Copple is quiet, everyone agrees. Meticulous. Meet him and you might retain an impression of a wallflower with a radar - the kind of guy whose eyes scan the room while his weak posture says please don’t notice me.
Copple’s life was unremarkable until Halloween night, 2004, when Adriane Insogna, the best friend of Copple’s fiancé, was viciously stabbed to death in her bedroom in Napa, California. Insogna’s roommate, Leslie Mazzara, was also brutally knifed to death. The two 26-year-old women were atypical murder victims. They were employed, well-liked, and not known risk-takers. Their murders seemed lifted from a slasher flick: Halloween night, breaking glass, screams, and a third roommate hiding in her bedroom as her pretty roommates are stabbed to death on the floor above her.
Leslie Mazzara, left, and Adriane Insogna, right
The third roommate survived. She never saw the attacker, only the aftermath of his attack - the bodies of two friends she’d just watched Sex and the City with lay crumpled and torn in a frenzy of overturned furniture and blood.
Copple’s fiancé, Lily Prudhomme, was devastated by the women’s deaths. She went on television and talked about her murdered best friend, Adriane Isogna. Adriane was a scrappy girl, Lily told 48 Hours Mystery. “I hope she hurt him,” she said. Copple was in the room with Lily during the CBS interview. He was quiet and supportive, an unassuming young man whose life had inadvertently intersected with a violent high-profile mystery.
Several months after the murders Copple and Lily got married. Adriane’s mother attended the wedding and gave a reading during the ceremony. “I looked directly into both of their eyes,” she later told The Napa Valley Register, and read ‘love is stronger than death and passion fierce as the grave.’ I know Lily picked out those verses in honor of Adriane.”
Meanwhile, police got a forensic break. They were able to match the killer’s DNA left inside the house with two cigarette butts found outside near the garage. It seemed the killer had stood for a while and smoked, waiting for the right time to enter. Better yet, the cigarettes were an unusual brand, Camel Turkish Gold. Police released the information to the public, hoping the unique brand would trigger someone’s memory.
It triggered a confession instead. On September 27, 2005, a man walked into Napa police headquarters. Speculation about the killer had run the gamut from crazed stalker to bloodthirsty Satanist. Detectives weren’t prepared for the soft-spoken college graduate without a record who was accompanied by family members. “I killed Adriane Insogna and Leslie Mazzara,” the man told Napa police detective Todd Schulman. The man’s name was Eric Copple.
Motive and details, however, were patchy and elusive. Copple had gotten drunk at a Halloween party and passed out after his fiancé brought him home. He remembered waking up, getting zip ties and a five inch knife, driving to the victims’ home, smoking cigarettes by the garage, prying open a kitchen window, and - well, then it gets fuzzy, according to Copple, he may have fallen asleep again, or blacked out, or closed his eyes, but he cannot remember stabbing the two women, only “bits and pieces of what happened,” according to detective Schulman’s testimony at Copple’s preliminary hearing.
Surprisingly, Copple did have the presence of mind to burn his clothes in a fire pit when he returned home. Something you’d expect a detail-oriented, efficient person, say a land surveyor, to do.
Dissociative amnesia, sometimes known as a fugue state, seems to hit criminals, particularly murderers, hard. William Heirens, known as the “Lipstick Killer” for the message he left in lipstick on a victim’s wall (“For heavens sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself”), confessed in August 1946 to the brutal murders of two women and the dismemberment of a six year-old girl. Heirens testified in a Chicago courtroom that he didn’t recall cutting up the girl. State’s Attorney Wilbert Crowley asked him, “Don’t you know you did that?” Heirens replied, “No I didn’t know.” The use of past tense is revealing. He may know about it now, but he didn’t know then; thus, he was not responsible.
Selective amnesia is often accompanied by a disturbing sense of remove from the murder itself. Christian Longo was convicted of killing his wife and three children on the Oregon coast in 2001. In interviews he refers to the murders as “the incident,” and “the tragedy.” It’s a generalized event, sad but distant, and certainly a softer description than, “the time I strangled my three year-old daughter, packed her body in a suitcase, and threw her into the sea.”
Sometimes even the craftiest creator of a murderous fugue state trips himself up. On the evening of March 26, 2006, in Clarendon Hills, Illinois Neil Lofquist appeared at his neighbor’s door babbling, as if he’d suffered a stroke. The neighbor called Lofquist’s wife, who took him to the hospital while the neighbor agreed to babysit for the Lofquist’s sleeping daughter, Lauren.
While at the hospital, a ranting and incoherent Lofquist said something to his wife about “Lauren’s death.” The wife called the neighbor, and together they talked on the phone as the neighbor walked around the second floor looking for 8-year-old Lauren. She found her in the bathroom, but it was too late. Lauren’s head was plunged into the toilet bowl. She’d been strangled, stabbed, and then forced into the toilet by her father, a soccer coach and Sunday school teacher.
Early reports suggested a psychotic break. Lofquist wasn’t making much sense. He told investigators his daughter was the devil, and he had to kill her to save the world. Neighbors and family members grieved both the death of a beautiful little girl and the mind of a man who everyone agreed had been a model father. Even prosecutors admitted a mental health evaluation was necessary. What else but insanity could explain such an act?
Doubts trickled in. There was an incident at the popular children’s pottery store Lofquist once owned, something about an underage employee and inappropriate touching. Then Lauren’s autopsy report indicated she had been raped. The devil had to be killed to save the world, but raped?
“Neil always seemed to be in his own world,” one acquaintance of Lofquist’s wrote on a crime message board. At first that description seemed to fit a man who was slowly losing touch with reality. But when more information was released - Lofquist had raped his daughter not once but twice, the first time two nights before he killed her - the observation seemed less about mental impairment and more about retreating to a dark, violent fantasy world of one’s own making.
As of this writing, Neil Lofquist is expected to mount an insanity defense.
Eric Copple, too, is considering a not guilty by reason of insanity plea. Presumably his attorneys will argue he was in an alcoholic blackout, or experiencing a fugue state. Experts say that 0.2 percent of the population actually experiences dissociative fugue, though the proportion of murderers who claim to experience it is vastly higher. A more likely scenario is that they recall every lurid detail of their attack. Ted Bundy was proud of this fact: "I haven't blocked out the past. I wouldn't trade the person I am, or what I've done - or the people I've known - for anything. So I do think about it. And at times it's a rather mellow trip to lay back and remember."