March 3, 2018

The 2004 Napa Murders

Before November 1, 2004, Napa, California was known for its temperate weather, gorgeous scenery, plethora of local vineyards and quality of life for its residents, including being a very safe community.  Despite the many tourists who flocked from other parts of California, as well as throughout the United States and Europe, crime was not a common occurrence.  In fact, Napa had not seen a homicide in over two years as Halloween of 2004 rolled around.

On that last day of October, roommates Adriane Insogna, Leslie Mazzara and Lauren Meanza spent the evening handing out candy to trick-or-treaters that rang the bell at their Dorset Street home.  By 11 p.m., the lights were out and all three had turned in; Adriane and Leslie to their upstairs bedrooms and Lauren to her downstairs bedroom.  All would be quiet until around 2 a.m.

At that time, Lauren was awakened by the sound of breaking glass and what she would describe as "a blood curdling, terrified scream."  She cautiously crept from her bed, to head upstairs to investigate.  She was stopped when she heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming down the stairs toward her.  Terrified, she ran out the back door and into the yard, where she hid, perfectly still.  She would hear the sounds of someone climbing out of the basement window and running off into the night before she would regain her courage and reenter the house.  She climbed the stairs and, hearing crying coming from Adriane's room, headed that way.  She never could have been prepared for what sight met her.

Leslie was face down, in a pool of blood.  Adriane was crouched down behind the bed, still alive, but having sustained many, many stab wounds from which she was bleeding heavily.  There was so much blood in the room that Lauren slipped.

She tried to call 911 on the house phone but the line was dead. She retrieved her mobile phone and called for help, while running out to her own car and driving away.  She was petrified that the person who attacked her roommates was still in the house or the area.

Paramedics arrived on Dorset Street quickly.  Leslie was dead.  Adriane would die very soon after the paramedics' arrival.  Both of them had been stabbed repeatedly.  Lauren had not seen anyone, although she had heard the attacks.

The local authorities began their investigation.  They combed the crime scene and found cigarette butts outside the home. As neither Lauren, Leslie nor Adriane smoked, they believed the attacker had lain in wait, biding his time and smoking,, before entering the home on his murderous errand.  They would also find blood at the scene that was not Leslie's or Adriane's.  Clearly their killer had cut himself.  DNA tests, though, would take time.

Napa reeled from the savage murders. Because a suspect wasn't caught immediately, residents were terrified and rumors began to swirl.  One of the more repeated ones was that Lauren, Leslie and Adriane were mixed up with drugs and the murders were a hit.  Another one was that Leslie's employer, Francis Ford Coppola, who owned the winery Leslie worked at, had mob ties and the ladies were collateral damage.  Neither rumor had any basis in truth and fact.

The local police believed that Leslie was the intended victim.  She had been attacked first and very viciously.  The evidence indicated that she had been sleeping when she was first stabbed and had attempted to run away from her killer, headed toward Adriane's room.  Adriane, it seems, had heard the attack on Leslie and run to her friend's defense, sustaining fatal stab wounds herself in the process.

Police began to check into the backgrounds of Adriane and Leslie, looking for a killer.

Adriane and Lily
Adriane Insogna had cheated death at 16, surviving a near fatal car crash.  The car had rolled three times, Adriane striking her head on the pavement through the open window.  Always scrappy, she had survived -  a miracle - and returned to school within a few months, although she did suffer with some memory loss as a result of the temporary brain damage caused by the accident.  She would heal and excel in school, earning a scholarship to California Polytechnic State University. She pursued her dream of becoming an engineer, successfully.  Hired on by the City of Napa after she graduated, Adriane was working there at the time of her murder.  Just four months before her death, she would celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the car accident, the time when she was granted a miracle and cheated death, with one of her closest friends, Lily Prudhomme. 

Shortly after being hired by the city, she started dating Christian Lee.   Their relationship would be rocky, on again and off again.  She wanted a serious commitment; he wasn't ready.  Adriane had seen Christian on Halloween night, when she dropped by after handing out candy to the kids.  She left his place around 10 p.m. and that was the last time he saw her.   They had been arguing, about her desire for a commitment and about the fact that she had gone to a party recently and met a guy, something that made Christian jealous.

