Saturday Night Strangler
The Llandarcy Killer
Saturday Night Strangler
"we'd got our man at last"
In June 2002, a match was made on the South Wales police DNA database that would end a twenty-nine year search for answers. Investigators of the Llandarcy team had finally unmasked a potential suspect as the Saturday Night Strangler, a local man who was suspected of committing the rapes and murders of three young women. The story of the Llandarcy Killer would begin in July 1973, with the death of a young hitchhiker, Sandra Newton. This crime would go unsolved, along with two more murders in September 1973.
In their hunt for this vicious killer, detectives interviewed scores of suspects, and with the help of a psychological profiler, they slowly whittled down their list of thousands of suspects to just several hundred. But ultimately, their efforts came to a dead end. With advances in DNA technology in the late 1990’s, police were finally able to search for the killer by using his genetic fingerprint left at the crime scene, and the pursuit of justice resulted in one of the biggest police investigations in Welsh history.
On a relatively warm sunny day in May 2002, a large group of people gathered on a steep Welsh hillside at Port Talbot’s Goytre Cemetery. But these were not mourners attending a funeral, they were an exhumation team, consisting of forensic archaeologists, forensic dentists, scientists, pathologists and policemen. A large, blue tent was erected over the grave of Joseph Kappen and, as dusk fell, the digging started. The weather soon turned sharply cold and a storm broke. Heavy rain came lashed down, thunder cracked and streaks of lightning split the sky.
Although it was a ghoulish task, the group were hoping extract dead man’s DNA, and match it to the Saturday Night Strangler, Wales first documented serial killer. As twilight had finally fallen after a long day of digging, the team of detectives and forensic experts hunched around the large newly made hole in the ground as the dirt covered coffin was slowly brought to the surface. As ominous flashes lit up the nights sky, one man looked at the other and muttered: “Looks like he doesn’t want to come up.”
The Hunting Ground of a Killer
In September 1973, two young friends, 16-year-old Geraldine Hughes and her best mate Pauline Floyd, meet at the popular Top Rank nightclub in Swansea, South Wales. With songs by Marc Bolan playing to the crowd, the dancefloor is packed. Located on the floor above, Roger Moore is playing James Bond in Live And Let Die to a large crowd of cinema goers. Known as the “Rank”, this nightclub is the most popular spot for youngsters of the time, one of the swankiest discos in South Wales, that drew huge crowds from miles around.
But that night, Saturday, September 15th, something was different. Among those having a good time at the “Rank” that evening, was one man who had other thoughts in his mind besides dancing and frolicking. But no-one there would have known his intentions, or that he was a sexual predator, hidden in plain sight, with his shoulder-length hair and sideburns, he was indistinguishable from all the other would-be male suitors. This was a time, long before the term ‘Serial Killer’ was even known, and little was understood about the criminal mind.
As the young man stood there, it is possible he had already picked out Geraldine, a bubbly teenaged girl wearing a white minidress with a big laugh, and her friend, Pauline, a quiet girl of just five foot four, who liked to wear rings on her fingers and green nail varnish. On that fateful night, the two young girls faced an awkward journey home. They lived seven miles away in the neighbouring villages of Llandarcy and Skewen. There were no buses at 1:00am when the disco ended, and taxis were an expensive luxury. Few people had cars back then.
Pauline and Geraldine both worked in a sewing factory, and earned £16 a week. A taxi at the time was four quid. In order to get where they needed to go, the young girls hitchhiked, something that many others did. Although the cinema billboard illuminates light into the wet Swansea night, it would soon be extinguished by government order. The country was in the grip of an energy crisis, with a war in the Middle East sending oil prices soaring, as well as miners on strike, resulting in coal reserves that were soon starting to deplete.
All across Britain, street lights, advertising signs and cinema billboards are turned off in a desperate attempt to stave off power cuts. As the girls sheltered at a bus stop in the spitting rain, just a few hundreds yards from the club in the direction of home, a passing motorist observed a white car swerve to the side of the road and pick the girls up. As Philip O’Connor sat at the next set of traffic lights, the white car draws alongside. He glances over and sees both girls in the front seat chatting away to the driver. He is able to catch a glimpse of the man, sporting bushy hair and a moustache, however most of his face is hidden behind the girls.
