A central question in the Copper Dollar Ranch murders has long been a point of disagreement: Why did Steven Fisher and his girlfriend stay at the Copper Dollar Ranch on the night of March 2, 1983, the night before they were found murdered? Terri Supino, Steve’s widow, says she believes the night of the murders was one of the first times Steve had ever stayed at the trailer on the ranch; she says he stayed that fateful night at the behest of his boss, one of the ranch’s owners. As she tells it, the boss thought it important for Steve to be there because one of the mares onsite was about to foal. According to Terri’s account, Steve’s girlfriend, Melisa Gregory, had come to spend the night with him, and was simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Others however, dispute that claim. Some of Steve’s surviving family members say he often used the trailer at the ranch as a place to “crash,” especially since he had been separated for some time from Terri.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Terri maintains her innocence of any involvement in the brutal murders. She says, although she and her brother Tim had visited the ranch just hours before the bodies were found, she had no criminal intentions toward her estranged husband and his lover, but just wanted to show up to “stir the pot” with Steve and Melisa.
Besides supporters within her own family, others in the Fisher and Gregory families are completely convinced of Terri’s innocence, as well. In a recent posting (in response to this series) on this website, a woman who identifies herself as one of Melisa’s family members said,
“I was too little at the time my cousin Melisa died to have any real memories of her.” However, though she’s “heard all the theories,” she says she has “…talked to Terri at extent about the murders, and I believe with everything I am that she had nothing to do with it.”
Of course, Terri was one of the first to be questioned following the discovery of the bodies. Authorities had lengthy discussions with Terri, and she says they even took the clothing from her that she wore the night she stopped by the ranch. They wanted to test the garments for forensic evidence, for example, to see if blood had been washed from them. But Terri goes on to say that Jasper County officials never did anything with those clothes, and when she later questioned them about it, they claimed there wasn’t enough money to do that kind of testing. She says to this day nothing happened with those confiscated items, she never got them back, and she still wants them. In an ironic tone, she adds this disclaimer, “Not that I could fit into those pants anymore anyway!”
In the wake of murder, it is normal and sound police procedure to question the immediate family and loved ones, given that most crimes of passion are committed, statistically speaking, by someone close to the victim(s). Of course, random acts of violence do occur, accidents happen, and sometimes people simply go crazy. However, as I relate in my book, DEAD AIR: The Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit, there is great truth in the statement once made by the late British mystery-fiction writer Agatha Christie, who is famous for saying only three reasons exist for one person to kill another: love, money, or to cover up another crime (that is, buy silence). Base human emotions flare up in the face of the fear of loss or in a fit of passion. We’ve seen it time and again over human history. The stories pre-date even the Biblical accounts: As long as we have roamed the earth, human beings have struggled with the passions and the fear of loss created by the big three (love, greed and exposure). In addition to Terri, others in Newton, Iowa at the time of the murders may have been close enough to feel the fear:
- Sexual jealousy (fear of the loss of love) is a powerful motive. The extent to which Melisa’s and Steve’s killer(s) went to mutilate the bodies seems to indicate that. Was someone else involved in what was already a love triangle?
- Could greed (fear of the loss of money) have fueled such passionate brutality? If, as many believe, Steve was complicit in the drug-running that was alleged to have been happening “under the radar” at the ranch, money may have been the primary motivator.
- Or was Steve a power threat in another way: did he know too much about the extent of the alleged drug-dealing to make him dangerous to someone else (fear of exposure)? Was he killed to guarantee silence, with Melisa just a hapless victim?
The fear is still present in Newton, Iowa. As in the disappearance case of Mason City’s Jodi Huisentruit in 1995, someone somewhere knows exactly what happened during the dark hours preceding the morning of March 3, 1983.
More to come.