Note: Contains discussion of themes that some readers may find upsetting, and contains information from all three episodes of The Pembrokeshire Murders.
If it wasn't for the tireless work of Detective Inspector Steve Wilkins, DI Ella Richards and the rest of their team, there's a possibility that serial killer John Cooper would still be out there, and a strong possibility that more innocent lives could have been harmed at his hand.
But their investigation, Operation Ottawa, which ran across six years, combined with invaluable advancements in forensic science and the work carried out by the previous detectives and officers 20 years ago, was enough to ensure that Cooper was sentenced and remains behind bars.
He was found guilty of the murders of siblings Helen and Richard Thomas, and the murders of married couple Gwenda and Peter Dixon back in 2011. Cooper was also convicted of rape, sexual assault and attempted robbery.
"This is utter rubbish, it's rubbish," Cooper, now 76, shouted in court (via BBC). "That jury's been on the internet. I don't blame them – evidence has been kept from that jury."
It isn't rubbish, of course, and as a result of Wilkins' work, Cooper is subject to a Whole Life Order, meaning he will never be released from prison. His appeal was rejected in 2012.
Wilkins also believes that Cooper could have been responsible for the murder of Florence Evans, a 77-year-old widow who was found dead in her bathtub in 1989. But that has never been proved.
"When I look back at where she lived, the fact that she knew Cooper, [that] he used to visit her at her home address, [that] the family were concerned there were items of property missing from the house – it troubles me," Wilkins told The Telegraph.
"My personal view is that Cooper would be of great interest in relation to the circumstances of that death. I had a very personal conversation with [her] family and gave them my views."
Wilkins, who moved to Pembrokeshire from the North West when he was 17, joined Cheshire Police in 1980, before transferring to Dyfed-Powys Police in 1992. He was later transferred to the National Criminal Intelligence Service as Head of Region for the North West of England, and served as head of intelligence for the UK.
Wilkins returned to Dyfed-Powys Police in 2005 as a DS and in 2006, he requested that the Cooper case be reopened.
He served on the force for 33 years, 30 of which he spent as a detective.
Wilkins went on to write The Pembrokeshire Murders: Catching the Bullseye Killer with ITV journalist Jonathan Hill, on which the series is based.
Wilkins said (via BBC) that he "never intended to write a book". But after being contacted by "a number of writers", he decided it was important to "give an accurate, sensitive record" of what happened.
Wilkins acted as a police consultant on the drama, which he has heaped praise on.
"I cannot speak too highly of their understanding, sensitivity and professionalism and commitment to getting it right," he said (via BBC). "They quickly understood that they were depicting real people, many who are still carrying the scars."
It was also important for Wilkins and everyone involved that the series did not sensationalise the case in any way.
"It is very difficult to squeeze six years into three episodes, but in doing so, we agreed red lines which must not be crossed... and that has been achieved," he added.
Another high-profile case which Wilkins was involved with was that of Kirsty Jones, a Powys backpacker who was raped and murdered at a guesthouse in northern Thailand back in in 2000.
Wilkins, now 61, is retired and lives in Nantwich, Cheshire.
Speaking to Digital Spy and other press about the blood, sweat and tears that the detective put into the case, Luke Evans, who plays Wilkins in The Pembrokeshire Murders, said: "This isn't just about finding the killer. It's about this man who had to sacrifice time with his family.
"There's a very powerful storyline between him and his son. How difficult it is having a teenage son and not being there and work taking over. All those things that you forget [about] these detectives and these police officers when they're on the front line or when they're putting themselves in danger.
"They're sacrificing time with their own families, so it really raised the importance of what they do and how they do it, and how grateful we are that they do it."
The Pembrokeshire Murders is available to stream now on ITV hub.
Digital Spy has launched its first-ever digital magazine with exclusive features, interviews, and videos. Access the latest edition with a 1-month free trial, only on Apple News+.
Interested in Digital Spy's weekly newsletter? Sign up to get it sent straight to your inbox – and don't forget to join our Watch This Facebook Group for daily TV recommendations and discussions with other readers.
You Might Also Like