John Cooper (serial killer)

John Cooper
John William Cooper

(1944-09-03) 3 September 1944 (age 76)[1]
Other names The Bullseye Killer[2][3]
The Wildman[citation needed]
Conviction(s) 4 murders, 1 rape, 1 sexual assault, 30 burglaries, and 1 attempted robbery
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment (whole life order)
Victims 4 murder victims, others raped or burgled
Span of crimes
Country Wales, United Kingdom
State(s) Pembrokeshire
Date apprehended

John William Cooper (born 3 September 1944) is a Welsh serial killer.

On 26 May 2011, Cooper was given a whole life order for the 1985 double murder of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, and the 1989 double murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon. The murders were known in the media as the "Pembrokeshire Murders" or the "Coastal Murders". Cooper was also sentenced for the rape of a 16-year-old girl and a sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl, both carried out while a group of five teenagers were held at gunpoint in March 1996, in a wooded area behind the Mount Estate in Cooper's hometown of Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.

Cooper had a history of criminal activities, including 30 robberies and violent assault. Footage from the television game show Bullseye in May 1989, in which he appeared as a contestant, was later used as evidence against him, comparing his image with a sketch of a suspect in the Dixons' murder.

Cooper was sentenced to 14 years in 1998 for robbery and burglary. He was released from prison in January 2009. Because of subsequent developments in DNA and forensic science, the police carried out a cold case review in April 2009 and were able to identify Cooper's shotgun as being the murder weapon. Further DNA evidence was provided by forensic scientist Professor Angela Gallop.[4] The police collected further evidence against him and Cooper was arrested again in May of that year. He was convicted, in May 2011, for the double murders and sexual assaults and sentenced to a whole life order.

History of crimes

Between the ages of 17 and 21, Cooper was charged with theft of a vehicle, assaulting a police officer, being drunk and disorderly, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH).[5]

In 1978, Cooper, then a farm labourer, won £90,000 (worth over £500,000 today) and also a £4,000 car in a newspaper Spot the Ball competition.[6][7] A friend said: "John developed a huge drink and gambling habit after his winnings went to his head... It was a life-changing amount of money and I saw a real change in him. He spent most of it in pubs and bookies... People were scared of him and he got into a lot of fights. As his money dried up he started the robberies."[8]

On 22 December 1985, Cooper targeted a three-storey farmhouse at Scoveston Park, killing brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas, and then burning down the house.[9]

On 28 May 1989, Cooper was a contestant in the ITV gameshow Bullseye. Footage from the show was later used to match him to a sketch made from witness descriptions.[10]

On 29 June 1989, Peter and Gwenda Dixon were on holiday in Pembrokeshire and were due to take their last walk along the coastal path when they failed to return. Their dead bodies were later found along the path.[9][11][12][13][14] Cooper had tied the couple up, demanded they hand out their bank card and then forced them to disclose their personal identification number (PIN). Cooper, carrying a sawn-off shotgun, robbed Peter Dixon of £300 and shot the couple in the face at point blank range.[15] In 1996 he attacked five youngsters, threatening them with a gun, sexually assaulting one girl and raping another.[9][12][13][16] By 1998, Cooper had committed 30 burglaries and an armed robbery.[5]

In 2011, Cooper was jailed for life for the crimes.[17][18] In September 2011, he launched an appeal against his convictions. His appeal was rejected in November 2012.[19]

Cooper was diagnosed as a psychopath.[20][21][22]

Documentaries and television

The UK television series Real Crime broadcast a documentary about Cooper in November 2011. On 24 May 2016, the Welsh language television channel S4C broadcast a documentary in the series Y Ditectif (The Detective) about the way in which evidence against Cooper was gathered using the latest forensic techniques available at the time, the strategy used by Dyfed-Powys Police in interviewing him and his eventual conviction. On 27 September 2016, the ITV Cymru Wales television channel broadcast a documentary in the series Crime Files which examined how police solved the two double murder cases in Pembrokeshire including an interview with the detective who was tasked with interviewing Cooper.[23] On 12 July 2018, a documentary about Cooper, named The Gameshow Serial Killer: Police Tapes, was aired by ITV as part of the channel's 'Crime and Punishment' season.[24] On 29 January 2019, the UK version of digital channel CBS Reality premiered a further documentary about Cooper's crimes in an episode of its Murder by the Sea true crime series.[25]

In January 2021, ITV broadcast a three-part TV series entitled The Pembrokeshire Murders, most exterior scenes of which were filmed on location in Pembrokeshire.[26][27][28] This was followed by an hour-long documentary, The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching The Game Show Killer, featuring interviews with Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins, the man who reopened the investigation, forensic scientists involved in the case, and footage of Cooper as he was interviewed by police. Cooper was speculatively linked with the unexplained death of 77-year-old Flo Evans, a widow who died in 1989, whom knew Cooper and was found fully-clothed in a cold bath in her cottage.[29][30]

See also

  • List of serial killers by country
  • Rodney Alcala, American serial killer who appeared as a game-show contestant[3]
  • Göhrde murders, a series of murders in a forest region in Northern Germany in 1989 with a similar pattern. For some time German investigators assumed a link to the Pembrokeshire murders which, however, failed to be corroborated.