The Llandarcy Murders
The two friends never returned home, and that was the last time they are seen alive. The following morning, at around 10:00am, a pensioner walking in a wooded copse near Llandarcy stumbles upon the body of Pauline Floyd. She is found lying face down, her black platform boots placed beside her. With a five foot length of rope lashed around her neck several times, it appeared she had been strangled. But her killer had also battered her about the head, her clothing heavily bloodstained.
Some 50 yards away, Geraldine’s body is discovered close to the main Jersey Marine Road, which leads directly to the M4. Like her best friend, she too had been hit over the head and strangled from behind with the length of rope. Although the girls, both virgins at the time prior to their deaths, were found fully clothed, postmortem examinations revealed they have been raped. After the rapes, the killer had allowed each girl to re-dress herself, this was evident by the fact that their feet inside their tights were dirty from the earthy floor.
The copse where the bodies were found was a shortcut from the main road to Llandarcy and Pauline’s home, where both girls had planned to spend the night. What is unclear, is how both girls ended up in the pitch-dark copse with a stranger, and how that stranger managed to control two young girls. The answer to this might never be known. The two girls had been taken to that forest, and there brutalized, then murdered and dumped like discarded rubbish. At the end of their childhood, they suffered a brutal and violent end.
A large police murder inquiry was launched, and a team of more than 150 detectives was swiftly assembled. It would prove to be the biggest murder investigation in Welsh history. The crime scene at Llandarcy lies in the centre of the heavily populated South Wales industrial area. The landscape of which is dominated by steel plants, flaring oil refineries and deep-water docks. The main towns of Swansea, Port Talbot and Neath are easily accessible and just minutes away along the M4.
Police learned from passing motorists that a white car, soon to be identified as an Austin 1100, was seen parked at the entrance to the copse between 1:45am and 2:15am on that Sunday morning. It was likely this was the killer’s car, but none of the eye-witnesses saw the number plate. The motor vehicle provided a potential link to another murder, that occurred three months earlier. On July 15, 1973, 16-year-old hitchhiker Sandra Newton was found strangled, her body dumped close to a local disused colliery.
Like the other victims, Sandra had been raped and strangled, with the killer sing the hem of her chiffon skirt to choke the life out of her. She was last seen walking home from a nightclub in the neighbouring village of Britton Ferry after a Saturday night out. Subsequent investigations learned that an Austin 1100 had been “going like the clappers” in the area around the time of the murder. The papers soon came up with a sensationalized nickname for the killer, calling him the “Saturday Night Strangler”.
The police investigation, led by chief superintendent Ray Allen, set up a murder room in Skewen police station. With no computers to compile information, the team instead rely on a complex manual card index system, as well as a wall-sized white board known as a “graticule,” which was divided into tiny squares in which individual inquiries or “actions” are listed and then crossed off when completed. In an effort to warn the public about the dangers of hitchhiking, police print up a poster that reads; “DANGER, THUMBING LIFTS HAS LED TO MURDER – DON’T”.
Barbara Williams, a close friend of Pauline and Geraldine, recalls “there were police, dogs, panda cars, going round all the time, everywhere. No one walked the streets. My mother would not let me out of her sight. It could have been the milkman, the postman.” A flurry of tips, reports, accusations and false leads poured into the murder room. As a result, the inquiry was soon drowning in the very paperwork it had requested. The strongest lead came from the eye-witness motorists who provided the type of car seen at the crime scene, that of a white Austin 1100.
The search for the owner of the suspicious car would prove to be both laborious and time consuming. In 1973, cars are registered in local taxation offices, and although the team obtained a list of Austin 1100 owners, it involved trawling through the records in each office. This produced a list of more than 11,000 white Austin 1100s. Each owner is visited by members of the team, and they are only eliminated from the inquiry once they provide a statement of their whereabouts on the night in question, and only when this is alibi verified by a statement from someone else.
As part of the investigation, police questioned workers who were in the process of completing the final stages of the M4 construction, as well as employees at the steel works in Port Talbot, which comprised some 13,000 men. One line of inquiry saw detectives scour the country after fairground workers, after it was learned that the murders coincided with the annual Neath Fair. Meanwhile, detectives were divided over the inclusion of a third case, one that bore striking similarities to the Llandarcy murders.
The death of Sandra Newton occurred just several months earlier, and at the time, her married boyfriend confessed that they left the nightclub together and had a “quickie” in the back of an abandoned van. He told police he then left Sandra at the roadside, and walked home in the opposite direction. It was the last time he saw Sandra. But the police found the admission of adultery an awkward fact, and in public it was denied that the victim had been sexually assaulted, the “quickie” the lovers shared was not disclosed.
