Down on the Farm
Ray & Faye Copeland were married for fifty years and lived on their 40-acre farm in Mooresville, Missouri. A small-time cattle buyer, Ray was thought to be a hard worker who often did odd jobs for people in the community. Most people had only good things to say about the couple. The couple had five children who had all moved out when the murders began.
But the Neighbours had Other Things to Say
Convinced that Faye was a battered wife, the locals thought of him as a menacing oddball. Some said he intentionally ran over dogs and a waitress said he was particularly snappy in the cafe, although it was frequented by elderly customers who always had something to complain about.
Fleeing the Law
Ray had been in trouble with the law from a very early age, stealing and forgery being his main go-to crimes. Which meant he kept moving. And this didn’t stop after he was married with children, often moving them from town to town, new life to new life, until he got in trouble again. Eventually settling on the farm in Mooresville in 1967. This didn’t end the stealing and forgery, it simply changed the dynamic of it.
…Ray Copeland of Mooresville, Mo., saw something else in the never-ending procession of the down-and-out. He saw dollar signs…. –murderpedia.org
The Missouri police and Livingstone County’s Sheriff department had spent three years trying to figure out who was behind a cattle scam. Cattle would be bought from markets with bad checks and then sold on, the writers of the bad checks were nowhere to be found. Following up leads and tips their initial investigation didn’t bring up anything significant, the evidence that pointed to Ray Copeland was only conjecture.
Ray wasn’t new to scamming and stealing but he wasn’t good at it either, having been arrested and jailed on a number of occasions. But this scam was different, he used his farm as the base and brought in people, who were unlikely to be missed or recognised, to work with.
The Copeland’s would hire transients and hitchhikers to work on the farm. The neighbours would watch them arrive, dishevelled and scrappy. But no one cared what happened to them, they were simply happy when they were gone.
Copeland would take one of the hired hands to the cattle markets with him and the pair would bid on the herds. When they won the hired hand would write a bad check and then the pair would leave with the cattle – back to the farm to resell them. When the police looked into it they could find neither hide nor hair of the hired hands and Ray told them that they’d bounced bad checks to him too.
And then the police caught a break. They found one of the hired hands who had disappeared without a trace. And he was still alive and willing to talk.
One That Got Away
Willian Andrews was 57 when Copeland hired him to work for him. Telling him that he was hard of hearing and would need Andrews to buy cattle for him at the markets as well as driving the truck and doing odd jobs around the farm. In return, he would get bed and board and $20,000 a year. Ray helped Andrews to set up a checking account with $200.
At the cattle market Andrews was told to buy 40 cattle but knew there wasn’t enough in his account to cover it, so he only bought three. The Copeland’s where not happy.
Andrews discovered that Copeland had put a sheet of plastic on the trailer floor which was hitched to the tractor, and knew he was in trouble. He escaped and hitched to Moorseville where he got drunk and stole a car. In Nebraska, he stopped to call the Crime Stoppers hotline. The Nebraska State Patrol managed to pick Andrews up and take him in for questioning, passing on the information to the Livingstone County Sheriff.
Finding the Bodies
The hired hand’s story was enough to get the couple arrested on swindling charges as the police searched for evidence of the rest of the story. But Copeland swore they’d never find bodies on his property.
This was where those very dependable hardworking handyman claims would bite him in the butt. Such a hard-working man, who would ever think such a thing of him? A warrant was obtained and a backhoe used to dig up the property. Dogs were brought in too. But their efforts revealed nothing. But on another tip, they went to a farm near Ludlow, 12 miles away, where Copeland had done odd jobs. They found three bodies. The owner of the farm could not believe Ray was capable of murder.
Whilst those bodies were being examined by the coroner another search was taking place. In another barn, three miles from the farm near Ludlow a fourth body was found in a shallow grave. Less than a month later a boot and skin were pulled from a well. 150 yards from the fourth bodies shallow grave. They dug down with the backhoe to reveal the fifth body.
And the wife, Faye, how could she be involved? Some thought that she was a battered wife. Just another victim. But Faye’s handwritten list of missing hired hands was found in a camera case in their dining room. Three of the names had an X next to them -these were the three bodies found in shallow graves at the farm near Ludlow. Other names had the word ‘Back’ next to them. She was also a dab hand with the needle and thread. Making a quilt out of the dead men’s clothes for the couple to snuggle under at night.
Ray & Faye Copeland: Oldest Couple on Death Row
Senteneced to death on April 27th, 1991
Ray died of natural causes in October 1993.
Faye’s sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1999. She died, aged 82 in a nursing home in her hometown, on December 30th, 2003.
P.S. I first saw the story of Ray & Faye Copeland in Startling Detective (July 1992) written by Carlton Hemes.
P.P.S. Read about Serial Killers here
Horror and Fantasy Author – Also writing as K.T. McQueen. Love Western Horror, cowboy boots, my cactus Collin, & my Demon Cat.
Moths – I hate moths, the way they flutter at your face!