By Daily Mail Reporter
Updated: 19:01 EDT, 15 May 2009
John Cooper (right), pictured arriving at Haverfordwest Magistrates Court
A grandfather appeared in court yesterday charged with two double murders in the 1980s.
John William Cooper, a 64-year-old farm labourer, shouted: ‘Please don’t judge me until the facts come out’ as he was led into Haverfordwest Magistrates Court, south Wales, in handcuffs.
He is accused of murdering wealthy landowner Richard Thomas, 58, and his sister Helen, 54, at their mansion in 1985.
Cooper is also charged with murdering holidaymakers Peter Dixon, 51, and his wife Gwenda, 54, from Witney, Oxfordshire, four years later.
They were on a camping trip when they died in a shooting as they walked the Pembrokeshire coastal path.
Their bodies were found hidden close to a cliff path near Littlehaven six days after their disappearance.
They too had been shot at close range in what appeared to be execution-style killings, with Mr Dixon’s hands tied behind his back.
Mr Thomas and his sister died at their home seven miles away when they were bound and shot at point-blank range through the head with a shotgun. The house near Milford Haven was then set ablaze.
Cooper is also accused of raping a woman, indecently assaulting a girl under 16 and five attempted robberies in Milford Haven, all in March 1996.
The father of two, of Letterston, near Fishguard, was remanded in custody by magistrates in Haverfordwest.
He will reappear before Swansea Crown Court on May 27.
His arrest follows a two-year ‘cold case ‘investigation codenamed Operation Ottawa.
Murdered in 1985: Siblings Richard and Helen Thomas were blasted with a shotgun at their manor house
A spokesman for the Dixon family said: ‘We have been informed that following a review of their case a man has been charged with their murder.
‘We welcome this development and are grateful to Dyfed Powys Police for keeping us up to date during this investigation.’
Cooper was arrested over the unsolved killings following a DNA breakthrough.
Two years ago, detectives began a cold case review – named Operation Ottawa – of the crimes using new forensic techniques to sift evidence gathered during the initial inquiries.
Everything from minute fabric fibres to strands of hair can now be subjected to scrutiny in the laboratory.
Scientists at LGC Forensics – the firm that solved the Rachel Nickell case – made the DNA breakthrough.
Killed in 1989: Peter and Gwenda Dixon were shot at point-blank range on a coastal path
Their findings identified a suspect and convinced police the double murders were linked.
Dyfed Powys officers arrested Cooper at 8am as he made his way on foot to a newsagents near his semidetached home in Letterston, near Fishguard.
In the 1980s, officers believed the shootings were carried out by different individuals.
Police initially thought a domestic dispute between Richard and Helen Thomas had led to the deaths.
But it later became clear that Miss Thomas was killed first and her brother apparently shot dead when he returned to the manor house.
A reward was put up for information about the killer, believed to be a 20-stone bearded man who drove a Rover car. But he was never traced.
Rural: A police officer guards the secluded spot where the bodies of Dixon’s were found. All the murders, with the exception of the murder of the Dixons, were within a relatively short distance of Cooper’s home
The manner of Peter and Gwenda’s deaths fed into rumours locally that the couple had stumbled into an IRA arms dump.
The prime suspect was a scruffy man – that police called The Wildman – seen on the path at the time of their deaths.
When police announced their review, detectives suggested the answer could lie close to home.
They revealed that some evidence in the Dixon case pointed to the killer having links to Pembrokeshire.
Blaze: The burned-out house where Richard and Helen Thomas were found. It’s alleged the killer targeted that house knowing that Ms Thomas was there alone but was disturbed by Richard Thomas returning
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