The Pembrokeshire Murders: Innocuous conversation on Bullseye that implicated John Cooper
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Four years after murdering a pair of siblings, John Cooper boldly appeared on an episode of Bullseye.
The twisted killer had callously taken the lives of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas in the winter of 1985.
Evil Cooper fired at his bound victims with a shotgun down then burned their three-storey manor house near Milford Haven, Wales, leaving police to find their charred remains.
Having escaped the law for the time being, Cooper carried on living his normal life and gained a spot on the popular ITV gameshow.
Presenter Jim Bowen asked Cooper about his "unusual hobby", to which he replied: "The scuba diving … on the coast line. We’ve got deep water where you can swim over mountains and all sorts of things."
While his discussion about the great outdoors and details of the West Wales countryside seemed innocuous enough at the time, it would later be used to implicate him in another double murder.
John Cooper appeared on a Bullseye episode in May 1989, pictured alongside presenter Jim Bowen
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The darts fanatic's performance on the show flattered to deceive.
Cooper failed to answers enough general knowledge questions in the first round, then missed the target with all three of his darts in the final round.
Behind the smile he put on for the cameras, he was hiding a sickening killer secret, but there was still more suffering to come.
Exactly a month later, Cooper murdered Peter and Gwenda Dixon on a coastal path in Pembrokeshire in June 1989.
He tied the couple up, tried to force them to give him their ban cards and PIN code, then shot them both in the face with the same sawn-off shotgun he killed his first two victims with.
Cooper failed to hit the target during his appearance on Bullseye
Despite years of hard work from a determined team of detectives, the murders all remained unsolved for decades and cast a shadow over the work of the Dyfed Powys police force.
However, in 2006, newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins decided to reopen both cases.
Employing pioneering forensic methods, DCS Wilkins and his handpicked team found microscopic DNA and fibres that potentially linked the murders to a string of burglaries committed in the 80s and 90s.
They knew Cooper, who was behind bars at the time for a string of violent burglaries, could be behind the chilling crimes, but need more evidence to bring him to justice.
The most astonishing discovery they made through background checks was that Cooper had appeared on Bullseye – and it confirmed their darkest theories.
Cooper (right) pictured with Bullseye host Jim Bowen on the show
It was actually ITV journalist Jonathan Hill, who was working on a programme on the unsolved murders when he agreed to delay to help with the police case, who found the archived footage.
"I couldn’t believe my eyes there was John Cooper as bold as brass," explained Jonathan.
"He plays the game and they even bring him back at the end of the game where he gambles to win the star prize.
"Of course he was a gambler, it was in his nature but he lost everything on this occasion.
"And what was incredible is that it turns out that recording was done on the 28th May, a month before he killed the Dixons on the Coastal Path so suddenly this recording was gold dust to the police as they had an image of him at the time of the murders, within a month of the murders."
The police sketch of the original suspect is shown on the right, who was described as a "scruffy" bushy-haired man, and bared a striking resemblance to Cooper on Bullseye (left)
The archived video footage of the show proved with stunning clarity that, shortly before the murders, Cooper had borne a striking resemblance to the only existing image of the killer.
The police sketch of the original suspect is shown on the right, who was described as a "scruffy" bushy-haired man and was compiled from witness descriptions after Cooper was seen acting suspiciously near cashpoints where victim's bank cards were used.
When Jonathan put the Bullseye freeze frame next to the artist's impression he was stunned and immediately rang up DCS Wilkins.
Wilkins was sat in his office in Pembroke Dock Police Station when the moment he will never forget occurred.
"Jonathan did some work with his team to freeze the Bullseye footage in the same position as the artist's impression," he said.
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"He sent it to me and I remember just looking at it and I can honestly say in my 33 years in the police when I’ve seen hundreds and hundred of artists' impressions.
"As a likeness, I’ve never seen one as close as this. It was one of those jaw dropping moments – I thought, ‘that’s him!"
In addition to his appearance, Cooper's discussion about his love of the great outdoors and lengthy details about the geography of the West Wales countryside aroused further suspicion.
It showed he had intimate knowledge of the area where the English hiking couple had been killed.
But it was DNA evidence that was the "golden nugget" that brought Cooper down, as a microscopic spec of blood and fibres in his shorts matched that of the Dixons.
Just four years after the first double murder he committed, Cooper ruthlessly killed Peter and Gwenda Dixon on a coastal path near Pembroke
A policewoman noticed some khaki shorts seized from Cooper bore a resemblance to those in the sketch, and also appeared to be women’s.
They turned out to be Gwenda Dixon’s, kept as a sick trophy by Cooper, whose unsuspecting wife turned them up – and in doing so trapped vital DNA evidence in the seams.
"We found the DNA of Peter Dixon’s daughter trapped in the seam," said DCS Wilkins
"Now she’d been in Cyprus at the time of the murders so how the hell does her DNA make it into shorts owned by John Cooper unless they actually belonged to the Dixons?
"It’s absolutely incredible to think Pat’s simple act would lead to him finally facing justice."
It also tied Cooper to an attack on five teens in Pembrokeshire in 1996, who were confronted by a man in a balaclava brandishing a sawn-off shotgun who demanded cash and subjected two girls to serious sexual assaults.
Evil killer Cooper murdered his first victims, brother and sister Helen and Richard, at their manor house near Milford Haven in 1985
Cooper was arrested in May 2009 after a lengthy investigation and forensic costs that were more than £1million over-budget.
In addition, a Swansea Crown Court jury further convicted Cooper of sticking up five terrified teenagers at gunpoint in woods on Milford Haven’s Mount Estate in 1996, where he raped one 16-year-old girl and indecently assaulted another, aged 15.
He was convicted of all charges and jailed for life in May 2011 – and remains in prison to this day at the age of 76.
Cooper's vile crimes are being revisited in new ITV drama series The Pembrokeshire Murders.
Actor Keith Allen will play the role of the notorious criminal, while Luke Evans will star as DCS Steve Wilkins.
Keith Allen appearing as John Cooper in The Pembrokeshire Murders
(Image: WORLD PRODUCTIONS/ITV)
Keith, who is dad to famous kids Lily and Alfie Allen, will be digitally inserted into real footage of the Bullseye episode.
The actor will also be de-aged to bring to life the disturbing scenes from the 80s.
Three episodes of the drama will air across Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, followed by a special programme on Thursday looking back at the real story behind the TV show.
*The Pembrokeshire Murders starts tonight on ITV at 9pm