The Copper Dollar Ranch Murders

This story will be different than I believe any I have done before.  I do not think I have done a story on a case that has not been resolved completely, at least in some way or that is currently in the court process as this one is.  However, after watching an episode of TNT's Cold Justice this story intrigued me and I had a huge desire to know more. Since it has not been through a court of law as of yet completely then unlike other cases there are still questions that have not been answered and the defendants story cannot be completely told.  In essence this will likely be the first case that I will have to come back and update at some point.

On March 3, 1983 Jeff Illingworth reported to his job as a ranch hand at The Copper Dollar Ranch just outside Newton Iowa.  When he got there he found the body of fellow co-worker and mechanic, 20 year old Steven Fisher laying outside near a camper trailer he had been staying in.  Inside the camper Illingworth found the naked body of Steven's girl friend Melisa Gregory.  While I can be certain that Steven worked at the ranch I have seen conflicting reports on the fact of if Melisa also worked there.  Some say she did not, while others claim she was a part-time horse groomer.  Illingworth went to a neighboring house and the authorities were called.

Upon their arrival the authorities found that both Steven and Melisa were dead and they first believed they had been shot.  Their faces were so disfigured that they had to use dental records and fingerprints to officially identify their bodies.  They later determined that they had been hit with some sort of object repeatedly to their faces and heads and there were no gun shot wounds to be found.  Most reports state that no weapon was found at the scene.  Some say it was theorized that a claw hammer was used but not confirmed.  However, in 2014 when a suspect was finally arrested reports claim that in fact a claw hammer was the weapon.  Considering that this has not been through the court system yet I am unsure how accurate those claims are.  I have not seen anything in which the suspect has confessed to the killing, quite the contrary as she maintains her innocence completely, so the claw hammer itself could simply be a theory by the prosecution or something that was said in passing in the over 30 years since the crime that has not been proven but reported enough that people are led to believe it.  

The media has a way of making things true that never are, and this case is not so different.  For many years it was theorized through the media that a man by the name of John Vansice was a "person of interest" in this case.  He was known to have lived in Newton Iowa at the time the murders occurred and in 1995 became a prime suspect in the disappearance of anchorwoman, Jodi Huisentruit.  The sheriff's department has said that Vansice was never suspect in this case in the slightest but it is likely that since they appeared tight lipped over much of the investigation over the years that no response, was considered a respond when it comes to "arm chair detectives."

At the time of the Copper Dollar Ranch murders, two theories emerged.  The first involved drugs.  Apparently Steven was known to at least be a confidential informant at times.  There were also wide rumors that one of the owners of the ranch, Hal Snedecker, was involved in drug runner.  Now, nothing was ever proven about that and after living in a small town myself for many years I understand how rumors start, hang around, and somehow become legend.  Authorities were never able to prove anything about the drug connection over the years.  But, drugs was still a good theory.  It appears that Newton Iowa has a reputation for drugs.  At one time (and possibly currently) it was supposedly called "Meth Town USA."  Today it is meth... in 1983 it was cocaine. When the people from "Cold Justice" arrived in Iowa, they looked into the drug angle.  They all but concluded that this was not a murder over drug.  Several things played into that decision.  Most importantly the scene was very disorganized and unlike those seen involving drugs.  There was a lot of what investigators call "overkill."  The FBI had looked into the case many years prior and had described it as a "crime of passion" and committed by someone with "a lot of anger."  While one of the drug theories centered around it possibly being a murder that was to be a "lesson" or "warning" for ranch owner Hal Sneadecker, there was never any evidence that he was contacted in any way.  In general the theory was that if this was for retaliation for something that Sneadecker had done or for owing people money he would have been contacted and in essence taunted about the killings. It is likely that Sneadecker or his wife would have received some kind of communication letting them know that the murders were in retaliation and possibly a threat of them being next or even just two tell him what his actions had caused.  There was nothing that pointed to this.  

