New ITV drama starring Luke Evans tells the story of investigation into Pembrokeshire killings – Daily Mail

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ITV’s new drama The Pembrokeshire Killings reveals how Wales’s worst serial killer almost slipped through the fingers of police – until he was snared by an appearance on TV’s Bullseye. 

The three-part drama sees Hollywood actor Luke Evans play Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins, who in 2006 led a review of two brutal unsolved double murder cases from two decades earlier.

Siblings Richard and Helen Thomas were found dead at their farmhouse in Wales in 1985, and the bodies of Peter and Gwenda Dixon were found by the Pembrokeshire coastal path four years later, but the killer John Cooper was not brought to justice until 2011.  

Detectives, led by Superintendent Steve Wilkins, were able to nail Cooper for the murders through advancements in DNA testing, as well as linking him to the area where the crimes were commited after comments he made on Bullseye.  

But what happened to those whose lives were irreparably changed by the murders? Here Femail reveals the real stories behind the TV drama…

Diagnosed psychopath John Cooper had appeared on gameshow Bullseye just weeks before the vicious shooting of a couple on a holiday in Wales

Diagnosed psychopath John Cooper had appeared on gameshow Bullseye just weeks before the vicious shooting of a couple on a holiday in Wales

Diagnosed psychopath John Cooper had appeared on gameshow Bullseye just weeks before the vicious shooting of a couple on a holiday in Wales

Keith Allen plays John Cooper in The Pembrokeshire Murders, a new three-part ITV true crime drama

Keith Allen plays John Cooper in The Pembrokeshire Murders, a new three-part ITV true crime drama

Keith Allen plays John Cooper in The Pembrokeshire Murders, a new three-part ITV true crime drama

John Cooper, now 73, from Pembrokeshire, killed four people in Wales and was known as the game show serial killer after an appearance on the popular television programme Bullseye

John Cooper, now 73, from Pembrokeshire, killed four people in Wales and was known as the game show serial killer after an appearance on the popular television programme Bullseye

John Cooper, now 73, from Pembrokeshire, killed four people in Wales and was known as the game show serial killer after an appearance on the popular television programme Bullseye

John Cooper 

John Cooper, now 73, from Pembrokeshire, killed four people in Wales and was known as the game show serial killer after an appearance on the popular television programme Bullseye.

His long history of crimes already included 30 robberies and a violent assault – for which he was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in 1998 for burglary and robbery before being released in 2009. 

A diagnosed psychopath Cooper – who was married to late wife Patricia and had two children – was a prolific thief before he turned killer, evading justice for around two decades.

His first victims were brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas who he killed with his shotgun before burning down their house in Scoveston Park on December 22, 1985.

After serving time in prison for robbery, Cooper was then convicted at trial of the double murders and sentenced in 2011

After serving time in prison for robbery, Cooper was then convicted at trial of the double murders and sentenced in 2011

After serving time in prison for robbery, Cooper was then convicted at trial of the double murders and sentenced in 2011

On May 28, 1989 Cooper then tied-up and robbed holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon, from Oxfordshire, after confronting them on the Pembrokeshire coastal path near Little Haven.

He robbed Mr Dixon and sexually assaulted his wife before executing them using a sawn-off shotgun in the horrific double murder.

Just a month before the second killings Cooper had appeared on an episode of comic Jim Bowen’s darts quiz, where he described how he liked to go scuba diving – saying Pembrokeshire ‘was the place to do it’. 

Detectives had suspected Cooper for the killings since the early 1990s and after a cold case review, they discovered the recordings of the gameshow that linked him to the area and an artist’s impression that bore a striking similarity. 

A breakthrough came for Steve in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist's impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation

A breakthrough came for Steve in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist's impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation

A breakthrough came for Steve in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist's impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation

A breakthrough came for Steve in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist's impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation

A breakthrough came for Steve in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist’s impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation

Using advanced developments in DNA and scientific evidence, detectives were able to link the gun used in a robbery he was convicted of to the murder weapon in the Dixon’s case.

Several items belonging to both sets of victims were also found in his possession.

Although Cooper denied his guilt, he was arrested and convicted of two double murders and jailed for life in May 2011 for the two double murders.

After an eight-week trial the serial killer was also convicted of separate offences of rape, sexual assault, and attempted robbery – he will never be released.

Detective Steve Wilkins 

Detective Steve Wilkins, 61, is now living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, and penned the 2012 book The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, on which the drama is based

Detective Steve Wilkins, 61, is now living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, and penned the 2012 book The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, on which the drama is based

Detective Steve Wilkins, 61, is now living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, and penned the 2012 book The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, on which the drama is based

Detective Steve Wilkins, 61, who is played by Luke Evans in the ITV drama, is now retired but played a significant part in bringing the story to screen

The father-of-two is now living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, having grown up in Pembrokeshire.

