Dr. Carl Coppolino should have kept in mind the old adage about a woman scorned when he dumped his former lover, Marge Farber.
Coppolino was an anesthesiologist at Riverview Hospital in Red Bank, New Jersey and he was also a skilled practitioner in the art of hypnosis. His wife Carmela was a research physician with a large drug firm. In 1963 Coppolino resigned from his position stating that he was unable to continue practicing due to a heart condition; a claim which would be later purported to have been caused by his ingesting digitalis in order to mimic heart disease.
Coppolino was able to support himself reasonably well with his disability checks, his moderate success as an author and his wife's salary. The Coppolino's eventually moved to an upper class neighborhood in Middletown, New Jersey. Soon after they met their new neighbors, Ret. Army Colonel William and Marjorie Farber. At Carmela's suggestion Marge turned to Coppolino for hypnosis in an effort to rid her of her narcotic addition. The two spent a lot of time together and their mutual attraction gave way to a torrid affair. If Carmela was aware of their relationship she gave no sign. William on the other hand was not so foolish!
On the evening of July 3o, 1963, the phone at the Coppolino residence rang. A panic-strickened Marge was on the other end. Her husband was unconscious. Marge pleaded with Carl to come over. Carl sent Carmela instead. When she entered the residence she found William Farber dead in his bedroom. At Carl's insistence Carmela signed the death certificate attributing his death to coronary thrombosis. He was 51 at the time of his demise.
Using his heart condition as an excuse Carl Coppolino decided to move his family to Florida. Carl's plans for a high-end life style were in danger when Carmela failed the Florida medical exam and was unable to practice. Desperate for cash, Carl Coppolino came up with a new plan. As usual it involved another woman! Carl began romancing wealthy divorcee, Mary Gibson.
Marge Farber eventually followed Carl to Florida in the hopes of rekindling their romance. What she found was that she had been replaced. A situation that did not sit well with her. In an effort to put an end to the relationship between Carl and Mary, Marge phoned Carmela. Her plan would produce disastrous results!
On August 29, 1965 around 6 AM a call was placed to Dr. Juliette Karow. Carl Coppolino was on the other end and tearfully explained to Dr. Karow that he had just found his wife dead of an apparent heart attack. Carmela was 32-years-old when she died. Dr Karow came to the house to examine the body. She was suspicious as to the cause of death due to the age of the victim, but since there was no evidence of foul play she agreed to sign the death certificate.
Exactly 41 days after his wife's death Carl Coppolino married Mary Gibson. Marge Farber was incensed. She had been played by Coppolino, or so she felt, and it was time to exact revenge! Marjorie went to the Sarasota County Sheriff's department and related a bizarre tale of two murders. Cast in the role as a jilted lover her story was met with skepticism. However the Sheriff decided to begin a quiet investigation and found that things were not adding up. His investigation led to the exhumation of both Col. William Farber and Carmela Coppolino and the examination of both bodies led to charges of homicide for Carl Coppolino.
He was tried first in December of 1966 for the murder of William Farber. His attorney was the infamous F. Lee Bailey. In Bailey's opening statement he said of Marjorie Farber; "she wants this man so badly that she would sit on his lap in the electric chair.... just to make sure he dies" Marjorie took the stand during the trial and testified to her role in her husband's alleged murder. She claimed that she had been hypnotized by Coppolino into attempting to murder her husband with an injection of succinylcholine and when she was unable to do so he smothered her husband with a pillow while she stood helplessly by and watched.
With a brutal cross examination and masterful defense strategy, Bailey was able to portray Marjorie as a woman scorned and raise serious doubt as to whether a murder had even occurred. Coppolino was acquitted.
In April of 1967, Coppolino went on trial for the murder of his wife. He was again defended by F. Lee Bailey. This trial however would make forensic history. During the autospy of Carmela Coppolino the medical examiner, Dr. Milton Helpern, noticed an injection site in her left buttocks. It had also been discovered that Coppolino had obtained several vials of succinylcholine from a friend claiming they were to be used for animal experiments. The central problem was that succinylcholine had never before been detected in human tissue because of its rapid breakdown into byproducts. These byproducts are normally present in the body in small amounts after death and are undetectable by ordinary means. Dr Helpern and his chief toxicologist, Joseph Umberger, were able to develop a technique to detect abnormal levels of the byproducts in Carmela Coppolino's tissues. Due to the overwhelming but highly controversial medical evidence, Carl Coppolino was convicted of 2nd-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. After serving 12-1/2 years, Coppolino was paroled in 1979.