So, throwing out that theory, despite it's popularity in the community, they had to move on to where most homicide investigations begin... with family, friends and especially significant others.  Number one on the list was Theresa "Terri" Supino Fisher and her twin brother Timothy Supino.  Terri was married to Steven Fisher at the time of the murders.  They had married in August of 1981 when he was nineteen years old and she was twenty-one and eight months pregnant with their first child, a son named Rocky.  Within the next year they had a daughter they named Casey. At the time of the murders they had been separated at least several months, if not a year. It appears that even in the time they were together they were never really stable, living back and forth between families.  There was alleged abuse on both sides of this relationship.  The most notable incident occurred in the fall of 1982.  Terri had gone to the ranch while Steven was working (by all accounts they were already separated) and he had leaned into her car talking to her.  Witnesses claim that Terri purposely closed the window, trapping Steven's arm inside and drug him with her car.  He sustained many injuries including a broken arm.  Nothing in my research says any charges were filed in that case or that anything came of it.  Seeing as she was technically the wife, but at the very least the most recent ex of Steven, the authorities went to look for Terri.  They finally found her and her brother in the office of a local attorney.  By all accounts Terri and her brother, Tim were interviewed by the police at that time. They both denied seeing Steven in the days before or being involved in the murder. Terri seemed to be quick to point out that drugs were probably involved and stated that the night of the murders was the first night that Steven had stayed at the ranch and she would have no way of knowing he was there. She claims that she later discovered he had stayed there at the insistence of Hal Sneadecker, again pushing the drug angle. Family members disputed that claim saying that Steven often stayed out at the ranch in the camper and was all but living there.

Terri claims, although I am unsure if she was referring to this first interview, that the police asked for and took the clothes she had worn the night before to test to see if blood had been present and/or washed away.  Thirty years later she claimed that she was told by an officer that they did not have the money to have the clothing tested and despite her knowledge that not only would the clothes no longer fit her, and likely severely out of fashion, they had never been returned to her, although she would like them.  

Apparently as the investigation moved on and forward, as much as it could at the time, a witness, likely a neighbor of the ranch stated that they had seen a car at the ranch that was described to be like the car owned by Tim Supino late the night before the bodies were found. Terri and Tim were once again interviewed and confronted with this information.  At that point they admitted to being at the ranch at about 11:30 the night before the bodies were found the next morning.  Over the years both Tim and Terri have made statements about what occurred. According to Terri at some point she told a reporter that she had gone out to the ranch to talk to Steven about getting some shoes for their son. She claimed there was no confrontation or argument.  When she was asked why she would go there at such a late hour for something that seemed so trivial she admitted she went "to give them some shit," and "to stir the pot."  However, in the next breath she claims that she had no issues with Steven and Melisa, to the point she makes it sound as if she and Melisa were friends of sort.  She claims she had gotten out of the car to speak to Steven but things were fine and she and Tim simply left.   I will address my thoughts to this in just a bit.

Tim stated to investigators in early 2014 (and recorded for Cold Justice) that Terri had called him asking for a ride out to the ranch.  According to him Terri was hell bent on doing whatever it took to reconcile with Steven.  He said they were there and Terri had him go to the door to get Steven and that she never left the car.  He made it sound as if he did not hear everything that was said and stated and that he and Terri had then left and he dropped her off somewhere (he stated where, I simply forget).  He said the next morning when they got word of the murders that he told Terri that they needed to tell the police that they had been there the night before but that she insisted they say nothing. He said he could not say if she went back to the Ranch after they left there together.  After the investigators and members from Cold Justice interviewed Tim, they also interviewed Terri.  First, their stories differed from each other.  Terri claims that she was outside the car and talking with Steven and not inside as Tim claimed.  However, investigators pointed out several inconsistencies from the story she was now relating to things from other interviews, as well as pointing out that those stories did not all match each other either.  Terri was very hostile throughout the entire interview and at some point her current boyfriend forced himself into the truck in which the interview was taking place and he too was hostile. At some point when her boyfriend was asking what was going on and what they were discussing Terri looked at him and said "I did it, all right?" This was pretty much passed over and ignored and never taken as any sort of confession.  Terri kept insisting throughout that drugs were the reason for the killings and accused investigators of not properly looking into that angle as well as changing her statements without her knowledge.  She also claimed that the issue of drugs in that town went far up the line in the justice system including lawyers and judges in the town.  

Before I move on to what the 2014 re-investigation with Cold Justice produced I want to address Terri's claims.  First, let's start with the drug angle, if for no other reason to get it out of the way.  She could be very correct in her statements about the town being run by drugs and it be rampant all the way up to judges.  I do not know if this is true or not.  I have found nothing to substantiate those claims but that does not mean they do not exist.  However, despite that, the idea that she claims statements have been changed in effect to make her look guilty to hide the drug angle seems very far fetched to me.  Again, not that it could not have happened, but the likelihood is small in my opinion.  