The boyfriend didn’t have a licence, and never owned a car, while Sandra’s body is found miles away. This would have meant he was cleared, but there was still a lingering suspicion that he was responsible. The most important piece of evidence the team had at the time, was a cast made of a car that had been at the site of the murders. Eventually, the Skewen murder room compiles a collection of 35,000 index cards, each containing names and different subject categories, such as “suspicious acts”, “rumours”, “psychics”, “pregnant women”, “queer person” and “psychopath”.
This wealth of information helped create a list of 10,500 nominal suspects, 11,000 car questionnaires, 4,000 statements from Austin car owners and 10,000 miscellaneous statements. But this many tips and eye-witness reports had to be checked and every piece of paper is supposedly cross-indexed, a mammoth task that proved overwhelming for the investigating team. In an effort to appeal directly to the public, Chief Superintendent Allen holds a press conference and requests that the killer’s relatives to turn him in. “We are pretty certain he is being shielded by someone; could be a woman, could be a relative or someone close to him.”
“That Sunday morning, his shoes must have been muddy, his clothing could have been bloodstained. This man is sick and needs medical attention. He could kill again unless we can get him to a doctor. Let the police know about him before he kills again. We will look after him.” But no one turns him in. By mid-1974, the murder investigation is quietly wound down and the inquiry has run out of credible leads. The Saturday Night Strangler had escaped justice.
But the pain for the families of the victims never went away. On the third anniversary of the murders, Geraldine Hughes’s mother Jean organized a protest march comprising 50 of her sewing factory workmates to 10 Downing Street. And there the group stood, under the watchful gaze of the No.10 staff, with their handmade banners proclaiming; “BRING BACK HANGING!”. Jean Hughes posed for the photographers holding her 9,000-signature petition, and said, “I can’t accept what happened to Geraldine.”
“It has left me very bitter,” she said. “If they ever catch the person responsible, they should hang him. I want him to feel a rope around his neck like the girls felt.” But her march on Downing Street is futile, and she does not achieve what she set out to do. Britain’s government is preoccupied with troubles at home, such as industrial strife, economic meltdown and rebellious unions. Besides, even if they did agree to bring back capital punishment, in this case there is no one to hang.
Back in South Wales, the trail has gone cold. But the investigation, like any unsolved murder, was never officially closed. When the Llandarcy murder inquiry was wound down, all of the boxes of evidence and boxes of statements, along with much of the girls’ clothing, was shipped to Sandfields police station in Port Talbot. There it stayed for nearly 30 years. But due to the passage of time, some of the boxes of statements had got damp, ruining the information contained within.
Thankfully, the most valuable forensic material, such as the girls’ underwear, was retained in dry storerooms at the Home Office’s forensic science labs in Chepstow. In the intervening years, the case was reviewed with a new investigating team, who trawled through the paperwork and questioned a new suspect, but this was more of a formality than a serious investigative venture.
Even with the advent of DNA technology in the mid-1980s had little influence. This was mainly because these early DNA tests required a fresh sample of DNA material the size of a 10 pence piece, or even blood or semen, in order to extract a successful DNA profile. The stains on a Llandarcy victim’s clothing from a decade earlier were of no use, and as each review closed without a conviction, the chances of catching the “Saturday Night Strangler” faded with every passing year.
By 1998, a new technique had been developed in the form of a Low Copy Number DNA test, that could utilise just a tiny speck of DNA material. The girls’ clothing, and swabs of DNA taken from the crime scene, were sent to a specialist research lab in Birmingham for testing. But this new test was a long, protracted and complex process, which involved separating the DNA of the girls’ and the killer, which had become intermixed in the 25-year-old samples. It was take almost two years of work before the scientists could get a result.
But this was only in the form of a partial profile of the killer’s DNA from Geraldine. While the result from Pauline was unambiguous, a full genetic profile that could be expressed as a string of numbers. This small measure of success now meant that the police had, at last, a genetic fingerprint of the killer. But what they didn’t know was his identity. In order to locate him, a search was made of the criminal National DNA Database (NDNAD), that holds 1.7m profiles, but the Llandarcy killer wasn’t one of them.
