I spent Good Friday working on a documentary being made for CBS Reality called Murder by the Sea. The setting was a chilly boatyard in Cardiff.
The premise of this 12-part series is fascinating. It is about how the seaside has been the setting for a spectrum of homicides down the years.
Coastal towns can be quiet and idyllic, faded and in decline, or well-off and socially conservative. But they are often shaken by shocking crimes.
From Blackpool to Pembrokeshire
Blackpool is a pleasure resort that attracts holidaymakers, but also dodgy types. The high turnover of visitors makes it a transient destination – ideal for criminals or those with predatory designs on unsuspecting strangers.
Quiet resorts can also be exploited by the ruthless. Morecambe is a pleasant seaside town at the foot of the Lake District national park. Birdwatchers and hikers love the area. It was not prepared for a brutal double murder of Tony Marrocco and Paul Sandham that hit the town in 1995.
What is it about the seaside? Do these places have a feeling of anonymity? Or, as Murder by the Sea‘s opening sequence suggests, is it that some people associate them with the ‘end of the line’.
Serial killer John Cooper
So I found myself in a yard full of wooden boats, many antique, all being rebuilt or repaired. I’d been asked to comment on some of the cases being covered. These ranged from the Morecambe murders, committed by Terry Clifton, to a particularly chilling case on the Pembrokeshire coast.
John Cooper committed two double murders with a shotgun. The first was in 1985 when he raided the isolated farmhouse of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, both in their 50s.
Four years later he ambushed Oxfordshire couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon on the coastal path. He forced Mr Dixon to give him his bank details, and brutally shot the couple. He later took about £300 from his victim’s account.
Life without parole
Cooper was a horrible man. He brutalised his young son, and later tried to implicate him
in his own crimes. He was suspected of having committed around 70 burglaries and sexually attacked two teenage girls when he pounced a group of youths in 1996.
While Cooper thrived on the reckless thrill of terrorising all those around him, he was also calculating and cunning.
He was finally arrested in 2009 and went to jail for life without parole in 2011.
Would a geographic profile have helped to catch Cooper?
What struck me about the case was that it seemed a shame the police had never used a geographic profiler. With Cooper having committed so many crimes for so many years there would have been plenty of data for this.
It eventually turned out he lived at the epicentre of his one-man crime wave. So it seems like a classic case of a serial criminal acting within the comfort zone of his personal geography.
What is undeniable is that the police certainly did a fantastic job over three years to build a forensic case against Cooper. For a portrait of Cooper, who was so unperturbed by his crimes that he appeared on Bullseye around the time of his second double killing, watch this documentary.
Murder by the Sea will be shown by CBS Reality later this year. There are a number of fascinating interviews and material being put together for it by the production team at Monster Films.
It was great to be asked back by them, having been interviewed for their documentary about the 1960s Nude Murders. I was also delighted to meet Jackie Malton, the former senior police officer who inspired the character of Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. She is straight-talking and very knowledgeable, and I look forward to seeing her contributions to Murder by the Sea.