Vicious murderers have turned on the charm for television on more occasions than you might imagine. One of the most unsettling examples of this came on the 28th of May 1989, when Welsh killer John Williams Cooper was featured on a long-running ITV game show. It’s how he would go on to be nicknamed ‘The Bullseye Killer’...
'The Bullseye Killer'
30 years ago, Jim Bowen commiserated a man for narrowly missing out on the top prize on his darts-based TV game show Bullseye. That man was John William Cooper, a violent criminal who had evaded police for years.
A Welshman with a fondness for burglaries, robberies and assault, four years prior to his appearance on ‘Bully’, he had carried out a burglary on a large farmhouse in Pembrokeshire. Things soon turned ugly when Cooper noticed the owners, siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, were home. He proceeded to tie them up and set the place alight, burning them alive.
The killings would not prove to be a one-off. Perhaps spurred on by his fifteen minutes of fame, just one month after filming, Cooper accosted, tied up and robbed married couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon, again in Pembrokeshire. Despite the Dixons following his every instruction, he callously and brutally shot both in the face at point-blank range with a sawn-off shotgun.
He was eventually apprehended by police who were able to match eyewitness descriptions to footage from his episode of Bullseye. Extra suspicion came from his mentioning how picturesque Pembrokeshire is during his chat with presenter Bowen. Cooper's hubris by volunteering to appear on national television would end up his undoing.
John Cooper isn’t the only murderer to have the gall to pitch up on television. In fact, somewhat incredibly, he’s not even the only serial killer to have appeared on a TV game show during their reign of terror...
Rodney Alcala, aka 'The Dating Show Killer'
Let’s begin with the number one example of the preening serial killer seeking out the cameras… Rodney Alcala. Dubbed ‘The Dating Show Killer’ with good reason, this long-haired multiple murderer rather fancied himself and assumed that the world - as well as the female contestant on this Blind Date-style show - would too. He was wrong.
That said, Alcala was selected from a choice of three by poor Cheryl Bradshaw. Luckily for her, she sensed the man’s innate creepiness (he was ‘a very strange guy’, she later - rightly - said) and refused to go on the date that the producers had organised for them. It was the smartest move she'd ever make. Alcala was deep in the midst of a truly savage kill spree.
He's now on Death Row at San Quentin prison for the rape and murder of seven women, although it's widely believed that he murdered many, many more. Perhaps as many as a hundred poor women in total.
Dennis Rader, aka 'The BTK Killer'
Philosopher Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the ‘banality of evil’ when pontificating about on the war crimes trial of top Nazi Adolf Eichmann. It’s a phrase that might come to mind whenever you watch an infamous bogeyman-style serial killer talk. Their dreary normality often belies their quite grotesque deeds. This can definitely be said of the dreaded ‘BTK Killer’.
Bind. Torture. Kill. BTK terrorised Kansas in the 1970s and 80s. A sexual sadist whose kill count hit double figures, he was regarded as a monster. And, to an extent, he was. He was also just a man. A seemingly quite dull man called Dennis Rader. President of his local church council, Cub Scout Leader and Compliance Officer, he was a regular-looking man with a regular-looking moustache.
In 1991, he gave a short interview with a local TV news station about his role as a dogcatcher. That’s right, Dennis Rader was picking up a cheque from the state for shooting stray dogs dead before binding, torturing and killing young women after work.
When schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman went missing on the 4th of August 2002 in Soham, Cambridgeshire, it made headline news. The story grew grimmer and grimmer over the following weeks and months. The girls, it transpired, were murdered by their school’s caretaker Ian Huntley in his home and dumped and burned near an RAF base in Suffolk.
Two weeks after the event, as news cameras lined the streets of the town, local news programme Look East and Sky News both interviewed Huntley, ignorant to who he was and what he’d done.
At the time, the footage seemed innocuous enough. But viewed now, knowing that Huntley was, in fact, the killer, it makes for a seriously chilling watch.
We round things off with something of a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ effort. So-called ‘Grindr Killer’ Stephen Port poisoned and killed at least four men in Barking, East London, across 2014 and 2015. In June of 2014, Port - a professional chef - could be seen cooking and serving pasta and meatballs to homeless people on an episode of the BBC cookery show MasterChef.
It seems that it’s not just The Crime+Investigation that puts killers on the box...