Pembrokeshire murderer John Cooper linked to five other unexplained deaths

Pembrokeshire murderer John Cooper linked to five other unexplained deaths

The nation has been gripped and horrified in equal measure as the story behind the Pembrokeshire Murders has been re-told on ITV.

The fate of John Cooper – the so-called “Bullseye Killer” – and how he so nearly got away with it all kept 6.6million of us returning each night for the true crime mini-series.

But now questions are being asked – are the two grisly double killings his only barbaric slaughters?

The evil murderer has been linked to five other unexplained deaths.

For many years, police were unable to solve two separate cases in Pembrokeshire.

A killer had murdered brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas with a shotgun in 1985 at their home Scoveston Park.

Then, four years later, hikers Peter and Gwenda Dixon were killed in the same manner on the coast path.

He was eventually brought to justice when the newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins decided to reopen the two cold cases in 2006.

But does Cooper have more to answer to?

A bizarre drowning of a frail widow

The case of 73-year-old Florence Evans stumped police when she was found dead in a cold, half-filled bath at her Pembrokeshire home.

The frail widow was fully-clothed yet the inquest into her death in 1989 concluded there was no evidence of foul play and recorded a verdict of accidental death.

But Flo’s family do not believe she slipped and fell into the bath or collapsed suddenly and say too many things about her death do not add up.

They point to the fact that money was missing, she didn’t have her false teeth in, the TV wasn’t switched off properly and the front door was open.

Her niece Jean Murphy even confirmed that her aunt was friendly with Cooper, who mentioned Mrs Evans in his interviews with the police.

But because Flo’s death was ruled an accident, there was no forensic evidence to examine in that case.

Today Steve backs the claims made by Flo’s family. He said: “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.

“I know that Cooper had been at her house on the day she died – that troubles me greatly.”

Flo’s great-niece Rena Murphy, 59, told The Sun: “But the way she was found fully clothed in a cold bath and with no money in the house . . . we knew it was suspicious.

“The police at the time said there was no foul play but I remember after her post-mortem an officer telling us, ‘There’s more to this’.”

However, Steve explained they never found enough evidence to charge Cooper with the crime.

Steve 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.”

A shocking execution-style shootings of an elderly couple

Harry Tooze, 64, and wife Megan, 67, were found on their farm in Llanharry, Rhondda Cynon Taf, after daughter Cheryl was unable to get through to them on the phone.

They had been shot in the head and dumped in a cowshed, their bodies covered with a carpet.

The door to their remote farmhouse, Ty ar y Waun Farm, was unlocked and there was a half-prepared lunch in the kitchen.

The discovery shocked locals in the area, now fearful a serial killer was on the loose. At the time, this was a community that had only seen one reported break-in over the last 60 years.

But the resulting investigation soon centred on Cheryl’s boyfriend, Jonathan Jones. He was convicted of murder in 1995 but in a strange twist of events, the judge who sentenced him wrote a letter to the Home Secretary saying he had “significant doubt” about the conviction.

In a copy which was sent to Jones’ barrister, Mr Justice Rougier said he was surprised the jury convicted Jones for the murders, and that if Jones was guilty he was exceptionally cunning.

In 1996, his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal and Jones went on to marry Cheryl, who had campaigned for his release.

Mr Jones’ lawyer argued there were similarities between the Cooper cases and the Tooze ­killings. He said these included the fact the Toozes were shot at “close quarters” in their remote farmhouse and that attempts were made to hide the bodies.

“The other thing is there are very few double shotgun murders nationally,” he added

In 2001, a re-investigation was launched and in 2003, the team who cracked the Lynette White murder mystery were called in to investigate.

By 2008, it seemed the murder hunt was at an end and a day before the 15th anniversary of the horrific execution-style shootings, police admitted they had reached a dead end.

All officers were pulled off the case until 2011, when police were set to look at the case again after the quadruple murder conviction of John Cooper.

Even so, there were no new leads and the case remains one of Wales’ most notorious unsolved murders.

South Wales Police said the historic murder case had been allocated to the Specialist Crime Review Unit and would “remain under active consideration and will be subject of re-investigation as and when new information is received or when there are advances in forensic science”.

A spokesman added: “Each case is reviewed periodically. If information comes in from the public or other forces we act on it.”

A dreadful, rapacious and extremely violent double death

In December 1976, the village of Llangolman, in Pembrokeshire’s Preseli Hills, was shocked by a peculiar double death.