Other than the quasi-drama with Christian, Adriane led a quiet life.  She had a circle of friends, including Lily, that she had known for years.  She did not have a high risk lifestyle.

Leslie Mazzara, unlike Adriane, had a huge circle of friends and was extremely outgoing.  She was the new girl on the block, having moved to California from Anderson, South Carolina only months earlier.  A former beauty queen, Leslie had given consideration to becoming a teacher or an attorney but seemed stuck. Her mother Cathy had gone to Berkeley and had invited her daughter out for the summer, to work in one of the wineries and gather her thoughts.  From the moment that Leslie arrived in Napa, she seemed to love it.  She went to director Francis Ford Coppola's winery and was hired on the spot. The stunning and outgoing young lady was the perfect fit for the winery. What began as a summer job turned into a passion.  She decided that she wanted to make the wine business her career. Even when her mother relocated to Michigan, Leslie stayed behind in Napa.  For Leslie's family, there seemed little cause for concern.  She was well liked, a smart girl, and Napa was a safe, homey community.

Leslie was popular, especially so with men.  She didn't appear to be a player or user; in fact, she remained on good terms with everyone she dated.  Two of her South Carolina friends who had visited Leslie only weeks before the murders said that she was dating two men at the time.  One man was older and the other, they said, Leslie was quite serious about.  The two friends had been there when the older man came by and spotted flowers the younger man had sent and was "furious."

Multiple friends of Leslie's said she was a heartbreaker, but an unintentional one.  She was a sweet girl who made everyone feel as though he or she was Leslie's best friend.

Leslie's computer was searched and an email from an ex was discovered. The two had broken up years earlier, after he proposed and she turned him down, but he reached out to her not long before her murder.  The family of another man had sent her on a cruise and she received a car as a gift from another man.  A month before her death, Leslie had returned to South Carolina for a friend's wedding, toting a new set of luggage she received from another admirer.  This same friend would report that the night Leslie was murdered, the father of a man Leslie had broken up with had tried repeatedly to reach her by telephone.

Between Adriane and Leslie, Leslie seemed more likely in the cops' eyes to be the intended target. They felt that she may have crossed paths with someone who grew obsessed with her.  The murders were clearly not random; the killer had waited outside and then, upon gaining entry to the house, headed straight upstairs.

Police would interview more than 1,500 people, obtaining DNA samples, with no matches or further leads.  They interrogated Christian Lee the day that Adriane was murdered, even getting a DNA sample.  They interviewed and obtained samples from the men Leslie had dated.  No luck. The lack of any suspects or arrests frustrated the victims' families and friends, who felt they had to defend their reputations and fight to keep the investigation going.

Time passed and went on for others.  Lily Prudhomme, Adriane's best friend, decided after Adriane's murder that life was too short and after putting it off the year before, married her boyfriend Eric Copple. Adriane's mother Arlene attended the wedding, where the song "She Will Be Loved" (Adriane's favorite song) was played in her honor. It was a joyous occasion and yet still sad, as someone was clearly missing from the Prudhomme-Copple wedding party.

In South Carolina, a fundraiser called "The Raising Race" was organized in Leslie's memory, to raise funds for Calvary Home for Children, a charity Leslie worked closely with when she was a beauty queen and living in the area. The Raising Race is a South Carolina version of The Amazing Race and helmed by Survivor contestants Rob and Amber, who met Leslie's friend Kelly while competing on The Amazing Race.

In September of 2005, almost a year after the murders, the local police decided to publicly release the evidence about the cigarette butts and the fact they were Turkish Gold, a variation of Camels, that had only been on the market for a very short period of time and were unusual.  DNA tests revealed that the DNA on the cigarettes matched the blood DNA in the upstairs bedroom.  The police felt that revealing the brand of cigarettes would result in someone knowing who the killer was. They had no idea the killer would contact them himself.

It was a Tuesday night.  All the detectives working the case had left for the day.  Eric Copple showed up at the station with his wife, Lily, and other family members.  Like other Napa residents, he had heard about the Turkish Gold cigarettes being found at the crime scene and believing he was about to be caught, confessed to having killed Adriane and Leslie.

