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John William COOPER






A.K.A.: "The Bullseye Killer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robberies
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: December 22, 1985 / June 29, 1989
Date of arrest: May 13, 2009
Date of birth: September 3, 1944
Victims profile: Richard Thomas, 58, and his sister Helen, 54 / Peter Dixon, 51, and his wife Gwenda, 52
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment on May 26, 2011

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John William Cooper is a serial killer from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire. On the 26th May 2011 he was given four life sentences for the 1985 double murder of brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas, and the 1989 double murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon.

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 at gun point, in March 1996, in woodland behind the Mount Estate, Milford Haven.

Cooper had a history of crime, including 30 robberies and violent assault, and a May 1989 appearance on the TV game show Bullseye. Footage from the show was later used as evidence against him, comparing his image with a sketch of a suspect in the Dixons' murder.

Cooper was imprisoned for 14 years in 1998 for burglary and robbery, enabling the police to collect further evidence against him. He was released from prison in January 2009.

Through a cold case review, and subsequent developments in DNA and forensic science, in April 2009 the police were able to identify Cooper's shotgun as the murder weapon. He was arrested in May 2009 and was convicted in May 2011 for the double murders and sexual assaults. In September 2011, he launched an appeal against his convictions. Unless the appeals are successful, he has no possibility of parole.

History of murders

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

In 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 bodies were later found along the coastal path.


DNA clue nails a 'merciless executioner' behind two double murders after 26 years

By Neil Sears -

May 27, 2011

A ‘MERCILESS executioner’ who carried out two notorious double murders in the countryside more than 20 years ago was starting a life sentence last night.

Farm labourer John Cooper, 66, was a long-term suspect for the unsolved murders, carried out for ‘pitiful financial gain’.

But he was finally caught thanks to recent developments in forensic science, relying on minute DNA samples that provided a ‘golden nugget’ of evidence for detectives.

Cooper, of Letterston, near Fishguard, west Wales, should have been set up for life after scooping a small fortune on a Spot the Ball competition in the 1970s.

But after squandering his winnings on gambling he turned to violent crime to fund his acquired taste for easy money.

In 1989, the same year as his second double murder, Cooper appeared on TV quiz Bullseye, laughingly telling host Jim Bowen he had a ‘strange hobby’.

Yesterday, after an eight-week trial, a jury at Swansea Crown Court found him unanimously guilty of the four murders.

He was also found guilty of robbing a group of 15 and 16-year-olds in a field at nearby Milford Haven in 1996, as well as raping one of the two girls in the group and indecently assaulting the other.

His crimes were planned with military precision using extensive knowledge of local terrain, with preparations including snipping wire fences concealed in hedges to give him a secret means of reaching houses within two miles of his home.

Cooper had been unemployed for years, after wasting his £90,000 Spot the Ball winnings – the modern-day equivalent of more than £500,000 – betting £50 a day on horses.

His first double murder was three days before Christmas in 1985, when he shot dead wealthy Pembrokeshire landowner Richard Thomas, 58, and his sister Helen, 54, at their mansion farmhouse, Scoveston Manor.

Cooper had worked for Mr Thomas, and also bought hay from him, often arguing aggressively about the price.

After the pair were blasted to death with a shotgun, he set their home on fire in a bid to destroy the evidence.

Near neighbour Cooper is thought to have believed the property was empty and tried to burgle it. Instead Cooper is believed to have found Miss Thomas at home and decided to kill her after she recognised his voice.

Her brother arrived home while Cooper was still there, so was also killed. The amount of money Cooper made from the crime was described as ‘negligible’ in court.

Four years later in 1989, just five miles away, nature-loving holidaymakers Peter Dixon, 51, a marketing manager, and his wife Gwenda, 52, were on an outing to an isolated coastal path beauty spot when Cooper, who had been working for the National Trust, struck again.

Mr Elias said: ‘He held them up with his shotgun before tying Mr Dixon’s hands behind his back and sexually assaulting Mrs Dixon.’ Cooper forced Mr Dixon, from Witney, Oxfordshire, to hand over his bank PIN, but obtained just £350 from his account.

Describing the killings as ‘merciless executions’, prosecutor Gerard Elias, QC, told the jury: ‘Each of these crimes involved the use of cold and calculating violence.’

In 1996 a group of five 15 and 16-year-olds were playing in a field at nearby Milford Haven when Cooper confronted them, wearing a balaclava and brandishing his sawn-off shotgun. The teenagers were ordered to lie face down under threat of death and the two girls were taken away, with one raped and the other indecently assaulted.