I think the biggest problem Terri Supino has, is Terri Supino.  She would have been about 22 or 23 years old at the time of the murder.  There were many witnesses who all but said she was a "wild" one, with a terrible temper.  By most accounts Steven obviously was not a great husband, and again, he was 20 at the time.  The older I get, the more I realize just how unreasonable and logical I was at the age they were then, and that is just in general, that is not taking into consideration of reputations.  I also take in account what a reasonable person, really at any age, would accept.  Considering those things I just do not find Terri's stories over the years plausible, let alone the inconsistencies of them. First off, it is highly doubtful that she was friendly with Melisa on any level at all.  Terri was about 22 with two small children, separated from her husband, and he is dating and obviously sleeping with someone else.  That does not sit well with anyone, no matter her age, but if you add her young age into it, as well as reports of her already volatile temper, that seems even more unreasonable to accept.  Even as she was telling that story to a reporter, in the next breath when asked why she would go to the ranch over something so mundane as shoes she admits she went there to cause problems, "start shit," and "stir the pot."  Now, for those who will say that shoes for their toddler is not a mundane issue you have to bring in the time period.  It was 1983... that was before you had even many, if any, 24 hour gas stations, let alone department stores.  Your stores did not stay open past 8, if you were lucky and on Sunday's (although March 2nd was a Wednesday) they rarely stayed open past 6 pm.  The impression that I got of Newton Iowa was that it was an extremely small town.  The population in 2014 was about 15,000 and if it is like other small mid-western towns I know, there probably was not a lot there, especially in 1983.  Terri knew Steven worked at the ranch so why not go meet him when you know he is going to get off work and make him take you; or go during the day and try to get money when you can go from there and get the much needed shoes? 

Terri made the claim, at least when she was denying being there the night before, that he never stayed at the ranch and she would have no way of knowing that he was there.  According to Hal Snedecker's wife in 2014, Terri had called on March 2, 1983 asking if Steven was there or staying there and was given the answer. And, according to Steven's family he often stayed there so she would have known.  Then again, that mattered little once she and Tim were forced to admit that they had been there the night before.  It does however show the extent she was willing to go to deflect interest in her.  

On Cold Justice, during and after Tim was interviewed he was discussed.  They seemed to feel that he was very forthcoming and that was a surprise for them.  They went into that interviewing betting that he would cover for Terri.  However, he admitted taking her to the ranch; he claimed she was insistent the following morning they not tell authorities they were there, while he says he wanted to tell them.  He even goes as far as to tell them that while he had not really considered that she could be involved in the murders for many years, in the past year or so he was beginning to wonder.  While the investigators seemed to believe him, I am not so certain.  There are still questions as to how or if one person could have contained two people.  It was not impossible to do but you have to consider a few things.  First, Terri apparently did not have a vehicle or a way to get to the ranch on her own since Tim stated she needed or asked him for a ride there.  So, in order for her to have gone back to the ranch after Tim supposedly dropped her off somewhere would mean that there would be someone else out there that would know something and has kept quiet for over 30 years. She would have had to have borrowed a car or walked and it was at least 5 miles out of town as I recall finding.  She also would have been covered in blood. So either someone got a car back that she borrowed, cleaner than when she borrowed it, or with blood in it and has stayed quiet or she was out walking, covered in blood and no one saw her.   I do not see there being any other way and I think the fact that he was cooperative means nothing. There was never any evidence that the car he owned at the time was ever searched or tested.  In fairness however, Tim has never been charged in the crime and my beliefs are speculative at best.

Ok, so what happened after the show ended?  Well, the local investigators gave the DA the information and three weeks after they stopped taping Terri Supino was arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder. Her arrest came on March 3, 2014, thirty-one years to the day of the murders.  Remember how I said that Terri and Steven had two children?  Well they are Rocky and Casey.  Neither child carries the Fisher name and use the name Supino apparently as they were referred to.  Casey was interviewed after her mother's arrest and made some very interesting points that I think I have to agree with her on. First, she let it be known that for her entire life she has heard that her mother possibly killed her father.  She never states if she ever asked her mother questions or if she had ever looked into it.  She just simply states that the rumors were always flying.  She pointed out that while it is completely possible that her mother is guilty of the crime and she is willing to be open minded about it, the timing of her arrest not only seems pre-mature, but also a publicity stunt at best.  As she correctly points out, no matter when the arrest would have been made it would have been newsworthy.  The murders at Copper Dollar Ranch had haunted the town of Newton for decades and was still talked about often.  The fact that she was arrested on the anniversary of the murders and just a few short weeks prior to the episode of Cold Justice being aired is in fact suspicious. The sheriff even had a new conference on the day of her arrest stating that the investigation "was not over" and encouraged people to contact if they had information. He gave little indication then what had prompted the arrest and what evidence they had. One could argue that more charges could be pending, especially say against Tim and that was what the sheriff was referring to.  

