John Cooper: Couple's holiday ended by serial killer

Peter and Gwenda Dixon were killed as they took one last stroll along the cliff top before returning home to Oxfordshire from their holiday in Pembrokeshire.

As they followed the coast path from their campsite near Little Haven on the morning of 29 June 1989 the couple were intercepted by John Cooper.

What he said to them will never be known, but they were never seen alive again.

They failed to return home to Witney the same day, and four days later their son, who was 22 at the time, reported them missing.

Reported missing

They had never left Pembrokeshire because Cooper, a prolific criminal who had already carried out another double murder four years previously, had shot them at point blank range and hidden their bodies in bushes.

Image caption The case began as a missing persons inquiry

Before killing them, he forced them to the very edge of the cliff, tied them up and demanded their bank card, forcing them to disclose the pin number.

He later used this to withdraw money from cash machines in the area.

After Tim Dixon reported them missing, a major search of the area began. He joined the hunt.

Six days later their bodies were found in undergrowth near the cliff path.

Mrs Dixon, who was 52, had also been sexually assaulted.

The discovery sent shockwaves through the community, not just in their home town of Witney but also in Little Haven, where the couple were well known by the locals.

Peter Morgan, from Pembrokeshire County Council, said: "For two people to be murdered so close to Howelston park where they were staying was unbelievable.

"They'd been visitors to Pembrokeshire for over 15 years. They were well known and liked by local people [and were] using the facilities, the locals pubs.

"It was unbelievable that this could have happened."

Steve Holborough still lives two doors away from where the Dixons lived. Mr Dixon was a former RAF flight lieutenant and Mrs Dixon was a secretary.

Terrorist theory

Image caption John Cooper denied the killings but was found guilty of four murders at Swansea Crown Court

He said the Dixons had lived in Moorlands Road since their house was built in the 1970s and were good friends with their neighbours who were all shocked to hear about their deaths.

"They were a very nice couple, a very friendly couple," he said.

"Peter himself was always ready to give you hand with anything if he felt he could help, particularly to do with cars.

"It's not every day that your next-door neighbour gets murdered and it was really quite shocking.

"It left you feeling a bit numb, and angry in some respects, that it happened like that and no perpetrator had been found.

"It just seemed to have happened and was then left hanging in the air.

"I'd heard various theories - it was the IRA terrorists and opportunist thieves and things like that. It's a mystery."

Image caption On the day the bodies were found Mr Dixon's wedding ring was sold to a jeweller for £25

Cooper was not only a killer but also a prolific burglar and sex attacker who had carried out a string of violent armed robberies.

In 1985 Cooper, of Letterston, near Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, had "executed" brother and sister Richard and Helen Thomas at their farmhouse Scoveston Park, seven miles from the spot where he later killed the Dixons.

They had been shot at close range and their house set alight.

In 1996 he robbed a group of teenagers in Milford Haven, raping one girl at knife point and sexually assaulting another.

A year later he was finally captured after an armed robbery at a house in Sardis, Pembrokeshire, and was imprisoned for 16 years.

While he was still in jail, Dyfed-Powys Police began a cold case review of the double murders of the 1980s.

Advances in forensic techniques meant they were able to link items used in the Sardis robbery with the killing of the Dixons.

Cooper has now been found guilty of their murders as well as two others and jailed for life.

Twenty-two years after their parents were brutally murdered on the last day of their summer holiday, the Dixons' son Tim and daughter Julie have finally seen justice done.

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