Cooper was jailed in 1998 for 30 burglaries and robbery involving a shotgun – and police, like locals, suspected him of the murders then, but had insufficient evidence.

When he was released after ten years, however, detectives put him under surveillance. They made a breakthrough when officers found DNA from the Dixon family on a pair of Mrs Dixon’s shorts he had kept in his room as a trophy, and  a drop of Mr Dixon’s blood was  found under paint on a shotgun Cooper had stashed in a hedge near his home.

Giving Cooper four life sentences yesterday, High Court judge Mr Justice John Griffith Williams told him: ‘Life for these murders will mean just that. You are a very dangerous man and a significant risk. You are very predatory and, were it not for advances in DNA techniques, may well have continued to evade capture.'

A defiant Cooper repeatedly shouted over the judge, claiming vital evidence had been withheld.

But hailing the discovery of the ‘golden nuggets’ of forensic evidence, Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins of Dyfed Powys Police said yesterday: ‘John Cooper is a dangerous and evil man. He killed people for little financial gain.'


John Cooper guilty of two Pembrokeshire double murders

May 26, 2011

A labourer who evaded justice for decades over two Pembrokeshire double murders has been jailed for life.

John Cooper was convicted of the 1985 murder of brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas, and Oxfordshire couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon in 1989.

Cooper, 66, from Letterston, was also convicted of separate charges of rape, sexual assault and attempted robbery.

After an eight-week trial, the Swansea Crown Court jury convicted Cooper of what the judge called "evil" murders.

Mr Justice John Griffith Williams said Cooper was "a very dangerous man, highly predatory who, but for advances in forensic science, may well have continued to evade capture."

As the judge described how terrified the victims must have been, Cooper interrupted.

He shouted: "This is utter rubbish, it's rubbish. That jury's been on the internet. I don't blame them - evidence has been kept from that jury."

The judge warned Cooper he would be taken downstairs if he did not keep quiet.

Cooper remained in court as the judge completed his statement before passing a life sentence.

He told him: "The murders were of such evil wickedness that the mandatory sentence of life will mean just that."

He concluded: "You are a very dangerous man, a significant risk of serious harm."

When prosecuting barrister Gerard Elias QC read out the victim impact statements, Cooper's family walked out of court, many of them in tears.

As they left, Cooper's brother shouted: "We're here for you, John."

The two sets of murders gave rise to much speculation, and at one time there was a theory that the Dixons were killed because they came across a cache of IRA weapons.

After the hearing, the Dixons' children, Tim Dixon and Julie Ann Pratley, paid tribute to their parents, calling them "loving, gentle and charismatic".

They also paid tribute to the work of the police, saying the people of Pembrokeshire owed them a "debt of gratitude".

"They had wisdom, humour and were compassionate. Even after two decades their absence is immense and still painful," they said.

The Thomas family said their loss had "deepened" over the years.

In a statement issued through police, they said: "As a family, we would wish that justice is done for Richard and Helen. Memories will remain with us all forever but we hope that we will now be able to remember the happier times more than the very sad ones."

The court was previously told that Cooper shot the Thomases at their remote mansion near Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire.

Gerard Elias QC, prosecuting, told the court that on the evening of 22 December 1985, Mr Cooper targeted their three-storey farmhouse at Scoveston Park, possibly knowing Mrs Thomas, 54, was home alone.

Setting fire

During interviews conducted by police in June 2008, he denied having been anywhere near the house.

Disturbed by the return of her 58-year-old brother, it is claimed the defendant shot them both before pouring diesel around the house and setting fire to it.

Three and a half years later, on 29 June 1989, Mr and Mrs Dixon were shot at close range while taking a final walk along the Pembrokeshire coastal path near Little Haven before returning to their Witney home.

The court heard Cooper intercepted the couple in daylight, took them to a nearby hideaway and demanded details about their bank cards.

Again using a shotgun, it was claimed Cooper "silenced them forever".

Mr Elias said the killer "took time to create a screen from foliage" to conceal the bodies.

Mr Dixon, 51, was found with his hands tied behind his back. He had been shot three times and his 52-year-old wife twice.

His bank card had been taken and money was accessed from his account using the correct pin number following his death.

Mr Elias said that on 6 March 1996, the defendant approached five teenagers aged 15 and 16 walking through fields by the Mount Estate School, Milford Haven.

'Most terrifying of ordeals'

The court heard he pulled out a double-barrelled shotgun and forced them all to lie face down on the ground.

He dragged one 16-year-old girl by the hair and raped her at knifepoint. He then indecently assaulted a 15-year-old girl before threatening the teenagers and firing the shotgun in the air.

Mr Elias said each of the three incidents "involved the use of cold, calculating violence" and two of them "the merciless execution of four people".

