Special Report: Diary of a dead woman

By Janice Broach - bio | email

HENRY COUNTY, TN (WMC-TV) - Investigators in Henry County are trying to figure out why a Mid-South woman starved herself to death, and believe the answers may be inside the woman's diary, which she wrote in until the very end.

Henry County Deputy Jim Sanders described the call that brought him to a rural house in Cottage Grove.

"Originally we were under the impression that she had very recently - as in within minutes - had died, and while we were en route we were told it was not as much of a hurry because she had been here for a while," he said.

"She" was Sandra Lynn Coppedge, a  58-year-old woman investigators say lay dead inside her house for 10 months.  Investigators say Coppedge committed suicide by starving herself to death.

"It's very obvious that she basically wanted to do this even though it was a very painful way to die," Henry County Sheriff Monte Belew said.

Belew said Coppedge left behind a diary, which detailed the months leading up to her death.

It begins Thursday, January 1st, 2009...

"Today is the first day of the new year, 2009. And it is COLD! The sun is weakly shining, the wind is blowing and there is frost on the windows.  It feels like a Sunday," Coppedge wrote.

Coppedge wrote in her diary each day for five months, often writing about the weather, and the dogs that would run into her yard.  Within weeks, she began writing about headaches, dizziness, and hunger.

"She talks about in here, one time, when she hadn't had food in 25 days, and she's wondering why she hasn't already passed away, because the body is like a machine and it requires food to keep functioning properly," Belew said.

Investigators believe Coppedge stopped purchasing food a year and a half before her death, even though she had a car and money in the bank.  Her diary offers a glimpse into what was going on the last five months of her life...

"She speaks in this journal about how she was putting rain barrels out and five-gallon buckets to catch rain water off the roof," Belew said. "She used the water as drinking water and also cleaning water."

Belew said the diary describes how Coppedge would eat grass, dandelions, and other things growing in her hard.

"Sunday, March 22nd, 2009...TIME CHANGE," Coppedge wrote. "It is already a miserable day. Damp cool cloudy. I went outside and got some green onions and dandelion greens...washed them, put vinegar - apple cider - salt, pepper, and oregano on them.  Not bad. Time will tell what happens."

Investigators say Coppedge starved herself, even though help from neighbors - like Charles Wilson - was just a few hundred yards away.

"I thought she had moved out. Somebody told us she had moved to Kentucky," Wilson said. "Bothers me that anybody lived that close and starved to death. I couldn't understand it."

Investigators say Coppedge never requested assistance from neighbors or the government, and that her body was discovered only when one of her son's stopped by to check on the house.

"There was a note to her son taped there and a key to the front door in an envelope," Belew said. "And that note stated he was going to have to let himself in because she was not able to do so."

Belew said Coppedge's son thought she was living with her other son in Knoxville.

"Obviously this was not a very close family," Belew said. "None of the three children had contact with the mother in that period of time, that length of time."

Investigators found the diary next to Coppedge's body, on a table by her bed.  The last entry read, "Friday, May 23rd, 2009...Dreary day. Was sick a little this morning. Not bad."

"Just to think that someone - before she went into this - had a functioning life, had a prior marriage, had a job, and things of that nature," Belew said. "We believe there could have been something there psychologically that wasn't just right. No normal person would do something like this."

But there is no indication as to why Coppedge starved herself to death, and Action News 5 has been unable to contact her children.

Coppedge wrote in her diary that she hoped someone would visit her, and that she was physically too weak to help herself.  She said she would lose her breath just moving around the house.

She also left a note for whoever found her, saying wanted to be cremated and have her ashes carried by the wind.

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