  1. ^ "John Cooper: Timeline - Wales News - News - WalesOnline". Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  2. ^ Wilkins, Steve; Hill, Johnathan (2013). The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer. Bridgend: Seren. ISBN 978-1781728000.
  3. ^ a b Eames, Tom (27 January 2017). "The 7 craziest game show scandals, from the Bullseye killer to the Who Wants to be a Millionaire cheat". Digital Spy. Archived from the original on 1 June 2017. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  4. ^ Editor, David Collins, Northern. "Single hair could solve Gareth Williams 'spy-in-bag' case with new DNA technique". Retrieved 20 February 2021 – via maint: extra text: authors list (link)(subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Professor Angela Gallop (2019). When the Dogs Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth. Hodder. p. 339.
  6. ^ "John Cooper: Prolific thief who turned multiple killer". BBC News. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  7. ^ WalesOnline (5 May 2011). "John Cooper told police he won £94k on Spot-the-Ball - jury told". WalesOnline. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  8. ^ (27 May 2011). "John Cooper was turned into a serial killer by his Spot the Ball fortune". mirror. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  9. ^ a b c John Cooper Guilty Of Two Pembrokeshire Double Murders Archived 28 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News Article, 26 May 2011
  10. ^ McCarthy, James (16 September 2013). "'The moment Bullseye revealed the killer': How shotgun killer John Cooper was caught". Wales Online. Archived from the original on 27 May 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  11. ^ John Cooper: Couple's Holiday Ended By Serial Killer Archived 19 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 26 May 2011
  12. ^ a b John William Cooper Gets Four Life Sentences For Double Murders After Cops Use Bullseye Footage Archived 29 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine Sky News Article, 26 May 2011
  13. ^ a b Morris, Steven (26 May 201). "Four brutal murders that took two decades to solve" – via The Guardian.
  14. ^ Professor Angela Gallop (2019). When the Dogs Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth. Hodder. pp. 339–350.
  15. ^ Real Crime: The Game Show Killer (Television). ITV. November 2011.
  16. ^ Professor Angela Gallop (2019). When the Dogs Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth. Hodder. p. 342.
  17. ^ Professor Angela Gallop (2019). When the Dogs Bark: A Forensic Scientist's Search for the Truth. Hodder. p. 350.
  18. ^ "John Cooper guilty of two Pembrokeshire double murders". BBC News. 26 May 2011.
  19. ^ John Cooper loses murder legal challenge Archived 28 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News Article, 1 November 2012
  20. ^ Baker, Emily (11 January 2021). "The Pembrokeshire Murders: 5 reasons to watch the ITV series, from the grisly true story to the Welsh accents". i. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  21. ^ Dray, Kayleigh (12 January 2021). "The Pembrokeshire Murders is based on this disturbing true story". Stylist. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  22. ^ Morris, Lydia (10 January 2021). "Hollywood star Luke Evans to appear in new ITV drama about the Welsh 'Bullseye Killer'". North Wales Live. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  23. ^ "Crime Files, Episode 5". ITV Cymru Wales. Archived from the original on 26 August 2017. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  24. ^ The Gameshow Serial Killer: Police Tapes is praised as a "gripping" examination of John Cooper case Archived 13 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine Digital Spy, 12 July 2018
  25. ^ "CBS Reality TV Guide". Archived from the original on 23 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  26. ^ "ITV commissions true crime drama The Pembrokeshire Murders (w/t) starring Luke Evans". ITV Press Center. 20 January 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  27. ^ "Luke Evans: The Pembrokeshire Murders sees actor return to Wales". BBC News. 7 January 2021. Retrieved 7 January 2021.
  28. ^ Patrick Cremona (13 January 2021). "Where was The Pembrokeshire Murders filmed?". Radio Times. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Documentary explores real story behind ITV drama The Pembrokeshire Murders". ITV News. 14 January 2021.
  30. ^ Knapman, Joshua (3 January 2021). "Lead detective on Pembrokeshire murders case tells the full story". Wales Online.
  • Wilkins, Steve; Hill, Johnathan (2013). The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer. Bridgend: Seren. ISBN 978-1781728000.

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