If justice was going to catch up with him, detectives would have to go looking for him. January 2000 saw the establishment of Operation Magnum, an official reinvestigation of the Llandarcy murders some 27 years after the killings. This new criminal investigation was considered as an unprecedented, with no previous unsolved British murder, and possibly even no unsolved murder case throughout the world and in history, has ever been successfully reinvestigated so long after the event.
The Magnum team was considerably smaller than previous investigation squads, and comprised only of detective chief inspector Paul Bethell, described as “a gregarious hulk of a man”, and two ageing detectives, both of whom were 30-year veterans close to retirement, Geraint Bale and Phil Rees. The new team under Bethell reassembled the Llandarcy murder room in a run-down police station in the village of Pontardawe, an area close to the murder scenes, and there Rees and Bale set to work.
Their plan was to DNA swab those suspects considered as most likely offenders, and then match their DNA to the Llandarcy killer’s profile. This meant they had to compile a list of just 500 suspects, because Bethell had a budget for just 500 swabs, by first combing through every piece of paper and rule out those least likely from the 35,000 names in the files. It was during this comprehensive search that the team uncovered a number of unsolved rapes in the Neath area.
There was little information on these attacks, and no DNA evidence because the women’s clothing had been destroyed. But it was noticed that two of these rapes, carried out in the months prior to the 1973 murders, bore a strong similarity to the Llandarcy killings. Much like the Satruday Night Strangler, this balaclaved rapist used ropes to subdue his victims after lying in wait, then grabbing them from behind and punching or threatening them into submission. “Don’t scream or struggle, or I’ll kill you,” he told the women.
As he bound their hands, he asked: “Are you a virgin?”. Each woman was then raped vaginally and anally. Victims recalled few details about the rapist, but some remembered that he wore an anorak, had a moustache and smelled strongly of tobacco. At the end of their ordeal he would masturbate as his victim lay naked on the ground. “Don’t open your eyes. I’m going to have a cigarette and think about whether I’m going to kill you or not,” he told one victim. Bethell’s team now wondered if the Neath Rapist and the Llandarcy murderer the same man, and if so, could they unmask him by using evidence from the rapes?.
The Operation Magnum detectives decided to draw one investigative tool that their 1973 colleagues didn’t have, that of psychological profiling. The benefit of criminal profiling is something that has benefitted criminal investigations, and led to the apprehension of a suspect. The Llandarcy team were hoping they could make use of this technique, and called in Rupert Heritage, former chief of the behavioural science unit of Surrey police, to draw up a 14-point profile.
The profile created by Heritage predicted that the killer would be white, aged in his late 20’s to mid-30’s, and would have a history of minor property crime. It was likely he would have come to the attention of the police as a juvenile at around aged-12, and was likely to live in the Neath area, where the rapes were committed. It was highly probable that their suspect was a violent individual, with a history of assaults, and possibly animal cruelty. He would come from a broken family background, in the form of an absent father, was unskilled in low paying employment and had a troubled marriage. It’s likely he would collect weapons and have solo sports interests.
Using this profile as the basis of their investigation, the Magnum team began eliminating names from their list of 35,000 potential suspects. Rees and Bale spent eight long months locked away in the file room working through the list, knowing that the smallest bureaucratic misfiling could mean missing out on the chance to catch the killer. “No one outside the team ever believed we would get a detection from this,” says Rees.
Bethell explained, “It was like throwing a dice for two years. Perhaps he [the killer] was not in that room. Why could it not have been a travelling Scotsman, a Swede on a boat in Swansea docks that night who sailed away the next day?”. Eventually the massive list of names was whittled down to just 500, and then Rees and Bale began trying to locate the men on the list. This proved yet another logistical nightmare.
In the intervening years, much could have changed in the lives of these possible suspects, 30 years was, after all, half a lifetime. People marry, move home, emigrate abroad and change their name. The homes where they lived at the time of the murders could have knocked down, the streets redeveloped and rebuilt, or they may have died. Firstly the 500 nominal suspects were prioritised into five groups.
The first 50 swabs were of witnesses, relatives, stepfathers, boyfriends, anyone who had featured prominently in the initial inquiry. After them came ordinary criminal suspects. They then used several different methods in trying to track down these men, such as DVLA records, the passport office, and tax and criminal records to find addresses all over, some even as far away as New Zealand. Once the nominal suspect was located, the Magnum team had to persuade each man to volunteer his DNA.