Terri Supino's lawyers have been successful in having her trial moved out of Jasper County Iowa, where the murders occurred and into Black Hawk County, with a trial date in February 2015. She was initially held on a $400,000 bond. Her lawyers got that reduced in July of 2014 to $300,000 but all indications show she remains in jail.

Do I think she did it?  More than likely.  I think her stories are implausible, and inconsistent.  However, I surely hope they have a lot more proof than what I saw discovered on Cold Justice or in any of my research, or at the very least resolved some very key issues.  I agree with investigators that this absolutely was a crime of passion due to the condition of the bodies.  Most of the anger appeared to be taken out on Melisa as it was said she "no longer had a face." That has been theorized for two reasons, the first is that Steven was killed first, with Melisa being forced to watch, hence she was the only person left to control and the killer could take more time.  And of course the second theory is that she was focused on because the killer (presumed to be Terri) was getting even with her for being with "her man." Both theories are possible, but they are just that, theories.  Lying to police does not prove you are a murderer; have a mean temper, does not automatically make you a murderer.  So, I am very interested in following this trial and see just exactly what happens and hear all the theories available.

UPDATE:  I tried to look and follow Terri Supino's trial every few days, at least when I remembered to look and today I found there was a verdict.  Terri Supino has been found not guilty in the courts after the jury took approximately six hours to deliberate.  From all that I learned, before and during the trial I have to say that I agree with this verdict.  Terri Supino has vowed to "sue someone" for this and again, I may not like the woman's attitude on a lot of things, but on this I would have to also agree with her.  She claims that she was arrested for this crime because the people behind Cold Justice stated they would not air the show without an arrest... that I am unsure I believe to be true.. however, I do believe, and I may have said this above, that her arrest was expedited not only because of the show but also because of the anniversaries of the murders.  Terri's daughter stated once that it seemed to be a media parade or stunt, and I agree.  The arrest would have made news no matter when they made it considering the high profile of the case, as well as the time since the murders. Those sorts of cases almost always make the news but to make the arrest on the anniversary of the murders, with the sheriff appealing to the public to help the investigation along did not sit well with me then, and still does not.  

Is this a case where the overzealous prosecutors let a killer get away... no matter which side of the fence you sit on when it comes to this case, the answer would have to be yes.  Either Terri Supino did murder them and the state simply did not prove it and she is now free or someone else did who is still free.  It is unlikely that they will ever be able to bring charges against anyone else ever in this case.  The only way I ever see that happening is flat out confession but even then they need some DNA ... and the question would be if it were to be discovered... where was it in this trial?  This case really does anger me in the sense that it should have never made it to trial on the evidence they did not have.  Now, either Terri Supino did and can laugh about it (and Lord how I'd love to hear the people that have been acquitted just come out and admit it) now because people did not do their jobs properly, 

I do love the show Cold Justice and I love hearing the cases that they deal with.  I do not know just how involved as far as production people are and if Terri Supino's claim is true.  It very well may be and that is sad. Regardless if her claim that the producers were refusing to air the episode without an arrest is true... I have what I call my "icky" feeling when it comes to the sheriff and prosecutor on this case far less than I do about the show.  Even if the claims are true that the producers of the show did make this threat, the ultimately lands at the feet of the sheriff and prosecutor there... period.  They either really did sell out a case in the name of publicity, possibly charging an innocent person on evidence that they would have never have done absent the show, or they still made a deal of arresting a subject on the anniversary of the murders on little to no real evidence.  I have heard nothing from the producers of the show, nor the investigators from that town to dispute what Terri Supino has claimed, at least with any credibility... and it's already running low in this case!   

Comments

  1. As a juror on this case let me first state that this was the HARDEST THING I have ever had to do. Secondly, to the families of both victims, I offer you my deepest sympathy and condolences. I can't begin to imagine how hard this has been for you. I also sincerely apologize that we were not able to provide you with the closure that you all have waited for after all these years. I have spent the last few hours researching this case and reading articles ( as we were not allowed to do so during the trial). I chose to comment on this one because I felt it best described this case. I'm not going to go in depth on what you were wrong/right about. I will however state that we were presented with lots of evidence and testimony. Most of which was circumstantial. Many of the witnesses had inconsistencies in their testimonies from 1983 as well as 2014 when a lot of these depositions were taken and then again during this trial. A lot of what we heard was I dont recall or remember or I'm not sure. Totally understandable since we're dealing with a 32 year time period. We also had to deal with what was considered to be he said/she said or her word against their's simply because stories couldn't be coaberated and recollections of events were recalled differently. How we personally felt in the case was irrelevant. We were given a specific set of instructions on which we had to decide whether the state had proved her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We went through numerous scenarios but because we did not have the direct or even the circumstantial evidence to support them, we had no choice but to deem them as speculation.

