How A Murderer Was Caught By Police After Appearing On Bullseye

Game shows and murderers don’t tend to go together but one contestant’s appearance on Bullseye proved vital in sending him to prison after a horrific run of crimes.


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When farm labourer John Cooper appeared on the darts game show in 1989, viewers and presenter Jim Bowen only knew him as a 44-year-old scuba diving fan from Pembrokeshire, west Wales.

But just a month later he committed the second of his most heinous crimes - brutally murdering a couple in cold blood, four years after he had killed another innocent pair.

At the time it seemed like he had literally got away with murder.

In 1998, nine years after his appearance on Bullseye, Cooper did go to prison. But not for the murders - he was sentenced to 16 years for 30 counts of burglary and robbery.

After serving 10 years he was released in January 2009. It was only then that, with the help of Bullseye, he finally got his comeuppance.

Spot The Ball

In 1978, Cooper had a stroke of luck, winning £90,000 - worth half a million of today’s money - and a £4,000 car in a Spot the Ball competition.

But, in a way, this seemed to be the start of his downfall.

In February 2012, a pal told the Daily Mirror how Cooper had “developed a huge drink and gambling habit” after winning the competition.

When his cash started to dry up he began his crime spree, including robberies.

The pal told the publication: “I dread to think how many people he attacked. I expect the court case was just the tip of the iceberg. The murders do not surprise me. He is evil.”

What Did He Do?

The first of Cooper’s monstrous crimes occurred on December 22, 1985 when he shot dead Richard Thomas, 58, and his sister Helen, 56, at their home near Milford Haven before setting fire to their house to cover his tracks.

Four years later, he gunned down holidaymakers Peter Dixon, 51, and wife Gwenda, 52, at point blank range on a Pembrokeshire coastal path near Little Haven on June 29, 1989.

Before killing the couple, he tied them up, stole their bank card and forced them to reveal their pin number, and after the murders he took money from their account.


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Bullseye Appearance

Cooper was a fan of darts and appeared on an episode of popular game show Bullseye in 1989.

The recording for the episode took place in late May 1989 - exactly a month before he shot dead Peter and Gwenda on that Pembrokeshire path.

During the episode, presenter Jim asked Cooper how he spent his spare time, saying: “You’ve got an unusual hobby John, haven’t you?”

Killer Cooper replied: “Oh yes. The scuba diving.”

Jim said Pembrokeshire was “the place to do it”, and Cooper replied: “We’ve got deep water where you can swim over mountains and all sorts of things.”

He was clearly well aware of the location but little did the host know just a month later this latest Bullseye contestant would head to the picturesque Pembrokeshire countryside and murder two innocent holidaymakers.

Cooper didn’t cover himself in glory on Bullseye, with his opponent getting more answers correct than him.

He got the chance to gamble his winnings and go for the star prize though, but he didn’t get the desired score and lost everything.


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How Did Bullseye Play A Part?

Cooper’s appearance on Bullseye played a big part in his eventual conviction, costing him dearly in the end.

The episode featuring Cooper was played out to the jury at Swansea Crown Court during his trial.

The prosecution claimed Cooper’s appearance on the game show matched up with an artist’s impression of a man seen outside a bank in Pembrokeshire, where Peter’s card was used to withdraw money from.

Detective chief superintendent Steve Wilkins has since revealed in a book how he and ITV presenter Jonathan Hill tracked Cooper down from the Bullseye footage.

It’s hard to believe nowadays, but the episode in question actually took days to be found.

It was finally discovered by a librarian in Leeds in February 2009 - a month after Cooper’s release from prison.

After careful analysis of the episode, Jonathan compared the Bullseye footage to the artist’s impression of the murder suspect from the 1989 police inquiry.

He stopped the tape at a part where they both held a similar pose and, sure enough, the two looked very much alike - both with bushy long hair, and the same nose and chin.

In a 2013 book, The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer, then-retired detective Wilkins said: “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.”


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Cooper’s Undoing

While the father-of-two was in prison for robbery and burglary there were great advances in forensic science technologies used in the police.

During his time behind bars, a cold case review into the double murders began.

Police found that the shotgun Cooper had used in one of the robberies he had been jailed for was found to have some of Peter Dixon’s blood under the paintwork, which Cooper had added after the murders.

Peter’s blood was also identified on a pair of shorts found in Cooper’s bedroom, and he had hidden one of Richard Thomas’ socks in a hedge near his house.

In May 2009, a few months after he was released from prison, he was taken back into custody on suspicion of both double murders - 20 years after the killings.

The Verdict

After a long court case, in which his son told the jury that Cooper used to go out at night with a shotgun hidden in his coat, in May 2011 the killer was given four life sentences for the 1985 and 1989 double murders.

He was also convicted for the rape of a 16-year-old girl and sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl which took place in 1996, again in Milford Haven, and again at gun point.

In September 2011, he launched an appeal against his convictions but it was rejected in November 2012.

Cooper, now 71, has no possibility of parole.