John Cooper was a man with a powerful streak of badness in him. A bully, a psychopath and a vicious killer, he terrorised an area of Pembrokeshire for two decades.
He is the subject of a forthcoming episode of CBS Reality’s Murder by the Sea (Tuesday, 29 January, 10pm). As a contributor to the series, I must say Cooper made the biggest impression on me for the heartless, chilling nature of his crimes.
He was jailed for 30 counts of burglary in 1998. By this time, however, he had also committed two double murders.
Murdered two couples
While raiding the country home of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas in 1985 to rob the place, he killed both with a shotgun. He then burned the house down.
Four years later he ambushed holidaying Oxfordshire couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon as they strolled along the coastal path. He bound and terrorised the couple, then shot them both in the face. Cooper took £300 from a cash dispenser using Mr Dixon’s PIN number.
He had a lust for terrorising and abusing people. In 1996 he pulled his shotgun on a group of teenagers walking through fields. He raped one of the girls and assaulted another.
This new series about how police question suspected killers begins on CBS Reality on Thursday 3 January.
I am a contributor to it and had to do a lot of research on the six cases included. Watching or listening to lengthy questioning sessions was tedious at times. Unlike TV dramas, there usually isn’t much drama.
At the same time it requires patience for those vital moments when a callous killer may give themselves away.
They vary considerably here, from chilling psychopath Israel Keyes in the US to UK killers Nathan Matthews and Shauna Hoare, who killed teen Becky Watts. The latter tragic case starts the series.
Some of the killers are hard to pin down because they are psychopaths who lie easily and feel no guilt. Others are stupid and incompetent, and soon outfoxed by detectives.
The series, presented by Professor David Wilson, gives rare insights into the reality of all types of homicide and the challenges facing police. But be warned – the cases are generally sad and chilling.
Thanks goodness deference to authority largely gets the middle finger today.
This means we can give short shrift to claptrap like this: ‘Sadistic crime is probably more rare in England than in any other country in the world. Curiously enough, even the few known exponents in our English records are apt to bear an alien name.’
So, just to be clear – sadism is a vice of foreign blighters. The English do not stoop to such shameful behaviour.
This view, voiced in 1941, was not that of some loudmouth in a pub after one too many. It was the opinion of the Commissioner of Prisons, Alexander Paterson.
Sadism and cruelty
The problem he faced was what to do with Harold Jones, who had been convicted of murdering two little girls when he was 15. In 1941 Jones had served 20 years, considered a ‘life’ term at the time.
During his incarceration, the consensus had been that Jones was a sadist who showed no remorse. Senior medical officer W Norwood East reported that for Jones ‘the sexual act reaches its highest gratification when accompanied by cruelty’.
In 1936 the governor of Maidstone prison, B Grew, was damning, ‘Sad as it may seem I can see no hopeful prospects for Jones in the future.’
But by 1941 Paterson was effectively muddying the waters. The medical profession really knows little about sadism, he suggested.
These are the words of Professor Brian J Ford during BBC4’s Murder in Soho: Who Killed Freddie Mills? And the death of Britain’s former boxing hero has certainly attracted rumour, legend and some wacky theories since his apparent suicide in 1965.
I was pleased that this documentary took a fairly sober approach to the case. It is far better than the recent irritating and overlong Ruth Ellis Files on BBC4.
It did not focus much on the outlandish claim that Freddie Mills was the serial killer known as Jack the Stripper or the Hammersmith Nude Killer. However, it does make space for author Michael Litchfield, whose book on the case made such assertions. These are unfounded, as far as I am concerned. Author and former police officer Dick Kirby says succinctly the idea is ‘ludicrous’ during the programme.
Mills: suicide or murder?
The film does make a convincing case that Mills probably did not shoot himself in the eye – a very rare method for a person to use when committing suicide.
Various theories are explored to support the idea that Mills was the victim of criminals. The boxing world and West End nightclub land where Mills was a part-owner of a night spot were heavily linked to the underworld.
Does the programme clear up the puzzle once and for all? I don’t think it makes a conclusive case. But it is a fascinating portrait of a much-loved personality – perhaps Britain’s first celebrity and the David Beckham of his time – who seems to have crossed paths with the wrong people.