Anderson: F. Lee Bailey and the most famous murder on Longboat Key – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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Two homicides were committed last week in a place where they aren’t supposed to happen. People play golf on Longboat Key, sip martinis at sunset, fret over the peacocks that overpopulate the island. Murder? Not here. United States presidents stay here.

But from time to time it does happen here, and when it does it makes headlines, sometimes even worldwide headlines, like with the long-ago, groundbreaking case of Carl Coppolino. He was found guilty of murdering his wife on Longboat Key in 1965 and, aside perhaps from the Sheila Bellush and Carlie Brucia murders, the Coppolino case was the area’s most notorious in terms of the interest it generated.

The New York Times described the crazy Coppolino saga as being something from a Hitchcock thriller and that would be accurate. It had everything and it all began in 1963 in New Jersey, where Carl Coppolino and his wife Carmen lived. Both were physicians until Carl Coppolino lost his license and began doing hypnotherapy.

Coppolino had been helping his neighbor quit smoking. Her name was Marjorie Farber. She was 20 years older than Coppolino and soon they entered into a passionate affair. Eventually it was decided that Farber’s husband, Col. William Farber, should be removed from the picture so they could carry on.

On June 30, 1963, Marjorie Farber called Carl Coppolino to say her husband was having trouble breathing. Coppolino went to the house, and then called his wife Carmen, who pronounced Col. Farber dead from a heart attack, signed the death certificate and that was that. Col. Farber was dead and no one was the wiser.

Two years later the Coppolinos moved to Longboat Key, and in a strange twist Marjorie Farber moved from New Jersey to Longboat Key to be near Coppolino, whose interest in her by now had waned.

Coppolino began having an affair with a wealthy woman named Mary Gibson, whom he met in Sarasota while playing bridge.

Coppolino decided that he needed his wife Carmen out of the picture and on Aug. 28, 1965 she was found dead in the couple’s Longboat Key home of coronary occlusion. Carmen Coppolino’s death came three weeks after Carl Coppolino had increased her life insurance policy by $10,000. Coppolino married Gibson three weeks after the death of his wife.

However, Marjorie Farber was still around town and she was none too happy. She had planned on it being her with Coppolino, not Gibson, so she went to the police and told them everything, including the plot she had hatched with Coppolino to kill her husband in New Jersey.

The plan, she said, was for Coppolino to kill him with an injection of succinylcholine chlorine, a muscle relaxer that was untraceable at the time. Authorities at once exhumed the bodies of Col. Farber and Carmen Coppolino and the states of New Jersey and Florida rushed to see who could try Coppolino first.

Coppolino hired Boston defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, who was fresh off a landmark win in the similar Sam Sheppard case and was quickly developing a reputation as one of the top attorneys in the country.

Traces of the muscle relaxer were not found in Farber’s body because he had been buried for too long, but it was determined that he had been choked. At any rate, Coppolino was acquitted of the murder and Bailey had another win on his resume.

The trial for Carmen Coppolino’s murder was moved from Sarasota to Naples and Bailey was just as confident he would win this trial, too, even though traces of the muscle relaxer were found in her body. It was the first trial in history to use science to detect succinylcholine chlorine in a body. Bailey readily dismissed the science. Decades later he would, ironically, serve on O.J. Simpson’s so-called Dream Team, which relied heavily on discrediting the reliability of DNA testing.

Both Bailey and Coppolino were shocked when the verdict came in and Coppolino was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his wife. It was one of Bailey’s biggest defeats and he blamed it on Marjorie Farber, Coppolino’s first mistress. She was painted as a scorned woman who framed her ex-lover.

“She wants this man so badly that she would sit in his lap in the electric chair just to make sure he dies,’’ Bailey said.

Coppolino was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in 1979 after serving 12 years. The New York Times asked Coppolino what his immediate plans were upon release.

“I can’t wait to get home and see a Bucs game,’’ he said.

 

Chris Anderson can be reached at chris.anderson@heraldtribune.com

August 6, 2017 at 09:12AM

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