He wrote the 2012 book The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, on which the drama is based.

The landmark case became the subject of Wilkins’ book Catching the Bullseye Killer, which the ITV show is based on.

Steve said he ‘never intended to write a book’ about the investigation but ultimately decided he wanted to ‘give an accurate, sensitive record’ of the story.

Steve, who is played by Luke Evans in the ITV drama, is now retired but played a significant part in bringing the story to screen

Steve, who is played by Luke Evans in the ITV drama, is now retired but played a significant part in bringing the story to screen

Steve, who is played by Luke Evans in the ITV drama, is now retired but played a significant part in bringing the story to screen

He told BBC telling the story was a ‘huge responsibility’ and that he didn’t want the crimes to be ‘sensationalised’, adding: ‘This is a very serious, sad story where four people lost their lives and their families have struggled and suffered greatly because of it.’ 

The father-of-two said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon's death was 'overwhelming'

The father-of-two said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon's death was 'overwhelming'

The father-of-two said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon’s death was ‘overwhelming’

Cooper was sentenced to fourteen years in 1998 for robbery and burglary, enabling the police to collect further evidence against him.

While going over the material from the investigations, Steve hired criminal psychologist Dr Adrian West to build up a profile of the killer.

He told The Sun: ‘I asked Adrian, “How dangerous is this guy?” and he said, “Steve, I have only come across two people in my professional life who if I found in my bedroom in the middle of the night, I know I would have to kill them to survive. One is Donald Neilson, the so-called Black Panther, and the other is John Cooper.” And I just went cold. I just thought, yes, this is a dangerous guy.’ 

Steve kept the reopened investigation, codenamed Operation Ottawa, secret before revealing live on ITV Wales News in November 2007 that he was carrying out a cold-case review and made a renewed public appeal for witnesses.

A breakthrough came in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist’s impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation.

Steve said the similarity was such that it looked ‘like a tracing’. Along with the striking similarity to the artist’s sketch, Cooper discussing the area of Pembrokeshire on the show also led detectives to believe he was their killer.

He said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon’s death was ‘overwhelming’.

He told The Sun: ‘Suddenly after all these years, you have now got a piece of forensic evidence which ties Cooper to two double murders.

‘It was like a pack of cards falling over once we got that first golden nugget. From then, we were getting forensic hits virtually daily.’

As well as the shorts, Steve also had a sawn-off shotgun used by Cooper to rob a woman at her home in the village of Sardis re-tested after noticing paint on the barrel, which was then removed by forensics.

‘Cooper had hand-painted it with black paint and in doing so had sealed in the blood of Peter Dixon,’ Steve explained.

‘So not only did we have shorts taken from his house, we also had the murder weapon as well. It was just one of those moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

‘Those shorts were forensically linked to two double murders, a rape and five robberies.’ 

Having noticed the shorts recovered from Cooper’s home were shorter than the artist’s impression, Steve asked forensic experts to unpick the hem – which is when they found the traces of Mr Dixon’s DNA.

Steve told how when he was arrested, he was found with a map, gloves and a rope in the boot of his car. 

Steve praised actor Keith Allen’s portrayal of Cooper in the new drama, in which he captures his ‘violent’ and ‘menacing’ nature.

‘It sends a shiver down your spine,’ he said. ‘Believe it or not, I was never in any doubt that we would find the killer.’

Meanwhile as part of his research into playing the role, Keith met the real Steve Wilkins, who he describes as a ‘charming’ human being. 

‘Once you meet Steve, you understand how his team worked all those hours,’ he said. ‘He’s a great leader and kept their spirits alive when they were losing hope they’d ever find this killer. 

 

ITV journalist  Jonathan Hill  

Jonathan Hill is a Welsh television presenter, journalist and producer, who currently presents Wales at Six, the nightly news magazine programme on ITV Cymru Wales.

Jonathan Hill is a Welsh television presenter, journalist and producer, who currently presents Wales at Six, the nightly news magazine programme on ITV Cymru Wales.

Jonathan Hill is a Welsh television presenter, journalist and producer, who currently presents Wales at Six, the nightly news magazine programme on ITV Cymru Wales.

Jonathan Hill is a Welsh television presenter, journalist and producer, who currently presents Wales at Six, the nightly news magazine programme on ITV Cymru Wales.

He studied English at university before specialising in journalism, started his career freelancing for BBC Radio Wales, before joining HTV Wales as a general news reporter.

In September 2013, he released his first book which was co-written with DCI Steve Wilkins, lead investigator of Operation Ottawa. 

He told ITV he was ‘fascinated’ by the case as a teenager, saying: ‘Witnessing all the activity in the aftermath of the murders was probably what sparked my interest in crime reporting.’