At a remote farmhouse, a brother and sister, 73 year old Griff Thomas and his sister Martha, known as Patti, 70, were found dead in what appeared to be a horrific double murder.

Their bodies were discovered by the local postman, Neil Rossiter, who recalled the moment he entered the house, called Fynnon Samson, and said: “Going into the house, I had to go in a good bit of the room because there was a big chair or something in the way.

“I could see this charred body in a nest of cushions, and a made-out thing, like, as if it was a nest.”

Griff’s body was lying on a wooden clothes settle, and was so extensively burned that it was only the feet that could be made out. Shocked, Mr Rossiter ran to a nearby house to alert the police. Despite having seen a man’s body in the kitchen, he didn’t notice another.

When he returned to Fynnon Samson with police, Patti’s body was found in the parlour. She was slumped over at the table, resting on a magazine rack. She had been bludgeoned to death, apparently with a heavy dining room chair which was found heavily bloodstained.

Police initially launched a double murder investigation but within a few weeks they concluded Mr Thomas had argued with the sister he had lived with for 70 years, before hitting her on the head with a blunt instrument, and setting himself on fire.

Despite an extensive search, no weapon was ever found and when police discovered that Patti had £2,700 in cash in her purse, they began working on the theory that they were dealing with a bizarre murder suicide.

In February 1977 an inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter in the case of Miss Thomas and an open verdict for her brother. At the inquest into the deaths, held in Haverfordwest in February 1977, it was proposed that Griff himself had killed Patti, and then committed suicide by burning himself to death.

The inquest was told the deaths may have been the result of the siblings having a furious row over “pocket money” given by Miss Thomas to her brother.

Neighbours of the deeply religious siblings, who had lived peacefully together for 70 years, strongly doubted the murder-suicide explanation.

Chillingly, Llangolman is just 24 miles from the farmhouse where Cooper’s victims Richard and Helen Thomas were found in similar circumstances eight years later.

It was speculated by some that the facts of the Scoveston Park murders could have been a carbon copy of the deaths of Griff and Patti Thomas.

Following Cooper’s conviction in 2011, it’s a theory given some weight by a forensic expert, Dr Clive Sims.

Dr Sims, a forensic psychologist, questioned the verdicts reached at the inquest after Cooper’s conviction in 2011 and said: “I feel that there would be substantial evidence for looking at this case again as a cold case.”

He believes that the brother and sister were killed by an intruder following a “botched burglary”.

“There is an empty cash box, the bureau has been broken into, the back door is unlocked and certain aspects of it simply do not make sense,” he said.

Dr Sims, an experienced profiler who assisted in profiling the murderer of five women in Ipswich in 2006, added: “There are enough similarities between the crimes to suggest that he may at least be a suspect in this case.”

Although Cooper had no record of criminal activity at the time of the deaths at Llangolman in 1976, Dr Sims thinks it is likely that he was responsible for other serious crimes long before he killed the Thomases at Scoveston Park in 1985.

What next?

When the verdict was handed down, Cooper was described by a judge as having perpetrated “such evil wickedness” that only four whole life sentences would suffice. His conviction capped three decades in which Cooper killed, assaulted and robbed with impunity.

Cooper claimed on the stand that the truth would “all come out on the internet”, yet his attempt at an appeal was rejected a year later.

People still speculate whether Cooper could have killed more.

Experts have pointed out that in 1965, 20-year-old John Cooper was jailed for six months for trampling over a man on the ground. He attacked a police officer the previous year.

He didn’t have a criminal record between 1965 and 1983. Cooper was 40 years old at he time of the Scoveston murders in 1985.

What about the previous years?

According to Dr Sims, it was “quite probable” in fact that he would have been offending earlier because it would be extremely unusual for someone to start that late in life on a criminal career and that they would start with that level of violence.

In a book, written by Steve Wilkins and journalist Jonathan Hill after the 2011 conviction, there is only one reference to potential other crimes, buried away in the conclusion: “At the end of the investigation I was asked whether Cooper might have committed further crimes. I fear we will never know.

“There was much speculation in the press regarding other murders and unexplained deaths. What we do know is that even faced with the most damning of forensic and circumstantial evidence, Cooper admitted and accepted nothing.”

Dyfed Powys Police confirmed the cases of Flo Evans and Griff and Patti Thomas would not be re-investigated.

A spokesman for the force said: “Dyfed-Powys Police will examine any specific new information containing detailed knowledge or evidence, and any further decisions would be based on the results of the examination of that new material. There is no intention to re-investigate any incidents on speculation alone.”

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