He said: "All the victims were subjected to the most terrifying of ordeals."

Mr Elias said each incident was "linked by a large number of common threads". Each involved a shotgun, ropes, and a balaclava, and they all occurred in a small part of Pembrokeshire, he said.

He said it was "obvious" the crimes were the work of someone "who knew the area like the back of his hand".

He said Mr Cooper "was a local man that lived in a house at the very epicentre of these offences for many years".

He added that during this 10-year period, Mr Cooper was committing a series of other burglaries and a robbery which also involved a shotgun.

In December 1998, Mr Cooper was jailed for 16 years at Swansea Crown Court for 30 counts of burglary and a robbery, serving 10 years.

Mr Elias said police forces routinely re-examined unsolved murder cases and in early 2006 "a cold case" review into the murders was set-up.


Timeline: John Cooper trail of murder, rape and robbery

May 26, 2011

John Cooper, 66, has been convicted of killing four people in Pembrokeshire as well as rape and robbery in a reign of terror that began with burglary.

His son told the jury at Swansea Crown Court how his father would go out at night from his rural home with a shotgun concealed under his coat.

Before long, his night-time raids for money and goods had spiralled in to four murders in the 1980s.

This is a timeline of events:

December 1985

On 22 December at Scoveston Park, near Milford Haven, the bodies of brother and sister Richard, 58, and Helen Thomas, 54, are found following a fire.

Both Richard and Helen Thomas died as a result of gunshot wounds. A murder investigation is launched and an incident room set up.

At its peak in 1986, there were 150 officers involved.


2 July Tim Dixon, the son of Peter and Gwenda Dixon, reports that his parents have not returned home following a camping trip in Pembrokeshire.

5 July The bodies of Peter, 51, and Gwenda Dixon, 52, are found concealed close to the coastal path near Little Haven at 1530 BST. They were last seen on Thursday 29 June leaving their tent at Howelston Caravan Park at approximately 09.30 BST.

6 July A press conference is called at Haverfordwest to announce the murders of Peter and Gwenda Dixon. Chief Constable Raymond White and Det Chief Supt Clive Jones, lead the investigation.

10 July At a second press conference, Timothy Dixon, the couple's son, and Det Ch Supt Clive Jones give interviews and make a public appeal. An artist's impression of a man seen in the area is released. It is also revealed that the man used Mr Dixon's cash machine card.

18 July Police confirm that more than 1,700 calls have been received from the public over the investigation. The cyclist who used Mr Dixon's cash card has still not been traced.


18 June On the first anniversary of the murders an operation is launched concentrating on areas Peter and Gwenda Dixon visited in 1989. Residents and holidaymakers complete police questionnaires over a two-week period.


6 March In a field near Mount Estate Milford Haven, five teenagers confronted by a man wearing a balaclava and brandishing a sawn-off shotgun. After demanding money, he subjects two girls to serious sexual assaults. The offence remains unsolved. An incident room is set up at Haverfordwest police station. The senior investigating officer is Det Supt Aldwyn Jones.


2 December BBC's Crimewatch Still Unsolved programme features a reconstruction of the 1989 murders. It also repeats some footage used in the first Crimewatch appeal and an interview with the Dixons' son Tim. The response to the programme is "excellent". Information from more than 400 calls is evaluated and leads to police following up lines of enquiry.


21 January Cooper is charged with a number of burglaries and an armed robbery (collectively known as Operation Huntsman) in north Pembrokeshire.

29 January Forensic and ballistics officers examine Cooper's home and surrounding grounds.

10 December Cooper is sentenced to 16 years for armed robbery and 30 burglaries.


February Operation Ottawa is formed. A small team of officers are to carry out a review of material from outstanding undetected serious crime in Pembrokeshir, including the double murders of Peter and Gwenda Dixon and Richard and Helen Thomas, and also the robbery and rape offences at Milford Haven in 1996.


The team spend two years going through a painstaking process of the recovery, cataloguing and recording of all material from the investigations.

8 November A press conference is called at Haverfordwest to outline the aim of Operation Ottawa and provide an overview of the current situation. A renewed public appeal is also made for witnesses.


June Cooper is produced from prison to be questioned about the two double murders and offences in the 1990s. He is interviewed over a four-day period at Ammanford.


23 April Detectives receive the first phone call from LGC Forensics about significant forensic findings.

April/May LGC forensics continue to make significant forensic discoveries relating to the murders and robbery/rape.

13-15 May Cooper is arrested, charged and remanded in custody for the four 1980s' murders, a serious sexual assault and five attempted robberies in Milford Haven in 1996, after appearing in Haverfordwest Magistrates Court.

