As I’ve mentioned before, as much as I love true crime shows, I struggle when the cases highlighted remain unsolved to this day. I need to know what happened. Given that, The Pembrokeshire Murders is a show that seems more or less tailor made for me. Not only is the mystery solved at the end, but the three-part series tells the (dramatized, but based off true events) story about how police caught a serial killer over a quarter-century after the fact. There may be people out there who wouldn’t be hooked on that premise alone, but those people aren’t me.
If you’re like me, you might not have heard of John Cooper, the Gameshow Killer (not to be confused with Rodney Alcala, the Dating Game Killer) prior to watching The Pembrokeshire Murders. He was convicted in 2011 for a series of murders and sexual assaults dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, which were tied together by a string of robberies. The three-part BritBox series explores how the police tied these seemingly unrelated crimes together, and how they utilized advances in forensic technology to capture the serial killer who had escaped justice for too long.
For the more squeamish true crime lovers in the audience, rest assured that the series, while gripping, isn’t graphic. Which makes sense, given the age of the crimes. Also, while John Cooper is tied to two sexual assaults, the series does not go into specific details – undoubtedly out of a desire not to re-traumatize the very real victims at the heart of the story.
The Pembrokeshire Murders is one of those shows that draws you in, making you want to keep watching until the final piece falls into place. I sat down intending to watch one episode, and I ended up binging all three. Its appeal is in no small part due to Luke Evans, who stars as Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins, the detective responsible for tying the various crimes together and getting the cases reopened. Conveying a mixture of determination and pathos, Evans never lets the audience entirely forget the stakes at the heart of the story – or that the stakes are very much real.
There are real victims at the heart of the story: Richard and Helen Thomas, Peter and Gwenda Dixon, and five youngsters terrorized and assaulted walking through a field on their way home. These victims all deserve justice they’ve long been denied, and Evans’ portrayal is a constant reminder that his investigation is very likely their only real shot at getting it. Funds to conduct the cold case investigation are finite, and if he (and his team) should fail to uncover the evidence necessary to secure conviction, a serial killer could walk free.
Fortunately, the case is solved and the killer is convicted for his crimes. However, as is all-too common when it comes to real life, there are still questions that remain. Other murders that were committed in the area at the time of Cooper’s crimes, with similar modus operandi to the crimes for which he was convicted. Could he have more blood on his hands than is currently known? It’s entirely possible we will never really know the answer to that question.
Watch the series trailer:
And once you’ve watched the three-part drama, check out The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer. This documentary, also available on BritBox, shines a light on the real people responsible for bringing a serial killer to justice. The unsolved 1989 murder of Flo Evans is also discussed, as it has been speculated that Evans may be Cooper’s fifth victim. However, at this time, he has not been charged with her death.
There is nothing more frustrating than knowing there are cases out there that have never been (and possibly will never be) solved. Victims who will never find justice. But for those who find immense satisfaction in seeing how said cold cases are actually solved, give The Pembrokeshire Murders and its accompanying documentary, The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer a shot. You won’t regret it.
The Pembrokeshire Murders and The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Gameshow Killer are both available on BritBox.