Pembrokeshire Murders: Why John Cooper’s wife stayed with him despite ‘disastrous outcome’
John Cooper: Detective looks back on Bullseye appearance
John Cooper managed to get away with murder for nearly 20 years. The labourer from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, committed two sets of double killings in the Eighties, as well as sexually assaulting and raping two teenage girls in the Nineties. Cooper was already on the police’s radar.
He had a long history of burglaries and violent assault.
In 1998 he was convicted to 14 years in prison: A robbery had gone wrong and the woman he had tied up and beaten with his sawn-off shotgun managed to sound the alarm and alert the police.
It wasn’t until Cooper was about to be released on parole, in 2006, that a covert team of Dyfed Powys police came into being called “Operation Ottawa”.
Led by Detective Steve Wilkins, the twists and turns, and intense events of the cold case have been brought to life in ITV’s new mini-series, ‘The Pembrokeshire Murders’.
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Cooper had total control over his family, and appeared a charming character to those around him.
His son Andrew – his birth name Adrian – was on the receiving end of his father’s ire growing up.
Andrew revealed he had been beaten by his father “for the most minor of transgressions” as he constantly “bounced off the walls”, according to the publication Crime and Investigation.
At one point, aged 11, he said he feared for his life as his father “pointed a shotgun at his face, close range and taunted the terrified boy as his tormentor pulled the trigger”.
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Cooper also viciously beat his wife, Pat.
In the series, Pat visits Cooper in prison every week, even carrying out his errands in the outside world.
She waits for him to be released on parole – eight years – and would wait another three years for his release in 2009.
Dylan Rhys Jones, the former defence solicitor of the notorious North Wales serial killer, Peter Moore, posed to Express.co.uk the questions on many viewers’ minds: “Who would stay with a husband like Cooper? Who would stay in any abusive relationship?”
The answer, he said, was more complicated and deeply entrenched than what appears in the programme.
Mr Rhys Jones said: “The truth is because of ‘control’ – many people stay in these relationships, usually with disastrous consequences.
“The one between Cooper and his wife seems to be based on mental, and maybe physical, abuse over a considerable amount of years.
“From what I’ve read about the case, and what is shown in the series, Pat was in fear of her husband and under his control totally – even doing his bidding while he is still in prison.
“She’s even unwilling to break her silence, as shown in the programme, when Detective Steve Wilkins visited her because she obviously feared the repercussions from Cooper.”
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During the cold case, Detective Wilkins worked closely with ITV journalist Jonathan Hill, who was planning on making a documentary about the double murders.
Mr Wilkins spent months trawling through over 3000 exhibits, submitting them for forensic analysis and waiting for the results.
Both the detective and Mr Hill have previously revealed how Pat unknowingly aided the investigation after she had preserved evidence which helped the convict Cooper.
Mr Hill told ITV: “There really was doubt whether they would get enough to get him.
“That did start coming through at the end when forensics started turning things up but that was right at the end.
“We see these things on the television and think it’s easy to get forensic evidence, but you’ve got to know where to look and understand the suspect to know where to look.
“When they realised Cooper’s wife was a seamstress and there was this discrepancy between the long legged shorts and the short shorts, they thought maybe she had shortened them.
“Unbeknown to Pat Cooper, when she had rolled up the hem and stitched it, she had sealed in the blood evidence that would ultimately convict her husband.”
The blood sample was “the size of a grain of sand” according to one of the forensic scientists involved.
It belonged to Gwenda Dixon, who Cooper murdered along with her husband Peter on Pembrokeshire’s National Coastal Path in June 1989.
Detectives also found out about his appearance on Bullseye weeks before, in May 1989, and recovered archive footage of the show to match him with an artist’s impression of the murderer described by a witness in the Eighties.
It took two years of collating witness statements and scrutinising thousands of old exhibits before the Ottawa team were convinced that the same person was responsible for all three crimes.
By 2009, detectives were racing against the clock as Cooper, after proving himself to the prison authorities, was released in January of that year.
The covert group had by this time gathered enough evidence, and less than three months into his release, re-arrested him in a dramatic street-side sting as officers bundled Cooper into a car and took him into custody.
Despite pleading his innocence, Cooper was found guilty of the two double murders.
He was convicted on May 26, 2011.
The Pembrokeshire Murders concludes tonight at 9pm on ITV.
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