Cooper became known as “the Bullseye killer” because of his appearance on a cult game show. He appeared on the show three weeks before committing a robbery and double murder, and even described scuba diving near the area where the bodies were found. Wilkins is also a real person, and wrote a book about the murder case.
The three-part series is being released on BritBox Tuesday, February 2, 2021. It was released over three nights in the United Kingdom on ITV beginning January 21, 2021. Cooper is played by Keith Allen. Luke Evans plays Steve Wilkins, a Welsh detective determined to solve the cold case.
Here’s what you need to know:
Cooper Was Serving a Lengthy Prison Sentence for Robbery & Burglary When He Was Tied to the Murders
Cooper was a prolific burglar, and his first double murder was committed during a break-in on December 22, 1985 at Scoveston Park, Pembrokeshire, Wales. It was there that he shot 56-year-old Helen Thomas, followed by her brother, 58-year-old Richard Thomas, according to BBC. Prosecutors said that Helen Thomas disturbed Cooper while he was breaking into the home.
The Thomases knew Cooper because he worked as a farm laborer and lived near the house. Prosecutors speculated Helen Cooper recognized him or his voice when he broke into the home. Richard Thomas was not home at the time, but he arrived while Cooper was still there. Cooper shot him also, BBC reported. He set the house on fire to destroy the evidence.
Cooper’s next victims, Gwenda and Peter Dixon, were on vacation from Oxfordshire, England, when they encountered Cooper on a coastal path in Pembrokeshire near Little Haven. He tied up the couple and demanded they give him their bank card and pin number, then shot them both at point blank range. Gwenda Dixon was 52 and Peter Dixon was 51, according to BBC.
Cooper used their debit card to withdraw cash and sold Gwenda Dixon’s wedding ring for 25 pounds on the day their bodies were found, the news outlet reported.
Cooper Was Identified After Appearing on a Game Show, ‘Bullseye’ & Became Known as the ‘Bullseye Killer’
Cooper appeared on the game show, ITV’s “Bullseye,” in May 1989. On the show, he talked about “the beauty of the Welsh coastline, and happily told presenter Jim Bowen of his love of scuba-diving. He was also a serial killer,” the Independent reported.
The game show appearance helped solidify the murder case against Cooper, which was another true detail on the series. Allen was digitally inserted into Cooper’s real appearance on the show. Three weeks after the show was filmed, Cooper murdered the Dixons.
Cooper did not last long on the show. He was kicked off the show after the first round, in which he failed to correctly answer enough general knowledge questions. He was invited back in a later round, but was unsuccessful again. He threw three darts, which all missed their targets.
He talked about his love of scuba diving when he was introduced on the show, and even described the spot where he would kill the Dixons just a few weeks later.
“You’ve got an unusual hobby John, haven’t you?” host Jim Bowen asked Cooper. “Oh yes,” Cooper answered. “The scuba diving… on the coast line. We’ve got deep water where you can swim over mountains and all sorts of things.”
Twenty years after the game show appearance, Cooper was a suspect in the murder case. Wilkins dug up archive footage of Cooper on the show, and was surprised to see Cooper describing the location where the Dixon’s bodies were found. In addition, his image on the show matched a police sketch of the murder suspect from years earlier, the Independent reported.
“You could hardly make it up,” Wilkins wrote in his book, The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer. “For the first time we could see Cooper as he would have looked at the time of the Dixons’ murder. In my 30 years service, I had seen many artist’s impressions and photo-fit efforts, but I had never seen as close a match as this.”
The police sketch was based on the footage of a man who was seen using Peter Dixon’s bank card. It became known as the “wildman” sketch, according to the Mirror.
Cooper Abused His Family & Named His Son ‘Adrian’ to Make His Life Difficult for Having a Girl’s Name
One of many unsettling details in “The Pembrokeshire Murders” was Cooper accusing his son, Andrew, of committing the heinous crimes. Cooper really did blame his son of committing the murders, and it was this detail in part that drew Writer Nick Stevens’ interest, according to The Eagle.
Andrew is played by Oliver Ryan in the series. Stevens met with the real Andrew when he was working on the series.
“Steve Wilkins was disgusted by this strategy, as any parent would be,” Stevens told The Eagle.
Cooper’s son testified against him at Swansea Crown Court, saying his father would often leave the house at night with a shotgun hidden in his coat, according to BBC. Cooper was married and had two children, a boy and a girl.
Express reported Cooper abused his son severely, throwing him against the wall for minor offenses. At age 11, he pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger, his son said years later. Andrew changed his name from Adrian, which was given to him by his father. Andrew was named Adrian because his dad liked the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue,” and wanted him to have to “fight” because he had a girl’s name.
A Pair of Shorts Provided to Police by Cooper’s Wife, Pat, Tied Him to the Dixon’s Murder & a Separate Rape
Cooper kept a trophy from his murder of the Dixons – Gwenda Dixon’s shorts. He appeared on surveillance footage withdrawing money with Peter Dixon’s debit card wearing khaki shorts that appeared to be women’s shorts. Years later, when Cooper was in prison for burglary and robbery, his wife provided the shorts to investigators not knowing the evidence they contained, according to the Mirror.
“We found the DNA of Peter Dixon’s daughter trapped in the seam,” Wilkins told the Mirror. “Now she’d been in Cyprus at the time of the murders so how the hell does her DNA make it into shorts owned by John Cooper unless they actually belonged to the Dixons? It’s absolutely incredible to think Pat’s simple act would lead to him finally facing justice.”
This also tied Cooper to the attack on five teenagers in Pembrokeshire in 1996. Cooper was wearing a balaclava and brandishing a sawed-off shotgun when he demanded cash, raped a girl at knifepoint and sexually assaulted another girl, the Mirror reported.