On August 20, 1989
, the Nebraska Crime Stoppers hotline logged a call from 57-year-old Jack McCormick. He had recently moved from Missouri
, where he had witnessed several events that made him fear for his life. He had worked on a farm for an elderly couple named Ray and Faye Copeland, who would use drifters to commit crimes involving the sale of livestock. In the beginning he was unaware of the illegal activities, but he eventually realized what was going on. McCormick said Mr. Copeland eventually became aware of his suspicions and tried to kill him, which was why he fled. As the conversation came to a close, McCormick mentioned he had seen several human bones on the farm. Nebraska
authorities, while somewhat skeptical of the story, notified detectives in Missouri
Copeland had a long arrest record for forgery and cattle theft, so Missouri authorities took the tip very seriously. They spent the next few months gathering evidence and used McCormicks statements to secure a search warrant. On the morning of October 9, 1989, Sheriff Leland ODell, along with as many as 40 officers, several backhoes, and teams of bloodhounds, descended upon the Copeland farm. With such a large area to cover, ODell needed all the help he could get.
After spending a week scouring the farm and surrounding property, investigators had not found any evidence to back up McCormicks story. Some were beginning to wonder if they had made a terrible mistake. Nonetheless, on October 17, 1989
, all doubts were put to rest. According to The Copeland Killings,
by Tom Miller,
investigators discovered three bodies in a local barn Ray Copeland was known to use. Each one was buried in a separate grave and they were later identified as 21-year-old Paul Jason Cowart, from Dardanelle, Arkansas
; 27-year-old John W. Freeman, from Tulsa, Oklahoma
; and 27-year-old Jimmie Dale Harvey, from Springfield, Missouri
. All three had died from a single gunshot wound to the back of the skull.