“We were looking for a particular tree in a forest. In order to find it, you had to cut down all the other trees. The beauty of DNA is that you can once and for all eliminate a suspect,” says Bethell. Over the next eight months, none of the 353 men whose DNA was requested refused to provide a sample. Such a refusal would, of course, have automatically triggered suspicion, but many of the men on their list were not happy being questioned about sex murder that occurred over 30-years-ago.
“Selling double glazing must be easier than selling a DNA test. It usually took two hours. The easiest people to deal with were those with convictions. They just wanted it out the way. We ended up swabbing in barges, taxis and hotel rooms. The worst was always their sitting room in front of the wife,” says Rees. When the DNA test results started coming back, the team waited patiently for the moment they finally got their man. But that moment never came.
Each time a nominal suspect was swabbed, the team were, in turn, presented with yet more paperwork generated by the failures. A typical example of this was nominal suspect #200, named Joseph Kappen, who it was learned lived on the Sandfields estate in Port Talbot. In August 2001, Rees went to Kappen’s address to collect his DNA sample. His ex-wife, Christine Powell, was still living there at the property. But Rees learned that Kappen wasn’t. He had been dead for the last 12 years.
Rees had to check her claim against the local death register, and then reassigned Kappen to the dead pool, where the names of nominals ended up while the team tediously awaited final elimination by crosschecking with family members’ DNA. Two months later, in October 2001, the Magnum team had their first breakthrough. DNA specialist, Dr Jonathan Whitaker, who had been working on isolating genetic material from evidence in the Sandra Newton case had managed to extract a profile from swabs taken from Sandra’s body.
“It was a three-way mix,” says Bethell. “Sandra, the boyfriend and an unknown individual. But the unknown matched the profile from the Llandarcy murders. It was the same man.” Now, for the first time, all three cases were definitively linked to the same perpetrator. The killer had dumped Sandra’s body in a water culvert close to the disused Garth colliery. This culvert was so remote and well hidden that it could have been known only to someone local. “I knew we’d get him then,” says Rees. “We knew he was living locally. He was someone who must have been spoken to. And he had an 1100.”
The team were one step closer to catching their man, but they still didn’t have that important piece of the investigative puzzle. Then, in October 2001, Whitaker, came up with an ingenious way of unmasking the killer. “This case happened in 1973. The offender could have had children,” he said. “Was it possible that there was a relative of the offender on the database?”. It was his understanding that because people inherit DNA from their parents, and in turn pass on 50% of that DNA to our offspring.
Whitaker believed that because he had the killer’s DNA profile, he also had 50% of the killer’s children’s DNA. If he could locate the killer’s children, he would find the Saturday Night Strangler. Much like the suspect list, this would once again prove to be another laborious process of elimination, however this time, Whitaker had the advances of computer technology at his fingertips, to delete thousands of names with the touch of a button.
He starting with all the profiles submitted to NDNAD by the South Wales police, and then started searching for a version of the killer’s profile. Whitaker was able to eliminate non-related profiles at each stage of a 10-step process, thereby reducing the list of 22,000 possible suspect to just 100 names. These were the men whose genetic profiles were closely related to the Llandarcy killer. It was a unique way to pinpointing the search to just a small list of people. “We were looking for a father and getting to him by his son,” says Whitaker.
One of the names among this list of a hundred, was that of Paul Kappan, a convicted car theif. His name proved very familiar to detectives. Paul Kappen would only have been seven-years-old when the Llandarcy killings took place, but that fact that there were two Kappens in the files was just too much of a coincidence. Joseph Kappen, was now the number one suspect. The only problem, was that he had been dead for the past 12 years. Rees and Bale returned to Sandfields and asked if Christine Powell and her daughter Deborah would volunteer DNA samples.
The results took two weeks to process. “I was sitting at my desk in the Pontardawe murder room when the call came through from the forensic scientist, Colin Dark,” says Bethell. “He was going on about a partial match and the DNA banding. And I said, ‘What are you telling me?’ He said, ‘I think you’ve got your man.’ It was a strange feeling, very emotional. I don’t get excited or overwhelmed, not after all these years. But I really did get a lump in my throat.”
By subtracting Powell’s DNA from her son’s and daughter’s, the forensic scientists hoped to be able to recreate most of Joseph Kappen’s DNA, what they eventually ended up with was a three-quarters profile of Kappen that was identical to that of the Llandarcy killer. According to the DNA, Kappen was the killer, however, the investigators had to be 100% sure he was their man before they went public and notified the families of the victims. “I needed to be able to tell the victims’ families, ‘The man in the grave is the man who killed your daughters.’ He’s a serial killer. I wanted to be bloody sure that he was in that grave,” says Bethell.
