By anyone’s measure, she’s been through a lot, living in the shadow of Iowa’s Copper Dollar murders for more than half of her 52 years. Tough talk belies her diminutive stature, but Terri Supino has had no choice but to be tough.
Thirty one years ago, on August 28, 1981, Terri was eight-months pregnant with her son when she married Steven Fisher. At the time, she was 21, and her groom was 19. She admits the marriage was impulsive, a youthful whim; they were way too young, and it was no story-book romance. Physical and emotional abuse was the norm, and they really didn’t live together as a couple much of the time, instead bouncing into and out of their respective parents’ homes. Their infant children, a son and a daughter born within a year of each other, have no memories of their parents as a couple, and no memories of their father today.
The gritty details of that brief marriage no longer matter. To this day, Terri is by definition still the widow of Steven Fisher, the young man who was brutally slain on March 3, 1983, at the ranch where he worked. Terri says her life has been outlined and identified by the double homicide that killed her estranged husband and his girlfriend near their hometown of Newton, Iowa. She never remarried, works a blue-collar job while attending college classes, and remains close to her grown son and daughter and grandchildren.
Gary Peterson and I recently traveled to the eastern suburbs of Des Moines to visit Supino, where she lives in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, less than a half hour drive to her hometown of Newton. Perhaps surprisingly, Supino is open and forthcoming in discussing that troubled time. She lived then, and to some extent still does, under a cloud of suspicion that surrounded her and her twin brother, Tim Supino.
Late in the evening of March 2, 1983, the two had stopped by Steve’s camper trailer on the Copper Dollar property to talk to Steve. Contrary to popular belief, she says there was no confrontation at all; She denies arguing with Steve about the fact that he was dating 17-year-old Melisa Gregory. Instead, she claims she wanted to talk to him about when they were going to buy shoes for their toddler son, Rocky. When I asked her directly why she would show up at 11:30 p.m. to discuss something so mundane, she put it this way: “I just showed up then to give them [Steve and Melisa] some s**t.”
Supino insists she was the one that initiated the separation in their marriage. She called Steve abusive and says his alleged drug-dealing was a deal-breaker for her. And though Supino was left alone to raise their two infant children, she bristles at the implication that she could have been complicit in the murders of Steve and Melisa. She said she had no openly hostile feelings toward Melisa, and even identified a sort of kinship with her husband’s younger lover.
Willful and determined to be themselves, Terri says she and Melisa each defied expectations in their own way. Melisa had dropped out of high school, and Terri had been dating another man before her marriage to Steve. Terri says:
“We were both headstrong young women.”
So who killed Steve and Melisa in the early hours of March 3, 1983? If Terri Supino and her brother didn’t do it, who did? And why? Clearly crimes of passion, the murders appear to have been fueled by an intense anger. Both victims were brutally beaten and bathed in blood, so much so that physical identification of the bodies was nearly impossible. Steve’s body was found outside, while Melisa’s mutilated body was positioned inside the trailer.
Like the case of Jodi Huisentruit, the missing Mason City anchorwoman, the Copper Dollar case has no easy answers. Fingers point in lots of different directions, including right back at the authorities. We’ll explore a few of Terri’s theories in a future post. Like all of us, Terri says she wants some answers.