Bullseye (partially found John Cooper episode of British game show; 1989)
Left: John Cooper on the show. Right: The sketch connecting him to the murders.
Status: Partially Found
Bullseye is a darts-based game show originally broadcast on ITV from 1981 to 1995. Its premise involved three pairs of contestants working together to answer questions and play darts games to win prizes. An episode that aired in 1989 has become infamous, as it featured serial killer John Cooper. The episode would also be utilised by the prosecution team to highlight Cooper's clear similarity with a sketch connecting him with the murders of Peter and Gwenda Dixon, leading him being branded as "The Bullseye Killer".
Prior to his appearance on Bullseye, Cooper had already murdered two people. On 23rd December 1985, Cooper entered Scoveston Manor, where he proceeded to kill brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas via shotgun blasts. Following this, Cooper proceeded to move Richard's body to the stairs of the manor from an outbuilding, before pouring the Manor with paraffin and igniting it. Initially, police suspected that one of the siblings killed the other and then themselves in a murder-suicide over money. However, they soon realised that the presence of multiple shotgun wounds and remnants of paraffin meant it was clear someone was responsible for both their deaths.
Aside from eyewitnesses describing a "fat" male driving a 4x4 in the area at the time, the case ultimately went cold. As for Cooper's motivation behind murdering the siblings, it is believed it is the result of a robbery gone wrong. Prosecutors in the case believe Cooper targeted the house expecting only Helen to be present, where he proceeded the murder the siblings when Richard returned home unexpectedly.
Cooper's Bullseye appearance
On 28th May 1989, Cooper appeared as a contestant on Bullseye. Based on the available footage of the episode, Cooper showed no signs of a dark past. He discussed his "unusual" hobby with host Jim Bowen, where he engaged in scuba diving on the coastlines of Pembrokeshire. Despite seemingly being sufficiently skilled at darts, Cooper and his partner were unsuccessful on the show. In the first round, the darts player needed to land darts as close to the bullseye as possible, while also landing in the category nominated by the non-darts player. The non-darts player would then answer a question connected to the category. Ultimately, Cooper did not answer enough questions correctly and was eliminated.
Nevertheless, Cooper and his darts partner would be reinvited a round later, where they participated in Pounds for Points. The dart player would throw three darts to accumulate as many points as possible. The non-darts player would then answer a question, where they would win the dart's players' score in money if they were correct. Afterwards, Cooper opted to gamble the prizes he won in an attempt to win the star prize. Here, he and his darts partner would both throw three darts each, where they needed to score a combined total of 101 or more to win. Cooper scored 26, and his partner did no better, resulting in them walking away with nothing. At the time the episode was broadcast on ITV, Cooper's appearance was deemed unremarkable.
Further crimes and Bullseye's role in Cooper's conviction
However, just a month following Cooper's appearance on Bullseye, he would kill again. On 29th June 1989, couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon were walking along the coastal path of Pembrokeshire as part of their camping trip. Suddenly, Cooper ambushed them with a sawn-off shotgun, ordered them to a hideaway, and demanded both money and the PIN number of their bank card. After stealing £300 in physical cash from Peter and tying his hands behind his back, as well as sexually assaulting Gwenda, Cooper killed both by firing point-blank shots to their faces. Police were able to deduce the killer had received information about the couple's bank card, as he used it to withdraw money. However, the case went cold, with the main theory being that the Dixons had unintentionally witnessed the IRA smuggling arms Wales, with its members killing the couple to cover up their actions.
Cooper's criminal acts continued into the 1990s. In March 1996, he ambushed five teenagers with a shotgun close to a housing estate in Milford Haven. He then proceeded to drag a 16-year-old girl at knifepoint, before raping her and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. In December 1998, Cooper's long criminal history caught up with him, as he would be jailed for 16 years after committing an armed robbery and a total of 30 burglaries. Nevertheless, he appeared to have gotten away with his murders and sexual assaults, despite police questioning him about the murders in 2006. Cooper would then be released from prison on licence in late-2008.
However, Cooper would soon be arrested in connection with the four murders in mid-2009. After forensic tests were conducted, traces of Peter Dixon's blood were found on Cooper's shotgun and a pair of shorts suspected to have been owned by Peter. While this evidence itself strongly linked Cooper to the murders, his Bullseye appearance helped solidify it. In February 2009, Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Wilkins requested the help of ITV presenter Jonathan Hill to retrieve footage of the episode, believing it would help with the case. A librarian retrieved a copy in Leeds, which was then analysed. Wilkins discovered that not only did Cooper demonstrate clear knowledge of the coastal area where the Dixons were killed but also bore a resemblance to a sketch of a man that used the couple's bank card. With this evidence, Cooper was found guilty of the murders of the Thomases and the Dixons and was given a whole life sentence. He has also been linked with other unsolved murders, including Flo Evans, Harry and Megan Tooze, and Griff and Patti Thomas.
Likely because of the episode's sinister context, the episode has not re-aired following Cooper's conviction. As of the present day, only a few segments of the episode can be viewed online. Nevertheless, one available clip of the episode confirms that it was aired on Challenge, bringing the possibility that other copies beyond the one discovered the investigation exist.
- Independent detailing how Cooper's Bullseye appearance proved critical in his conviction. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- BBC News reporting on Cooper being jailed for life. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- The Guardian detailing Cooper's crimes and how forensic evidence proved critical in his arrest and conviction. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- The Herald Wales documenting the murders of Richard and Helen Thomas. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- WalesOnline detailing the recovery and analysis of the Bullseye episode that helped convict Cooper. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- UK Game Shows detailing Bullseye and the various games played. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- Inews detailing how Cooper fit the description of the sketch. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22
- WalesOnline detailing Cooper's links to other unsolved murders. Retrieved 3rd Sep '22