Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Halloween Murder in the Napa Valley

Under Their Noses

Reward poster
Reward poster

Reporters quickly dug up information revealing how Copple had known the victims. He had once worked for a Napa-based engineering firm that included among its clients the Napa Sanitation District, where Adriane had been employed for three years. This company had even donated money to the investigation's reward fund and for a scholarship that honored the victims. Copple had left the firm a year before the murders, but he had retained an association with Adriane because of her close friendship with his then-fiancée, Lily Prudhomme. He had even been present at the Dorset Street house when Adriane and Lauren had first rented it. While Eric's name had cropped up during the investigation, he had not been seriously considered a suspect. The police did not even collect a sample for DNA testing.

Eric Copple
Eric Copple

Three months after the murders, Lily married Copple, and Adriane's mother attended their wedding, reading scriptures in honor of her daughter. She was stunned when she learned Copple had been arrested. "I never felt he was dangerous," she said. "I never felt a sinister vibe from him." However, some acquaintances of Copple, speaking to reporters, described him as unfriendly and inconsiderate, and one neighbor even called him an "odd duck." Everyone agreed on one thing: he was a chain-smoker. In fact, he smoked the brand for which the police were looking.

At the October 14 arraignment in Napa County Superior Court, Copple pleaded not guilty to the charges. Chief Deputy Public Defender Ralph Abernathy was appointed to represent him, and District Attorney Gary Lieberstein told reporters that it was too soon to decide if this would be a death penalty case. Copple was held without bail at the Napa County Detention Facility, and a November date was set for his preliminary hearing. To the frustration of many, the hearing was delayed several times.

To this point, the police had remained mum on the motive for the slayings, but said that Copple's family had pressured him to turn himself in. From the phone calls left on his answering machine, he was already aware that the investigation had finally targeted him, and he allegedly left a suicide note admitting to the murders, which his brother found. Copple apparently alluded to the fact that he'd been jealous of Adriane's close relationship with his wife. The brother persuaded Copple to talk with the police, and he turned over the note when they arrived at the station. His demeanor, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, was "subdued" and "despondent." His wife had been by all indications completely unaware of his involvement, despite her prior belief that the killer would be obvious to those who knew him, and she was not charged with anything.

In response to questions about why Copple would have killed the girls, the district attorney said, "We are still trying to understand what led up to this tragedy. Although the motive is a human interest side of this story, it is not an element of the crime. Sometimes people do unthinkable things and we never know why."

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