On December 24, 2001, Bethell made an application to then home secretary David Blunkett to exhume the remains of his suspect. This was to be a historical first for this type of method for identifying a criminal. Kappen was would be the first serial killer ever to be pulled from the grave to confirm his guilt. He was buried in Goytre Cemetery on the outskirts of Port Talbot, the graves of which were perched on a steep Welsh hillside. Kappen shared the family grave with his stepfather Clemente Proietti and grandfather Joseph Herbert, with his coffin being sandwiched in the middle.
In order to exhume his coffin, all three would have to be dug up, with no guarantee there’d be any viable DNA to collect. It took five months for the permission to exhume Kappen to come through. In the meantime, the manhunt above ground continued. “There were hundreds of questions we wanted answered. Where did he kill Sandra? Did he know the girls? Had he carried out other attacks? How did he get away with it? Who was he?” says Rees. He and Bale interviewed anyone and everyone who had associated with Kappen, while his name was given out to the local newspapers. Unknown victims soon began to came forward.
The team began the process of learning everything they could about Joseph Kappen, in an effort to piece together his history, become acquainted with what type of person he was and ultimately understand how a man could become such a monster. Joseph Kappen was born on October 30, 1941, as Joseph Margam. One of seven children, he grew up in Port Talbot, and was eventually raised by his stepfather after the break-up of his parents marriage. He came to the attention of the police at the age of twelve, exactly as the psychological profile developed by Rupert Heritage had predicted.
He spent many years in and out of prison, and had a string of minor offences, more than thirty, for car theft, burglary, assault and robbing gas meters. When not serving a prison sentence, Kappen worked as a driver of lorries or buses, and gained some measure of notoriety as a bouncer, but he never held down a job for long, preferring to hobble, meaning he signed on for social security benefits and continued to work for cash on the side. Although he occasionally smoked cannabis and may have done a bit of dealing, his biggest habit was smoking tobacco.
He chewed it and smoked as many as 20 Old Holborn roll-ups a day, enough to stain his teeth, and as the Neath rape victims recalled how the perpetrator smelled strongly of tobacco, it also made his clothes smell strongly of cigarette smoke. He had few friends. “Kappen was a very deep individual, a loner,” says Bethell. “Lots of people knew of him but no one really, really knew him. He’d go to pubs, two or three a night. He was always out. He’d even be on the darts teams, but he never really drank; one or two drinks a night. He never wanted to lose his self-control.” At the age of 20, Joe Kappen met his future wife, Christine, who was 17 at the time, on the beachfront at Port Talbot.
“It was 1962 and no one had any money in those days,” says Christine Powell. “You’d go into a cafe, get a coffee for sixpence, and hang out. It was September and cold. The first thing that attracted me to him was that he bought me a hot chocolate to warm my hands. It was the first kind thing anyone had ever done for me.” The couple were married for 18 years before divorcing in 1980. Christine described that when they first met, Kappen, was a catch.
She remembers that the six foot one Kappen had a dark, almost Italian complexion with slate-blue eyes. He was a physically imposing figure, and long before it was ever fashionable, Kappen worked out with dumbbells. Unlike many of the young men of that era, he had wheels. “Joe was my first boyfriend. I didn’t know about sex, men, women or anything. He was tender and affectionate. He was always obsessed with cars. There were always five cars in bits in the front garden. He was always doing them up.”
Christine became pregnant during the summer of 1963, and the couple married in February 1964. There would be no honeymoon. Ten days later, Joe got sent down for three years for breaking into houses to rob gas meters. Their daughter Deborah was born in the April, and it wasn’t until August 1965, that Christine would see him again. It was during his release on day parole to attend his grandfather Joseph’s funeral. At the wake, with a warder downstairs, Joe dragged Christine into an upstairs bedroom and had sex.
It was then that she became pregnant with their second child, Paul. By the time he was released from prison, Kappen was a father of two children he had never met. But he soon settled into the role as head of his household. The couple moved to the Sandfields estate, and there the family lived what turned out to be an unhappy life together. “Joe never bonded with the kids, only with Beverley, who came along in 1974,” says Christine. “We lived on the social. As a family we did not have two pence to rub together. I could not rely on him for money as he was always in and out of jail.”
