the murders.

Ray Attempts an Insanity Plea

Ray first tried to plead insanity, but eventually gave up and tried to work out a plea agreement with prosecutors. The authorities were not willing to go along and the first-degree murder charges remained intact.

During Faye Copeland's trial, her attorney tried to prove that Faye was another one of Ray's victims and that she suffered from Battered Women Syndrome. There was little doubt that Faye had indeed been a battered wife, but that not was enough for the jury to excuse her cold murderous actions. The jury found Faye Copeland guilty of murder and she was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Soon after, Ray was also found guilty and sentenced to death.

The Oldest Couple Sentenced to Death

The Copelands made their mark in history for being the oldest couple to be sentenced to death, however, neither were executed. Ray died in 1993 on death row. Faye's sentence was commuted to life in prison. In 2002 Faye was compassionate release from prison because of her declining health and she died in a nursing home in December 2003, at age 83.


The Copeland Killings by T. Miller

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Montaldo, Charles. "Serial Killer Couple Ray and Faye Copeland." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, July 30). Serial Killer Couple Ray and Faye Copeland. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Serial Killer Couple Ray and Faye Copeland." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).