John Cooper: Detective looks back on Bullseye appearanceJohn Cooper committed a string of double murders, a sexual assault and rape in the Eighties
John Cooper: Detective looks back on Bullseye appearance
John Cooper committed a string of double murders, a sexual assault and rape in the Eighties and Nineties – crimes he got away with for nearly 20 years. The labourer from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, was a notorious burglar, and already had a history of serious violence. In 1985, he killed brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas in their manor house home, tying them up and shooting at close range, later burning their home to the ground.
He took with him several of their items, pieces his son, Andrew, would later reveal Cooper kept in a room under lock and key – trophy items.
Four years later, in May 1989, Cooper appeared on the popular game show Bullseye: A charismatic figure, he got on well with host Jim Bowen, telling him he enjoyed scuba diving on the Pembrokeshire coast.
It was a key detail that would later prove decisive in his conviction.
A few weeks after his Bullseye appearance he cornered Peter and Gwenda Dixon in broad daylight on Pembrokeshire’s tourist hot-spot National Coastal Path; tying them up, he demanded they hand over their bank cards, PINs and cash, and shot them at point-blank range in the face.
Pembrokeshire murders: John Cooper committed a string of double murders in the Eighties and Nineties
John Cooper: The labourer from managed to evade the police’s suspect list for nearly 20 years
Rumours were aplenty of the murders: The Dixon’s had found a hidden drug stash; they had stumbled on an IRA hide-out – but once again Cooper escaped.
In 1994, he confronted a group of teenagers with the same shotgun he had used in the murders, sexually assaulting one of the girls, a 15-year-old, and raping another, a 16-year-old.
It wasn’t until 1998 Cooper was arrested; a botched robbery saw him throw away his balaclava and gloves in a nearby hedgerow while fleeing the scene, both of which police later recovered.
He was handed a 14-year sentence for armed robbery but in 2006 qualified for parole.
It is this brief passage of time that ITV’s new drama, ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’, follows as detectives who were part of the covert “Operation Ottawa” opened the cold case and raced against the clock to prove Cooper was their man.
Dylan Rhys Jones, the former defence solicitor of the notorious North Wales serial killer, Peter Moore, told Express.co.uk that it was very much a ticking-time-bomb scenario, as Cooper was “certain” to commit another murder, assault or rape during his parole.
Mr Rhys Jones explained: “It is fairly certain, having dealt with somebody who once he had the taste for killing would have continued to do so, that Cooper would have gone on to commit such acts if he hadn’t have been apprehended.
“It’s a common conception that somebody who has killed people more than one time, for whatever reason, comes to enjoy that power they’re able to exercise over somebody else, to the extent that they need to repeat it in order to get the enjoyment or pleasure from it.
“In my client’s case, Peter Moore had to repeat that process of murdering somebody because it fed something inside him, in his case, sexual and power motivation.
“And I’m sure the same would apply to Cooper – he would have enjoyed having the power to control others.
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UK crime: Peter and Gwenda Dixon were murdered in broad daylight
“He didn’t just shoot them and get rid of them either, because there was even a sexual element there with the teenagers.
“He would have enjoyed the process: Killing someone would’ve been something he relished, and as a result of that, he would have wanted to do it again because of the pleasure and satisfaction.”
He added: “And there was a time element to it; the clock was ticking, and as a consequence the police would have been aware there was a danger that this man would have continued to want to feed that need he had inside him: To kill people.”
Cooper completed his parole with detectives keeping a close eye on him the whole time.
The process behind their investigation was no small feat.
From 2006, it took two years of collating witness statements and scrutinising thousands of old exhibits before the Ottawa team – led by Detective Steve Wilkins – were convinced that the same person was responsible for all three crimes.
They concluded that the perpetrator was extremely familiar with the area; had the ability to control multiple victims; and was unafraid to use extreme violence.
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To his family, it was obvious Cooper had committed the crimes.
For years had they lived under his grip.
Andrew – originally Adrian – changed his name in later life, wanting to distance himself from his father’s identity.
He later revealed he had been beaten by his father “for the most minor of transgressions,” claiming Cooper constantly “bounced off the walls”.
At one point, aged 11, he said he feared for his life as his father, according to the website, Crime and Investigation, “pointed a shotgun at his face, close range and taunted the terrified boy as his tormentor pulled the trigger”.
Cooper also viciously beat his wife.
The brutality extended to the family dog: When it went lame through old age, Cooper took it out to the garden and “beat it to death for half an hour” rather than take it to a vet.
The nail in the coffin for Cooper was when Detective Wilkins caught word of his 1989 Bullseye appearance.
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He paused the episode in the exact place where Cooper’s side profile matched that of an artist’s impression of the murderer from a witness description in the Eighties.
In ITV’s 2018, ‘The Game Show Serial Killer: Police Tapes’, he said: “For me, it was like a tracing.
“The way he was standing, his build, the scraggly hair, sort of shoulder length, the unkempt moustache.
“The senior investigator officer advisor, I showed it to him, and his response to me was, “F***ing Wilky, it’s him.'”
Despite pleading his innocence, Cooper was found guilty of the two double murders.
He was convicted on May 26, 2011.
In the mini-series, Cooper is played by Keith Allen, while Mr Wilkins is played by Hollywood actor Luke Evans.
Convicted: The pairing of the images cemented Wilkins’s conclusion that Cooper was the murderer
Speaking to ITV’s ‘This Morning’ last week, Mr Evans said the programme “didn’t need to be dramatised” as the cold case was “enough to put the fear of God into the team”.
Mr Evans added: “To catch Cooper in the way the team did is such an achievement.
“The drama explains how there were flaws in the investigation.
“The clock was ticking in a terrifying way when he was released on parole in 2006, so everyone was concerned.
“Everyone knew deep down that Cooper was the killer, it was just finding the evidence to prove it.”
The Pembrokeshire Murders begins on Monday January 11 at 9pm on ITV.