27 May Cooper appears before Swansea Crown Court.


21 March Start of Cooper trial at Swansea Crown Court. Postponed to October 2010 and then to 21 March 2011.


26 May Cooper convicted on all charges and jailed for life.


John Cooper: Prolific thief who turned multiple killer

May 26, 2011

When John Cooper murdered brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas at their house in Pembrokeshire in 1985 he was already a prolific burglar.

His son told the jury at Swansea Crown Court how his father would go out at night with a shotgun concealed under his coat.

He used it on 22 December 1985 at Scoveston Park, first killing Miss Thomas, aged 56, and then Mr Thomas, 58.

The prosecution said it was likely Miss Thomas was shot as Cooper was disturbed while breaking in.

It is possible she recognised him or his voice as he lived and worked as a farm labourer nearby and was known to her and her brother.

Mr Thomas was not there at the time but when he returned he was also shot before Cooper set fire to their three-storey house to cover his tracks.

Four years later he confronted holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon, aged 51 and 52 and from Oxfordshire, on the Pembrokeshire coastal path near Little Haven.

Before shooting the couple at point blank range he had tied them up and demanded their bank card, forcing them to disclose the pin number.

He then used that to withdraw money at cash machines in the county and on the day their bodies were discovered in undergrowth he sold Mr Dixon's wedding ring to a jeweller for £25.

The jury was shown a clip of Cooper appearing on the ITV darts-themed gameshow Bullseye recorded two months before the Dixons were killed.

The prosecution said his appearance at the time matched an artist's impression of a man seen outside a bank when the card was used to withdraw money.

The jury heard that Cooper, who was born in September 1944, left school at 15 and worked in various trades.

He married his late wife Patricia in 1966 and the couple had two children - a boy and a girl.

While working as a welder's mate at the old Gulf oil refinery at Milford Haven in 1978 he won £90,000 and a new car on a spot the ball competition and shortly after quit work to set up and run a family smallholding.

But, through a series of loss-making house moves and a gambling habit, the prosecution case was Cooper frittered the money away.

Certainly by 1983 police said he had started his career in burglary that eventually led to 30 convictions, although he was linked with many more.

Cooper was a fisherman who enjoyed the outdoors, and the prosecution said his knowledge of the fields and paths around Milford Haven gave him free rein to target houses in the area.

Cooper's son told the court his father was fascinated by survival programmes on television and even kept a copy of the SAS handbook.

He would stash coins, jewellery, silverware and photograph frames under lock and key wherever the family was living at the time.

It was put to Cooper during his trial he would regularly have bonfires in his back garden on which he would burn jewellery as means of identifying any valuable stones and metal he had stolen.

The attempted robberies of five teenagers he cornered in a field near the Mount Estate in Milford Haven in March 2006 occurred at a time he was targeting homes in that area.

One of the teenagers was raped at knife point during the terrifying ordeal and another sexually assaulted.

It was an armed robbery two years later at a house in the village of Sardis that eventually led to his capture.

He was sentenced to 16 years in prison when convicted by a jury in 1998 of 30 counts of burglary and the robbery.

While he was still behind bars for those crimes Dyfed-Powys Police started a cold case review of the double murders of the 1980s.

Advances in forensic techniques meant they were able to link items used in the Sardis robbery with the killing of the Dixons.

These included the double-barrelled shotgun used by Cooper, which was found to have a trace of Mr Dixon's blood under the paintwork Cooper had since added.

Shorts found in his bedroom at the time of his arrest in 1998 were also found to have Mr Dixon's DNA on them, along with that of his daughter Julie.

Among the many items Cooper had squirreled away in the hedgerows near his house at 34 St Mary's Park, Jordanston, where he lived for much of the 1980s and 90s, was a sock that belonged to Mr Thomas.

On 13 May 2009, just a few months after he was released from prison for the burglaries and robbery, Cooper was back in custody for the killing of the Thomases, the Dixons and the attack on the teenagers at the Mount Estate.

As he was led into Haverfordwest magistrates court two days later he shouted at waiting photographers and television crews: "You must judge me after the trial and not before."

The jury has done just that and Cooper is now likely to be remembered as one of the most notorious killers in modern Welsh history.


Forensic advances finally led police to John Cooper

May 26, 2011

John Cooper has long been suspected of the two double murders that shook Pembrokeshire in the 1980s.

At one point there was speculation the Dixons died because they came across IRA weapons.

But when Cooper was arrested for burglaries and armed robbery in 1998 Dyfed-Powys Police also believed he had killed brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas and Oxfordshire holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon and he was questioned at length.

