Serial killer John Cooper showed brutal cruelty towards his own children and animals which culminated in some of Wales’ most notorious murders.
The documentary The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching The Game Show Killer, which airs on Thursday, January 14, reveals untold chilling details about the killer, whose crimes have been highlighted this week in an ITV three-part drama.
The Pembrokeshire Murders saw Keith Allen portray Cooper, who’s now in prison serving four life sentences for the murders of Peter and Gwenda Dixon and Richard and Helen Thomas, as well as a vicious gunpoint rape and sexual assault on a group of teens.
The conclusion of the drama pulled in 6.6 million viewers on Wednesday night – the biggest overnight audience for any ITV drama episode in three years.
And the subsequent documentary now digs deeper into the past of Cooper,
The hour-long documentary features the detectives, lawyers and forensic scientist who worked to bring justice to the victims, as well as astounding footage of news reports on the original crimes, the video footage of Cooper’s interviews and arrest – both of which were recreated in the dramatised version.
And the contributors also reveal disturbing details about Cooper’s character.
Gerard Elias QC, who was prosecuting barrister at the 2011 trial at Swansea Crown Court, tells viewers that Cooper was a level of evil he hadn’t come across before.
“[There was a] cold controlled evil that I saw in Cooper that I don’t think I’ve seen in anyone else I’ve been involved with.
“I’ve certainly never been involved in a trial before where there were three separate but complex and hugely important matters. And, of course, the evidence of one supported the evidence of another.”
In the drama you see Elias insist on quizzing Cooper in the dock before the case broke for the day – Cooper had just painted a picture of himself as a caring husband and father.
Elias tells viewers of the documentary that he needed to prove he’d lied on the stand during his burglary trial, in 1998, saying a mask did not belong to him, when it very much did.
“I didn’t want the jury going home thinking this represented the man in any shape or form.”
The character of Cooper was never in doubt with the police officers who’d studied and dealt with him face-to-face during the six years of Operation Ottawa.
DS Gareth Rees, who actor Charles Dale portrays in the dramatisation, was one of the officers who came face-to-face with Cooper in the footage.
The detective reveals that Cooper was just as vicious at home. He tells viewers: “He was a nasty individual even in the family environment. He lived on a farm and he killed a pig…with a hammer.
“And when his children were small they reared some chicks and he shot them with a shotgun in front of them.”
In the interview footage with Cooper, viewers see his mask drop during the presentation of DNA evidence on clothing and a gun found in searches.
“He could see the cards stacking against him,” adds Rees.
Don Evans, Detective Chief Superintendent at Dyfed Powys Police in the 1980s, worked on the murder investigations of both the Thomases and Dixons.
After the evidence was destroyed by fire during the killings of the Thomases in 1985 police failed to find a suspect and even interviewed Cooper who was alibied by his terrified family.
Four years later, DCS Evans was called to another double murder.
“[My control room rang me only ] to be informed quite coolly that a couple were missing,” he said. “I heard ‘boss boss come quickly’. My heart jumped and I ran along the coastal path to the dog handlers. There I saw this horrible scene. Peter and Gwenda Dixon. Peter shot, tied, and his dear lady, partly unclothed.
“Shot. Five shots. The most horrific sight you’ve ever seen. It was an assassination. Here we had another double murder in Pembrokeshire. Horrific.”
The documentary also features jaw-dropping accounts of the forensic evidence discovered at Cooper’s spate of burglaries, including a sock from the Thomas’ home, Scoveston Park, from which fibres were found in the pockets of khaki shorts taken from the Dixons and a discarded glove found near the scene of a house robbery.
Dr Angela Gallop, a forensic scientist who also worked on the Stephen Lawrence case, says: “This grotty old muddy glove which had been recovered from a hedgerow, that links with the Dixons, with Cooper’s home address, with other hedgerow items, with the Milford Haven crime – that is the central item, I think, of the whole case.”
The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching The Game Show Killer is on ITV at 9pm on Thursday, January 14