ITV’s Pembrokeshire Murders: This is the true story the new crime series is based on
It took nearly 30 years to solve the case
ITV’s latest crime drama series tells the true story of the Pembrokeshire murders that were finally solved in 2011, nearly 30 years after the original murders took place.
The three part series begins tonight on ITV and stars Luke Evans as Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins. The detective is the one who reopened the cold case in order to find out the true killer of Richard and Helen Thomas, and Peter and Gwenda Dixon.
The show, which will run across three consecutive nights this week, was created by the producers of Bodyguard and Line of Duty and follows the accounts of Detective Wilkins.
This is everything you need to know about the original true story of the Pembrokeshire murders, and it obviously contains spoilers:
The Scoveston Park murders
In December 1985 siblings Richard and Helen Thomas were found dead in their farmhouse, Scoveston Park. The house had been burnt down and the siblings had been shot.
Though more than 100 officers were placed on the case the killer’s identity was never discovered.
The Coastal Path murders
Four years later in 1989, husband and wife Peter and Gwenda Dixon were discovered dead on the Pembrokeshire coastal path, and had been shot at close range.
The couple had travelled to the area for a camping trip. It was discovered the killer had taken Peter’s wedding ring and wallet.
The killer was spotted using Peter’s bank card at a cash point shortly after the murder and then headed off on a bike.
An appeal was placed on BBC’s Crimewatch which prompted 1,700 calls. An artist’s impression, based on eye witness accounts, showed the murderer as a man with shoulder length hair, wearing khaki shorts.
However the police did not have enough evidence to charge anyone.
In 1998 John Cooper was charged with 30 cases of burglary and an armed robbery involving a shot gun. His arrest was the result of a police operation called “Operation Hunstman”.
Officers looked at the locations of the many robberies and found they formed a radius around Cooper’s home. A search of his house revelaed nearly 4,000 items linked to the robbery case.
His house was not far from the Scoveston Park farmhouse and Cooper had been interviewed in relation to both double murders, however police were unable to charge him.
In 2006, Detective Superintendent Wilkins returned to Wales where the cases remained unsolved.
He launched Operation Ottawa and put together a small team to solve a number of cold cases, these included the two double murders and an unsolved case from 1996. Five teenagers had been attacked by a man wearing a balaclava and threatened them with a sawn-off shotgun. One of the female victims was raped and another sexually assaulted.
As the team were reassessing evidence, an ITV journalist became involved in the case. Jonathan Hill was planning on producing a documentary series about unsolved cases.
After meeting with Detective Superintendent Wilkins, the pair decided to work together. They knew Cooper watched the evening news and so they teamed up on a TV broadcast in which they said the police were coming close to unmasking the Pembrokeshire killer thanks to new evidence.
However the police did not have enough new evidence to enhance the case against Cooper. And so they decided to interview him.
They decided as Cooper possessed many of the traits of a psychopath they would pander to his ego during the interviews.
Cooper tried to suggest it was his son who had committed the murders, however he ended up accidentally revealing more information about the murder weapon.
The Bullseye Tape
After some research the police discovered Cooper had appeared on an ITV darts gameshow called Bullseye. With the help of journalist Jonathan Hill, they were able to acquire the footage.
Cooper had appeared on the TV show a few weeks before the coastal path murders of Peter and Gwenda Dixon. The police noticed the resemblance between Cooper on the show and the artist’s impression from the case back in 1989.
The DNA evidence
Thanks to advancements in DNA technology the police were able to uncover vital evidence in the case.
A pair of khaki shorts were taken from Cooper’s bedroom and after an analysis of them, a drop of Peter Dixon’s blood was discovered ingrained within them.
The shorts appeared shorter than they did in the artist’s impression, this was due to Cooper’s wife Pat turning up the seams, which meant the DNA was trapped.
They also recovered the murder weapon, which had originally been taken from an armed robbery case Cooper was previously serving a sentence for. New DNA analysis uncovered traces of Dixon’s blood on the gun.
Finally the police were able to charge Cooper with the murders and he was convicted of the two double murders, along with the rape and sexual assault of the teenagers.
He was given four life sentences and is now in jail.
Featured image credit: World Productions/ITV