Although the circumstantial evidence was strong, detectives lacked anything they could place before a jury that showed he was at the scenes of the crimes.

But while Cooper was in jail, having been sentenced to 16 years, a team of officers and forensic scientists worked quietly to build a case.

Det Ch Supt Steve Wilkins, who in 2005 was put in charge of a cold case review, said advances in forensic science provided the breakthrough.

"In the 1998 investigation he clearly was someone who was suspected of having involvement in those crimes but he demonstrated then, even faced with the strongest of connecting evidence to the offences, he still would not admit his guilt," he said.

"Certainly in discussions I've had with the senior investigating officers it was quite clear to them that they would need to have what we call the forensic golden nugget to connect him to those offences."

Between 1998 and 2005 police identified items recovered from Cooper's home, the scene of the robbery and the two murders, they hoped one day would convict him.

Taking over the case, Mr Wilkins had two big calls to make.

One was to treat the killings of the Thomases in 1985, the Dixons in 1989 and the rape, sexual assault and attempted robberies of five teenagers at the Mount Estate in Milford Haven in 1996, as one inquiry.

The other was to sanction detailed forensic tests on key items including a pair of shorts from Cooper's bedroom, gloves from his house and a balaclava and double-barrelled shotgun found near the scene of the 1998 robbery.

"A number of the forensic techniques are destructive so you only get one chance," said DCS Wilkins.

"It came to the point in 2005 where I felt that [after discussions with advisers] there was unlikely to be further advances in forensic science in the foreseeable future and we felt then was the right time."

It was over two years before the first big breakthrough when traces of Mr Dixon's DNA were found on the shorts.

More followed and the prosecution was able to use fibres to link Cooper to all three crime scenes.

One of the crucial pieces of evidence the jury heard in this murder trial was a trace of Mr Dixon's blood was found underneath paint on the gun Cooper used in the robbery.

"Our case is essentially a forensic case though there is a lot of very interesting circumstantial and other physical evidence," said DCS Wilkins.

Confronting Cooper with the new evidence, police also changed tack in interviews.

"What came across very strongly was John Cooper is someone who thrives on control," added Mr Wilkins.

"Certainly in the early interviews we had episodes of him facing the wall, lying on the floor in a foetal position or exploding with anger.

"That [change] worked very well. We were very much able to get inside his mind and in doing so he effectively pointed us in the direction of places we needed to go.

"He is an individual who I believes thinks his capabilities are far above what they actually are.

"That was a feature in his life where he had ideas. Unfortunately those ideas failed and that failure led him into the spiral of offending which started off with quite low level criminality, into burglary and escalated to robberies and ultimately into murdering his victims."

Throughout the investigation Mr Wilkins had support from the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) which provides help to forces, particularly when they are running major investigations.

Among the support they provided were behavioural and psychological profiles.

NPIA adviser Paul Kemp said: "He [Cooper] was a compulsive type of person, very persistent in his approach to things and I think another factor was he had lost a lot of money through gambling.

"He had gone from owning quite a valuable paddock and house to living in rented accommodation and that had a major impact on the way he thought.

"If you look at the Thomases they owned a small farm and he may well have viewed that with envy."

Mr Kemp also emphasised the national importance of the case.

"We get involved in lots of high profile cases - the Cumbria shootings, the investigation of the Sian O'Callaghan murder over in Wiltshire, the murder of Joanna Yates," he said.

"They are all serious cases in their own right . . . but you don't get much more serious than this.

"If you look at the absolute brutality of the offending, the possibility he could have offended again, the fact he committed two double murders and abducted and raped a young girl - this is a really really dangerous individual.

"In any community this would have enormous impact but because of the nature of this community - it's quite rural, quite a low population, crime is low in this area - the impact would be absolutely enormous."

Cooper was first questioned by police shortly after he executed the Thomases at the home in Scoveston Park on 22 December, 1985 as part of a general trawl for witnesses.

He was questioned again in 1989 when it was reported to police he had sold a wedding ring to a jeweller in Pembroke on 5 July - the day the Dixons' bodies were discovered hidden in undergrowth on the Pembrokeshire coastal path.

Mr Wilkins said he is certain there is nothing police could have done any differently to catch him earlier.

Speaking about the deaths of Mr and Mrs Thomas, he said: "I don't think there was anything that would have led the senior investigating officer at that time to believe he was a suspect or person of interest.

"Certainly he gave quite a plausible explanation which at that time was backed up by his family.

"In relation to the ring inquiry again, as is his nature, he gave a very plausible explanation. I can understand why he did not come in to the inquiry then.

"I am confident that nobody has been incompetent in relation to these investigations."



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