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  2. There was also things we never got answers to due to the deaths of other key players in this case. I will say that the things the state proved without a doubt were that the marriage was not the greatest. There was lots of infidelity as well as abuse. The accused had a motive as well as opportunity. The accused was inconsistent, short tempered and confrontational at times. She knew of the infidelity from her husband but yet she always took him back. Even taking these things into consideration that's still not enough to label someone a murderer. However as we learned from the evidence and testimony presented, she was not the only one that had a motive or opportunity and there was a great case made in this claim. It wasn't the defense's job to prove she didn't do it. It was the state's to prove that she did. The ball was dropped with so many things in this case. The state didn't do the best job in this case. Some of the witnesses the State presented and their testimony actually helped the defense more than the State. We really couldn't believe that they didnt try this case years ago while some of these other people were still alive. The newly found evidence did nothing to support the State. They really had nothing more in 2015 than they did in 1983 other than confirmed DNA results, which obviously wasn't anything to connect the accused. I understand wanting to provide closure, however I just can't believe this made it to trial considering the evidence or extreme lack there of. Now on the other hand, let's consider the possibility of the accused being innocent. I can't imagine what the children had to go through growing up in a town and hearing these horrible rumors about their mother. That had to be hard especially considering you don't have your father possibly due to your mother's actions. I offer you my deepest condolences and sympathy as well. Neither side gets their loved ones back. And may possibly never have the same questions we as jurors want answered. It was senseless and tragic. I will forever be impacted by this case. And I in no way intend to offend either party or disrespect the deceased or the living. I will not discuss my personal belief I will however say that the only reason we as a jury found the defendant not guilty was for this reason and this reason alone: THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE HER GUILT BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. I hope that both families find some sense of peace. I also believe that whether it be in this lifetime or the next we all will be held accountable for the things we do. May God Bless you and keep you all. I hope this helps provide a better understanding. Thank you

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  3. I enjoyed your comments juror! Before I responded I wanted to go through and re-read this whole post, just to be sure the position that I had taken when I wrote it originally. I think I knew when I originally wrote this what you as a jury would have found if there was not any other evidence presented. I was hoping there was a lot that had not been let out publicly that clearly would point to her guilty but obviously not.
    As a juror was there anything stated about her inconsistent statements? I remember in the show I just simply did not believe her as she seemed to contradict herself consistently. I will give her the benefit of the doubt with some of her anger as she had been at least one of the prime suspects for 30+ years but I also felt a huge pang of immaturity coming from her. I gave her her violent attitude at 22/23 or flying off the handle but it did not seem to calm as most of us tend to do as we age. At her age you know when and where to properly behave. You can get your point across to someone with out showing the attitude that she seemed to. Now of course by the time it went to court she had been in jail nearly a year so her attitude is obviously going to more hostile and I give her that too but I just found it to be at a lower maturity level than I would expect.
    As I stated above I think the person that worked the most against Terri Supino, then and now, was Terri Supino....

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  4. It is a personal belief that over the years Terri has dibbled and dabbled into heavy drug or alcohol use, if not both. This didn't come out in this trial but based on behaviors, demeanor and many other things, this conclusion was made.There were statements about the inconsistencies but ironically her inconsistencies were consistent over the years. I feel the state wasted so much time trying to exploit those. It was either this or that and after 32 years I really don't remember. I don't remember is not an admission of guilt or innocence. One simply doesn't remember which is understandable. We also took into consideration the small time gossips and rumors. Age and years past. We considered how possible it is for one person to recall events differently from another. One juror stated that she goes through that with her brother all the time. It's not that she or her brother are lying or intentionally being deceitful, they just remember things different because of what was more important to them about the situation. Less time should have been spent on why she went. It was known that she did. What was unknown was if she went back or how she got there. There was nothing entered to support this line of thinking. And I mean NOTHING. She was asked under oath did she kill them. She wasn't asked if she went back. She wasn't asked if she paid someone or had someone help her, nothing. It's just so many things in this trial. They did however do an excellent job with the selection of the jurors. I was amazed at all the different ideas and theories . The amount of knowledge and personal experience they brought to the table. Attention to details was the greatest. So many times we had all caught the same things, had the same questions or the same side notes. I will agree that she was her biggest problem. I can't say if it was guilt, drugs, alcohol or innocence that caused her to act the way she did. I will say she is definitely different. In closing I would like to reiterate that the ONLY REASON WE FOUND HER NOT GUILTY WAS BECAUSE THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE HER GUILT BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.

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