Detective reveals ‘golden nugget’ of evidence that nailed the Bullseye Killer after decades

The senior investigating officer who helped snare the ‘Bullseye Killer’ has described the ‘overwhelming moment’ he found the ‘golden nugget’ of forensic evidence that put him behind bars after he escaped justice for decades.

The Pembrokeshire killings shocked the whole of the UK and remained a cold case until 2011, when John Cooper was eventually convicted of murdering reclusive brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas, and violently executing husband and wife holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon. 

Cooper was dubbed the ‘gameshow killer’ after his appearance on the darts quiz show Bullseye in 1989 – four years after he murdered the Thomas siblings and weeks before he struck again. 

Despite being suspected of the murders, Cooper, who was known to police as a prolific burglar, spent years at large due to a lack of evidence linking him to the crimes.

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

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

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

Now a gripping new three-part ITV true crime drama, The Pembrokeshire Murders, will tell the story of how Senior Investigating Officer Steve Wilkins, who was put in charge of a cold case review in 2005, eventually caught Cooper thanks to advances in DNA and forensics.

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

Steve 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.’ 

John Cooper was eventually convicted of murdering reclusive brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas

John Cooper was eventually convicted of murdering reclusive brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas

John Cooper was eventually convicted of murdering reclusive brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas, pictured

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

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

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.’ 

Cooper was known to enjoy the Pembrokeshire coast - even mentioning it on Bullseye (pictured) - where he intercepted the walk of his second set of victims

Cooper was known to enjoy the Pembrokeshire coast – even mentioning it on Bullseye (pictured) – where he intercepted the walk of his second set of victims

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 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’

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 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

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

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.  

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.’

The Pembrokeshire Murders is on ITV on January 11, 12 and 13 at 9pm. The ­Pembrokeshire Murders, by Steve Wilkins and Jonathan Hill, will be republished by Seven Dials on January 7.

WHO IS JOHN COOPER THE GAME SHOW SERIAL KILLER AND HOW MANY PEOPLE DID HE MURDER?

John Cooper had appeared on gameshow Bullseye just weeks before a vicious shooting of a couple on a holiday in Wales - he was later convicted of two double murders

John Cooper had appeared on gameshow Bullseye just weeks before a vicious shooting of a couple on a holiday in Wales – he was later convicted of two double murders

John Cooper, now 73, from Pembrokshire, 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.

Cooper was caught thanks to advanced DNA evidence and his appearance on Bullseye

Cooper was caught thanks to advanced DNA evidence and his appearance on Bullseye

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 discovered the gameshow tapings – linking him to the area and an artist’s impression that bore a striking similarity.

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 denies 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.

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