- The pensioner farmers saw drifters as an easy target for their cheque-frauding schemes.
- Kept an extensive list of the workers and marked men deemed to die with an X.
The loving grandparents developed their appetite for killing when they saw drifters as an easy target for their cheque-frauding schemes. When seasonal workers who unbeknownst were taking part of the cheque fraud became worthless, the pensioners shifted to killers. The family's caretaker Ray was the spouse to finish the job -- a single bullet to the back of the head, making them the oldest couple ever sentenced to death in the United States.
Ray & Faye
Ray Copeland was born in 1914 in Oklahoma. Struggling to survive the Great Depression, he was involved in petty crime – stealing livestock and writing bad checks. After his first sentence, he met young Faye Wilson whom he married the very same year. Money was tight. Having four children and a bad reputation, the Copeland's had to keep regularly moving around.
Ray was described as a tyrant and control freak who was violent against anyone closest to him. The neighbors despised him and believed he was verbally and physically violent against his wife and their children. Faye, being a conservative housewife, always stuck by her husband, despite Ray's violent behavior and outbursts.
A spoiled child, often demanding things. While he came from a poor family, if Ray wanted something, he wanted it by any means possible as it became clear in 1990, when the “Trial of The Century” over The Copeland Killings began.
The Copeland Killings
Ray was a well-known fraud in the area and couldn't buy or sell cattle on his own. To get around the problem, he began picking up drifters and employed them as his assistants. With only 2000 dollar deposit, the men were asked to open bank accounts to buy livestock. Just before the cheques bounced, Ray sold the cattle, and the employees would disappear.
It didn't take long for police to caught up and Ray spend time in jail again.
At some point after years in and out of the prison bars, he was determined to not get caught again. He wanted to make sure the drifters working for him were not able to trace back to him.
He quickly resumed his criminal activities and his wife, Faye, held an extensive list of the seasonal workers who came and went.
One of them, a man named Jack McCormick called the Crime Stoppers hotline and claimed Ray had tried to kill him and that he had seen human bones on the farm.
Initially skeptical of the claims, police decided to investigate further. Armed with a search warrant and canines, the bodies of missing drifters started to surface. Each man had been shot at close range in the back of the head with a .22 rifle. A weapon that was later found from the Copeland's home.
From the house police also discovered the belongings of missing men and a list of workers and the notorious list. The ones who had 'X' after their name were found dead, lying on the different locations on the farm.
The forensic examination concluded the handwriting on the paper belonged to Faye. She claimed knowing nothing about the murders. But Ray was illiterate and incapable of even writing a basic list of names.
Ray first tried to plead for insanity, but quickly gave up and tried to work out an agreement with authorities. The evidence was overwhelming, and he charged with 5 counts of first-degree murder. Soon after, he died of natural causes waiting on death row for execution.
Faye's defense team claimed she too was a victim of Ray and that she suffered from a Battered Women Syndrome. The jury didn't buy it and believed knew very well that her husband was a serial killer, participated by keeping the list and did nothing to stop him. She was sentenced to death by lethal injection making her the oldest woman on death row.
Her sentence was later commuted to life in prison and just like his husband, she died of natural causes. She never testified against Faye and supported him until his death. Faye showed no emotion upon hearing his wife sentence.
The couple is the oldest serial killer couple sentenced to death in the United States.