The journalist, who is portrayed by David Fynn in the ITV drama, was the first to place the image of Cooper on Bullseye next to the artist's impression of the killer

The journalist, who is portrayed by David Fynn in the ITV drama, was the first to place the image of Cooper on Bullseye next to the artist's impression of the killer

The journalist, who is portrayed by David Fynn in the ITV drama, was the first to place the image of Cooper on Bullseye next to the artist’s impression of the killer 

Back in 2007, Jonathan broke the news that detectives were using the latest forensic technology to take a fresh look at the killings.

He called the five year investigation ‘epic’, adding: ‘I followed every twist and turn of the case, which ended with John Cooper being unmasked as a serial killer.’

Meanwhile Jonathan played a part in snaring Cooper as the killer after finding footage of the ITV game show ‘Bullseye’ and providing it to police.

He put a freeze frame of Cooper on the show next to the artist’s impression of the killer.  

Alongside Steve, Jonathan said he had spent much of the last three years working with the production company and Nick Stevens to turn the book into the gripping drama for ITV.

Andrew Cooper

The new ITV drama stars Oliver Ryan as Andrew, John Cooper's estranged son, who was a witness during his landmark trial

The new ITV drama stars Oliver Ryan as Andrew, John Cooper's estranged son, who was a witness during his landmark trial

The new ITV drama stars Oliver Ryan as Andrew, John Cooper’s estranged son, who was a witness during his landmark trial

The new ITV drama stars Oliver Ryan as Andrew, John Cooper’s estranged son, who was a witness during his landmark trial.

John Cooper tried to implicate his son in his crimes, which included two double murders during the ’80s, a string of burglaries, and sexual assault. 

The show’s writer Nick Evans said Andrew sees the series as ‘an opportunity to set the record straight.’

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4, Nick credited Andrew’s ‘openess and generosity’ with creating a ‘personal storyline’, saying: ‘I knew I had to talk to him, he would provide the drama with a core that otherwise the drama might lack.’

He saw this as an opportunity to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story.

‘He had a score to settle with his absent father and he saw this drama as an opportunity to do precisely that.’

The team have credited Andrew’s ‘openness and generosity’ with creating a ‘deeply personal storyline’.

He changed his name from Adrian — the name given to him by his father — to further distance himself from John’s crimes.  

Andrew also appeared as a prosecuting witness during his father’s trial, which eventually led to his conviction.   

Andrew told Swansea Crown Court that his father, a farm labourer from Letterston, would disappear for hours.

Appearing via video link, he described his dad as ‘very strong’, ‘very fit’ and ‘loud and aggressive’.

He said part of his father’s routine was to go for long walks, usually after tea and would sometimes have a shotgun ‘on a piece of string’ around his shoulder, concealed under his jacket.

Andrew told the court how his father kept what ‘looked like other peoples’ possessions’, including photographs of people he did not know, trinkets, and burned jewellery and coins.

Patricia Cooper 

Patricia married John in 1966, having known each other since they were 12, and the couple had two children, Adrian and Theresa.

She worked as a seamstress but, in 1987, she was badly hurt in an accident involving a horse. 

She once provided an alibi for her husband, when he told police that the wedding ring he had sold to a jeweller’s in Pembroke after the murders was his own.  

ITV Wales journalist Jonathan Hill told The Telegraph Patricia’s life was ‘a living hell’ because her relationship with Steve was highly abusive.

Cooper's wife Pat, who is played by Coronation Street actress Caroline Berry in the series, died of a heart attack on  Christmas 2008

Cooper's wife Pat, who is played by Coronation Street actress Caroline Berry in the series, died of a heart attack on  Christmas 2008

Cooper’s wife Pat, who is played by Coronation Street actress Caroline Berry in the series, died of a heart attack on  Christmas 2008 

He said: ‘Steve has wrestled with Pat Cooper all the way through because he’s very sympathetic to her and her life was a living hell. 

‘She stayed with him, but she literally dies the night he comes out of prison. Probably because of the stress of him coming out.’

He said he ‘didn’t know’ if Pat knew the extent of her husband’s crimes, but said in her ‘darkest moments’ she might have ‘had suspicions.’

He added: ‘His son will tell you that on the night of the Scoveston fire his father wasn’t in all evening, but came in at half 11 smelling of smoke and had a bath.’

Yet tragically, Pat died of a heart attack on Cooper’s first night of freedom after being released from prison in Christmas 2008.

In the new drama, the Coronation Street actress Caroline Berry portrays Patricia. 

Who was the Bullseye killer?

A diagnosed psychopath, Cooper – who was married to late wife Patricia and had two children – was a prolific thief before he turned killer. 

Richard and Helen Thomas were found murdered at their home, Scoveston Manor, near Milford Haven, in December 1985. They had been killed in an ‘execution style’, with both suffering shotgun wounds.