“He did stupid things,” she said. “He’d see some lead, pinch it, and then get sacked. He did not have proper money. If he hobbled he might give me £20, but that was it. He had a car, which was his luxury. Often he’d take money out of my purse.” But soon their relationship would take a darker turn. “I thought it was natural for men to hit women,” Christine continues. “I thought all men were violent. He used to rape me every two weeks. It was against my will. I never wanted it. Joe would say, ‘Come on, come on’, and then he would insist on his conjugal rights.”
The couple fought frequently, and when police weren’t knocking his door to ask about some unsolved burglary, they were often called around to calm things down. “We never had an argument unless I was drinking,” says Christine. “I’d play our one Shirley Bassey record over and over. If he dared tell me to turn it down I’d start. And then he’d hit out.” But in the 1970’s, police never In the 1970s, police didn’t interfered in domestic troubles, and Christine would never press charges.
As per Rupert Heritage’s profile, Kappen enjoyed hobbies that were solo interests: the rearing of canaries, tropical fish and greyhounds. One of the greyhounds became a family pet. His son Paul recalled when he was younger that one day, as his father was exercising the dog on the local beach, he decided it was too old. Joe picked up a wire and strangled the dog in front of his terrified son. It wasn’t the first time Paul had bore witness to his father’s unpredictable manner and vicious temper.
In another alarming incident, he forced Deborah and Paul, both then under the age of 10, to wander the streets searching for fig roll biscuits to replace the ones they had eaten. It was 11 o’clock at night and pouring down with rain. It was clear to investigators that Kappen ruled his family by terror, much as he had done with his victims in the short amount of time spent with them. Kappen’s name had first been provided to the original murder team back in 1973.
It was a retired Port Talbot detective, Elwyn Wheadon, who had given Kappen’s name to detectives. “Kappen was a bouncer in nightclubs,” says Wheadon. “He was a man of violent disposition, a Fagin-like character who sought out boys and girls to commit crimes on his behalf. I first met him at a youth club where he threw a boy down some stairs. There were no injuries, but you felt Kappen was capable of anything and I knew he had an Austin 1100.” Upon receiving Wheadon’s tip, detectives from the murder team visited Kappen on October 13, 1973, almost a month after the murders.
But owing to an alibi, he was swiftly placed amongst those vetted and discounted. In his statement Kappen claimed to have returned from Neath Fair at around 9.30pm on the Saturday, and then spent the rest of the evening “looking after my canaries until about 10.45pm, when myself and my wife went to bed. I got up the next morning at 10.30am.” During the interview,
Christine, who was sitting on the sofa beside him, had concurred. “I alibied him but I always did whenever the police came knocking. You learned to do it without thinking.”
“‘On such and such a night he was with me, officer.’ I couldn’t see him doing that. I cannot imagine him doing that to a child. I never saw any signs of an unusual interest in young girls,” she said. But unknown to his wife, Kappen regularly pursued teenage girls. Working as a bouncer, Kappen came into contact with young girls. “It was his thrill to go with younger girls even when he was 43,” says Rees. “If he had a girl he paraded her around for show, to show his mates. In bed it was always regular sex, no violence, nothing out of the ordinary.”
In his other work as a driver on local buses, Kappen would use his rest breaks on the village green at Llandarcy to try to chat up girls. “He was a sexual predator,” says Bethell. “He always carried a weapon, a knife, and he had the ligature ready at Llandarcy. With him there is always predatory intent combined with arrogance. He was cocky, confident, not afraid to carry out crimes in his own back yard where the risk of being identified was always high.” With his first killing, that of Sandra Newton, his arrogance was there for all to see when Kappen made little attempt to hide the body.
Kappen began his assaults on women, all unknown to police at the time, in the early 1960’s. Sometime in 1964, he attacked a 15-year-old schoolgirl as she was walking in the Sandfields estate. He followed closely behind and as they entered a half-built house, he threw her to the ground and jumped on her. But when the girl screamed he got up and ran away. There were further incidents involving young girls. In February 1973, a man resembling Kappen, driving an Austin, picked up two female hitchhikers near Neath.
As they neared their drop-off point, the man continued driving and took them to an isolated road, with one girl was in the front and the other in the back seat. The attacker stopped the car and told them, “I know you want it.” The girl in the front seat was grabbed by the man who started pawing her breasts. The girl in the back seat reached forward to intervene, but he swung back his fist and punched her in the face. By this time both girls were screaming and tried to escape, but found the car doors were locked from the inside.
