Pembrokeshire Murders: Where Steve Wilkins is now and fears over another John Cooper victim
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John Cooper may have got away with two sickening double murders if it wasn't for a decision made by a hero detective.
Back in 2006, newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins decided to reopen two cold cases that cast a shadow over the work of the Dyfed Powys police force.
A twisted killer had murdered brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas with a shotgun in 1985, then just four years later hikers Peter and Gwenda Dixon were killed in the same manner in Pembrokeshire.
Given the nationwide impact DNA forensic science was having on solve rates in serious crime, Steve wanted to close the cases and finally get justice for the victims – and was convinced one man was reponsible.
John Cooper was already in prison for a string of violent burglaries, but it was a race against time to get the DNA evidence they needed before he was released on parole.
Steve and his team slogged through over 3,000 exhibits for years until they finally found the 'Golden Nugget' that brought the killer down.
Former Detective Superintendent Steve helped to bring down serial killer John Cooper
(Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
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Employing pioneering forensic methods, 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.
It was Cooper's wife Pat, who put up with years of abuse at the hands of her cruel husband, who unknowingly provided the piece of evidence that brought him to justice.
An artist's impression from 1989, known as the "wildman" sketch, depicted a man seen using Peter Dixon’s cash card at an ATM after his murder.
A policewoman noticed some khaki shorts seized from Cooper bore a resemblance to those in the sketch, while also appearing to be in a women’s style.
The shorts belonged to Gwenda Dixon and had been kept by Cooper as some sort of sick trophy, but his unsuspecting wife had turned them up and in doing so trapped vital DNA evidence in the seams.
"It’s absolutely incredible to think Pat’s simple act would lead to him finally facing justice," said Wilkins.
Serial killer John Cooper (right) appeared on Bullseye alongside host Jim Bowen (left) a few weeks before he murdered again
Steve worked closely with ITV journalist Jonathan Hill, who managed to find archive footage of Cooper's appearance on Bullseye which matched the artist's impression of the murderer.
After six long years they finally managed to catch Cooper and he was sentenced to life behind bars in 2011.
Explaining what special significance the case took on, Steve said: "The investigation went on for six years and the team were totally dedicated to it so for them it was a large part of their professional lives, so it was significant professionally but also emotionally as well.
"I had to tell the victims' families and Milford Haven victims that we were reopening the case.
"It really brings it home to you the significance of what you’re doing but also the impact on other people’s lives as well. You don’t want to falsely raise their hopes only for them to be dashed again."
Steve was played by Luke Evans in ITV series The Pembrokeshire Murders
(Image: WORLD PRODUCTIONS/ITV)
The Pembrokeshire Murders cast in real life as Keith Allen plays twisted Bullseye killer
The Pembrokeshire Murders: Innocuous conversation on Bullseye that implicated John Cooper
However, Steve still fears that Cooper may have claimed another victim – his elderly neighbour Flo Evans.
In his defence evidence, Cooper mentioned he and wife Pat lived nearby and would visit Mrs Evans at her small farm house to do odd jobs.
The body of Mrs Evans, who was in her 70s when she died, was found fully clothed in her bath tub soon after the Dixon's were murdered in 1989.
Her niece Jean Murphy has previously confirmed that her aunt was friendly with Cooper, who mentioned Mrs Evans in his interviews with the police.
"Now Flo Evans was found fully clothed, drowned in her bath, and the coroner put it down to accidental death saying she must have fallen in and drowned," said Wilkins.
"I know that Cooper had been at her house on the day she died – that troubles me greatly."
Mugshot of serial killer John Cooper, who was responsible for The Pembrokeshire Murders
However, Steve explained they never found enough evidence to charge Cooper with the crime.
Wilkins said: "Unfortunately because it was a coroner’s case there were no forensic exhibits to examine but he (Cooper) raised Florence Evans in his interview, he actually started to talk about her, why would you do that?
"He brought it up in relation to the murder of Helen and Richard Thomas.
"Helen was home alone but Richard came back and there was a struggle by the car door outside and Cooper brought up the fact he used to work for Flo and how Richard Thomas came by one day while he was there in his car and he helped him fetch something from the back.
"So he is thinking that will explain the fingerprints on Richard’s car door but at the same time he is putting himself in Flo’s house – why would he do that?
"Although I can never prove it the circumstances of her death trouble me to this day."
Steve will be giving his account tonight on The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Game Show Killer
Steve continued working for the force and was involved in another high-profile case – that of Welsh backpacker Kirsty Jones, who was raped and murdered at a guesthouse in northern Thailand back in in 2000.
Alongside ITV journalist Jonathan Hill, Steve wrote the book The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, which was published in 2012.
This provided the basis for the ITV drama series of the same name – with Steve acting as a police consultant on the show.
He was told ITV were interested in turning his account into a TV series, but found it "surreal" when it was actually put on the screen.
The real Steve actually made a cameo appearance in the third episode – with viewers noticing he was watching in the gallery as John Cooper was sent down.
The real Steve Wilkins had a small cameo in the third episode
Welsh actor Luke Evans took on the role of Steve, who gave the seal of approval to the Hollywood star.
"It’s a privilege to know someone of his ability and his reputation is doing it," said Steve,
"I met him with Jonathan in Cardiff before filming started and what a lovely guy, very down to earth.
"I was really impressed with his knowledge of the case and his humility and sensitivity to the investigation and towards the victims, he was highly professional."
Evans was equally complimentary of Steve after meeting the great detective on set.
Luke Evans with the man he played – Steve Wilkins
"I had the privilege of meeting the real Steve Wilkins, he’s a man of honour and integrity," said the actor.
"It's a huge responsibility that a human being takes on the search for the truth of another human being that doesn’t have a voice any more.
"When you play somebody real, the actual gift of being able to meet that person, the fact that they’re still around is a wonderful thing.
"Steve had an incredibly interesting career and was involved in some very interesting and serious crimes throughout his career. I just like the guy, he’s got an energy. There’s a fire inside Steve Wilkins."
He added: "There definitely a sense of responsibility and of being a voice to these people that lost their lives so tragically and I hope we’ve done it justice."
The real people that were involved in the case, shown in the ITV drama, will be giving their account in a new documentary
(Image: WORLD PRODUCTIONS/ITV)
Following on from the explosive three-part drama, The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer tells the real story behind the appalling crimes.
The one-off hour-long documentary explores what actually happened as police managed to expose one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers.
For the first time ever, all of the key people involved in the case have been brought together to recount their memories of the infamous case.
There will be interviews with Det Chf Supt Steve Wilkins, Det Insp Glyn Johnson, Det Sgt Gareth Rees, along with forensic scientist Dr Angela Gallop and prosecution lawyer Gerard Elias QC.
The documentary aims to provide a vivid insight into the mindset of a killer and the operation that eventually brought him to justice.
*The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer airs tonight on ITV at 9pm