Police speculated that there may have been an altercation between the two but soon decided a third party was involved. Cooper sprinkled paraffin around the house and set it alight.

It was speculated that Cooper, a local in the area, was jealous of the millionaire farmers and targeted them at the secluded stately home.

He was known to enjoy the Pembrokeshire coast – even mentioning it on Bullseye – where he intercepted the walk of his second set of victims. 

Steve said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon's death was 'overwhelming'

Steve said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon's death was 'overwhelming'

Steve said finding a minute blood stain on a pair of shorts which linked Cooper to Peter Dixon’s death was ‘overwhelming’

Cooper shot Peter and Gwenda Dixon in the face with a sawn-off shotgun as they enjoyed a coastal walk on the final day of their Welsh summer holiday on the Pembrokeshire coast, in June 1989.

He hid their bodies in nearby bushes. Cooper also stole money from them, using their bank cards to withdraw £300.  

Cooper was sentenced to fourteen years in 1998 for robbery and burglary, enabling the police to collect further evidence against him.

While going over the material from the investigations, Steve hired criminal psychologist Dr Adrian West to build up a profile of the killer. 

He told The Sun: ‘I asked Adrian, “How dangerous is this guy?” and he said, “Steve, I have only come across two people in my professional life who if I found in my bedroom in the middle of the night, I know I would have to kill them to survive. One is Donald Neilson, the so-called Black Panther, and the other is John Cooper.” And I just went cold. I just thought, yes, this is a dangerous guy.’

Cooper (pictured in 2009 as he was led into court) was sentenced to fourteen years in 1998 for robbery and burglary, enabling the police to collect further evidence against him

Cooper (pictured in 2009 as he was led into court) was sentenced to fourteen years in 1998 for robbery and burglary, enabling the police to collect further evidence against him

Cooper (pictured in 2009 as he was led into court) was sentenced to fourteen years in 1998 for robbery and burglary, enabling the police to collect further evidence against him

Cooper was brought in for interviews but denied any guilt, insisting he had not murdered anyone

Cooper was brought in for interviews but denied any guilt, insisting he had not murdered anyone

Cooper was brought in for interviews but denied any guilt, insisting he had not murdered anyone

Pictured: the gun John Cooper used to murder the Dixons and items of clothing found at the time

Pictured: the gun John Cooper used to murder the Dixons and items of clothing found at the time

Pictured: the gun John Cooper used to murder the Dixons and items of clothing found at the time

Steve had a sawn-off shotgun used by Cooper to rob a woman at her home in the village of Sardis re-tested after noticing paint on the barrel, which was then removed by forensics

Steve had a sawn-off shotgun used by Cooper to rob a woman at her home in the village of Sardis re-tested after noticing paint on the barrel, which was then removed by forensics

Steve had a sawn-off shotgun used by Cooper to rob a woman at her home in the village of Sardis re-tested after noticing paint on the barrel, which was then removed by forensics

Steve kept the reopened investigation, codenamed Operation Ottawa, secret before revealing live on ITV Wales News in November 2007 that he was carrying out a cold-case review and made a renewed public appeal for witnesses.

A breakthrough came in 2009 when archive footage from Bullseye, fronted by Jim Bowen, was obtained and officers managed to freeze a frame of Cooper standing in the exact same position as an artist’s impression of the wanted killer sketched at the time of the original investigation. 

Steve said the similarity was such that it looked ‘like a tracing’. Along with the striking similarity to the artist’s sketch, Cooper discussing the area of Pembrokeshire on the show also led detectives to believe he was their killer.

Having noticed the shorts recovered from Cooper’s home were shorter than the artist’s impression, Steve asked forensic experts to unpick the hem – which is when they found the traces of Mr Dixon’s DNA.

Father-of-two Steve, now 61 and living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, grew up in Pembrokeshire and is played by Welsh-born Hollywood star Luke Evans in the series

Father-of-two Steve, now 61 and living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, grew up in Pembrokeshire and is played by Welsh-born Hollywood star Luke Evans in the series

Father-of-two Steve, now 61 and living in Cheshire with his second wife Diane, 56, grew up in Pembrokeshire and is played by Welsh-born Hollywood star Luke Evans in the series

He explained: ‘What had happened was Cooper’s wife, who was a seamstress, had shortened the shorts and in doing so she had actually sealed in some of the forensic evidence.’

Cooper had been released from prison on parole in January 2009, but was arrested again four months later for the double murders, a serious ­sexual assault and five attempted ­robberies in Milford Haven in 1996. 

Steve told how when he was arrested, he was found with a map, gloves and a rope in the boot of his car. 

Although Cooper denies his guilt, he was convicted of two double murders and jailed for life in May 2011.  

 

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