Luckily, the girl in the back had long nails and was able to grab the stub of the door lock and pull it up, opening the door allowing her to pull open the front passenger door from the outside. Because of the screaming, the occupants of a nearby house were woken up and turned on their lights and this is when the attacker fled. This attempted double rape was never reported to police because one of the girls thought she’d get in trouble with her father, a churchwarden. The attacker was almost certainly Kappen, and his next victim, Sandra Newton, would not be so fortunate.
Towards the end of his life, Joe Kappen was suffering with lung cancer. After leaving Christine, he became involved with Sandra Wyatt, a local barmaid, and together they set up home on the nearby Baglan housing estate. Then in his 40’s, Kappen hardly left the house, according to Wyatt. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1988 and his body literally wasted away. By the end, the once strapping Kappen was forced to use a wheelchair. He died on June 17, 1990, at the age of 49. He died never having been brought to justice for his crimes, but soon it was about to catch up with Joe Kappen.
The Exhumation of a Serial Killer
By May 15 2002, the exhumation team, consisting of pathologists, forensic archaeologists, scientists, forensic dentists and policemen, were ready to begin their work. Over Kappen’s grave was erected a large blue tent, and the digging start as dusk fell. After the first coffin, that of Kappen’s stepfather, had been raised, the weather turned sharply cold and a storm broke. It had previously been a fine day, “The heavens opened and thunder and lightning started, the like of which I have never seen,” says Bethell. “It was literally at the moment we came across the coffin of Kappen.”
“There was a tremendous sense of foreboding,” he said. “Is this evil being uncovered? I remember saying to the team, ‘He doesn’t want to come up.'” The coffins, all intact, were taken to a local mortuary and opened. It was there that Bethell finally came face to face with his prime suspect, some 30 years after the crimes. Teeth and a femur from the leg, the likeliest sites for DNA to survive, were removed by forensic scientists and sent for DNA analysis. Their work done, Kappen and his relatives were swiftly reburied. Three weeks later, the DNA test results came back.
It was Joseph Kappen. The Operation Magnum team had mixed feelings about their victory. “To be honest, I was disappointed,” says Rees. “It was a let-down. You’re not going to pull him in. It wasn’t like arresting him and taking him to a court of law.” But for Bethell there was now final resolution in a case that had haunted investigators for decades: “Operation Magnum, the hunt for the offender responsible for the Llandarcy murders, is closed. We are not looking for anyone else.” But there were still many unanswered questions, such as how Joe Kappen had managed to slip through the net during the original investigation.
Getting Away With Murder
Just how did Joseph Kappen get away with the crimes he committed during the 1960’s and 70’s?. It was obvious there were oversights during the initial investigation. The most damaging was a small but telling inconsistency in his story. When detectives first turned up at his home, on October 13, 1973, nearly a month after the murders, his Austin 1100 was outside the house on blocks with the wheels removed, probably because Kappen was trying to switch tyres after it was reported by the press that the police had a cast of the killer’s tyre track from the Llandarcy murder scene.
Kappen told the detectives he had put the car on blocks the day after the murders. However, in police log books of random stop and check operations in the week after the killing, Kappen and his car were logged as being on the road. No one in the original police team made this startling connection. Without the convenience of logging the data with a computer, which would have made cross-referencing this information just a key stroke away, Kappen’s lie went unnoticed.
Since 1973, it has become clear that serial killers don’t stop until they are caught. “I can’t believe that if an offender is impulsive enough to pick up victims in his locality, risking being seen, that he would have any qualms about committing other offences around the country or abroad,” says Bethell. “There have to be other rapes or unsolved murders that could be attributed to him.” Kappen’s picture has been circulated to every police force in Britain, and every six weeks his DNA profile is run against any new cold cases on NDNAD, in an effort to uncover any further victims.
For the families of the murdered girls, the long wait for justice has been brought to an end. Their loved ones can finally rest in peace, despite their killer never being brought before a court for his punishment. “You know there are evils out there,” says Jean Hughes, “but you never believe it will touch on you and yours. When it does, it is a lifetime’s sentence of hell. Now we can close the book on that hell for ever.” The decades-long hunt for the Saturday Night Strangler, which began inside the dancefloor of a 1970’s disco, ended when the perpetrator was disturbed from his grassy tomb and finally unmasked.