What happened to Pembrokeshire Murders serial killer John Cooper and his family?
This week the UK has been gripped by the true-crime thriller The Pembrokeshire Murders, with ITV crowing that it earned the channel its highest ratings for a new drama series since 2016.
Keith Allen portrays the serial killer John Cooper, who infamously appeared on the game show Bullseye days before he murdered two holidaymakers in the Welsh village of Milford Haven. That footage ultimately led to his arrest for a series of murders and sexual assaults two decades later. But what happened in the aftermath of Cooper’s crime spree?
Detective Steve Wilkins, who is played by Luke Evans in the series, retired shortly after Cooper was finally jailed in 2009. In 2013, he co-authored a book about Cooper’s crimes, titled The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, which served as inspiration for the ITV series. He has expressed relief that its adaptation was done tastefully.
“What I didn’t want was anything that was sensationalism, so they stuck very closely to the details,” Wilkins told Wales Online. He also expressed surprise at Evans’s casting, recalling that his friends jokingly suggested Johnny Vegas should have played him instead.
As for Cooper and his family, the aftermath of his crime spree caused a number of pivotal changes for all of them. One of the most unusual elements of the case concerns his wife Pat (played in the series Caroline Berry). Police have always believed that Pat did not know about her husband’s murders, and truthfully lived in fear of the man. She was found dead on the very same night Cooper was released from prison in 2009, her husband having previously been jailed in 1998 for his part in a series of burglaries, but Cooper himself was not involved.
“I just think she gave up,” Wilkins told Wales Online. “She’d had 10 years away from this man who was an absolute beast and suddenly he was back in the house. She had massive heart conditions but I think the poor lady just gave up.”
Cooper’s son Andrew, who is now 44, provided damning evidence for the prosecution in his father’s eventual murder trial, which occurred after Cooper was linked to the killings using DNA evidence. Andrew recalled his father carrying a shotgun under his coat while he ventured out at night, and remembered finding photo frames in the family home that featured images of people he didn’t recognise. These, in truth, were trophies kept from his father’s various home invasions over the years.
Andrew, who is played by Oliver Ryan in the series, dropped out of the public eye shortly after his father’s murder conviction, and changed his name to Adrian. He did, however, resurface to assist ITV on the making of The Pembrokeshire Murders. “He saw this as an opportunity to set the record straight, and to tell his side of the story,” said screenwriter Nick Stevens, who met with him. “He had a score to settle with his absent father and he saw this drama as an opportunity to do precisely that.”
The whereabouts of 42-year-old Theresa, Cooper’s daughter, are unknown.
As for Cooper himself, he was finally sentenced to life in prison in 2011, for the murders of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas in 1985, and holidaymakers Peter and Gwenda Dixon in 1989. He was also convicted on separate charges of rape, sexual assault and attempted robbery.
It took the jury eight weeks to reach a verdict, and Cooper protested his innocence throughout his trial. On the stand, Cooper claimed that the truth would “all come out on the internet”. His attempts to appeal his conviction have since been rejected. It is unknown where Cooper has been imprisoned.