Eric Copple's arrest was both a relief and devastating.  Adriane's mother was shocked and horrified that the husband of Adriane's best friend, the wedding she herself had attended in place of Adriane, had murdered her daughter.  For Leslie's family, there was a sense of relief that Leslie was not the sole target but equal confusion as Eric had never met her.

The police came under scrutiny with Copple's arrest.  They had never interviewed him nor taken a DNA sample, despite being in Adriane's inner circle and having been to the Dorset Street home. They had apparently called him at the beginning of the investigation and left messages (which Copple did not return) but never followed up.  The police chief, after the arrest, said they would have eventually spoken to Eric and obtained a DNA sample.  Eric provided one after his arrest and, to no surprise, his DNA matched that on the cigarettes and in the blood found in the house.

In January 2007, Eric Copple was sentenced to life in prison, after a plea deal was agreed upon by Copple, the DA and the victims' families taking the death penalty off the table.  The mothers of both Leslie and Adriane addressed Copple and the court.  Arlene, Adriane's mother, recounted that her daughter never wore turtlenecks in life but was buried in one to attempt to cover the wounds Copple left on her body. She counted out the number of stab wounds he had delivered to Adriane's body.  Leslie's mother Cathy read a 13 page letter.  As he had done with Arlene, Copple did not look at Cathy during her statement.

Copple's wife, and Adriane's best friend, Lily spoke.  She admitted to grieving with Adriane's mother but said that she knew a "gentler Eric" than the Eric that murdered her friend.  She publicly proclaimed support for her husband, going so far as to tell him that there was "nothing in this world that you could do that would make me love you less."

Before he was sentenced, Copple himself spoke.  He apologized to the Insogna and Mazzara families, even crying. He blamed the murders on the death of his grandfather, that sent him into a depression, and the alcohol he was using in an attempt to cope with the depression.  He said that he was going to kill himself but decided instead to turn himself in, so there would be closure to the case.

Lily herself would say that Eric killed because of his depression.  Despite her claim that he could do nothing to change her love for her, she later divorced him but, inexplicably, kept his name.

Why did Eric Copple kill?  The Napa police never publicly stated a motive for the murders.  Do I think he killed because his grandfather died?  Absolutely not.  Do I think it was depression?  Hell, no.

It was not a coincidence that November 1, 2004 was the date that he and Lily Prudhomme had initially planned to marry.  She had backed out.  Lily later said that she and Adriane would discuss their relationships with each other, as girlfriends do. I think Lily may have decided to call off the wedding after one of these discussions.  Maybe she told Eric, maybe not.  But Eric's decision to murder her best friend was one of extreme passive-aggressiveness toward Lily.  He couldn't kill her, didn't want to kill her, so he could do the next best thing to punish Lily.  Heck, he may have even been attracted to Adriane.

He had been to the house before.  He likely knew that Adriane slept upstairs.  I don't think he knew Lauren slept downstairs, which spared her life.  He had never met Leslie and it's probably he didn't know that there were three women living in the home.  In all likelihood, he only expected two women.  Adriane, always the scrappy one, had attacked him after he stabbed Leslie.  She had drawn blood, leaving behind more DNA evidence.  Good for her.

It's unusual that Eric Copple had no record when he murdered Adriane and Leslie. He was on no one's radar.  Lily herself had told the television program 48 Hours that someone surely had noticed something, the killer must have been acting strangely - - how could it not be noticed? She also had said she hoped that Adriane had injured her killer.  All the while, Eric Copple was sitting beside her.

Had she not known?  How had she not known?  They are questions that seem puzzling . . .but Ted Bundy too had friends and family that never suspected he was abducting and murdering young women.  Would Lily have figured it out had the police released the info about the Turkish Gold cigarettes any earlier?

Lauren Meanza, the roommate who survived that brutal night, left Napa and relocated to L.A. She would say she felt safer in a larger city where violence was the norm.

Eric Copple remains behind bars, where he is serving two life sentences with no possibility of parole.

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