Ray Copeland was born in Oklahoma during 1914, just as WWI was beginning in Europe. Rays parents, Jess and Laney Copeland, moved around frequently as he was growing up and eventually settled in Ozark Hills, Arkansas. By this time, Rays mother had given birth to a daughter and another son. Following the conflict in Europe, the Great Depression began. In order to survive, every person had to contribute to the familys survival. Ray was no exception and during his fourth grade of schooling, he dropped out to help with the familys small farm. Little is known about Rays adolescent years, but friends of the family later described him to Miller as stubborn and insubordinate.
Copeland family, circa 1930
Rays life of crime started at the age of 20, when he stole two hogs from his father and sold them in another town. His father later found out, but no formal charges were ever filed. For the next several years Ray continued to commit petty thefts. The majority of his illegal activities revolved around the theft of livestock, but he eventually started to commit more serious crimes. In 1936, he was arrested in Harrison, Arkansas and charged with forging government checks. He was later sentenced to one year in the county jail.
After serving out his sentence, Ray moved back to his parents farm. There is no public record of his activities for the next three years, so he either managed to stay out of trouble during this time or he was more careful in the crimes he chose to commit.
Things began to look up for Ray during the spring of 1940. During a routine visit to a physicians office, he met a young girl named Faye Della Wilson. The fair-haired 19-year-old was the daughter of Rufus and Gladys Wilson, a hard working couple from Harrison, Arkansas. Fayes parents had very little money, but they did manage to raise seven children in a dirt floor cabin. Ray and Faye quickly hit it off and less then six months later they were married. Within a year of their nuptials, the couple had a boy, whom they named Everett. Two years later Faye gave birth to another child, Billy Ray.
In 1944, Ray decided to move his growing family to Fresno County, California
. The following year, the couples first and only girl, Betty Lou, was born. Two years later, in 1947, the couples third son, Alvia, was born. In 1949, Ray was accused of stealing horses from a local farmer. No charges were filed, but Rays reputation was severely damaged. Later that same year Faye gave birth to the couple's fifth child, William Wayne. Due to suspected horse thefts, Ray was unable to find steady work, so he eventually moved his family back to Arkansas