Steeltown Murders official trailer airing on BBC
Three unsuspecting 16-year-old girls suffered a fate in 1973 which would spark a decades-long investigation that would go down in the history books forever.
In the sleepy Welsh village of Llandarcy, the bodies of two of the teenagers were discovered on a summer’s evening.
Pauline Floyd and Geraldine Hughes were found in a wooded area the morning after they disappeared following a night out in Swansea.
It soon became clear the same killer had struck just months before, with the body of Sandra Newton, also 16, found near a disused Tonmawr colliery.
The three killings launched an investigation that would make history with its DNA use 30 years later – one which will be explored in BBC’s latest true-crime adaptation, Steeltown Murders.
The story is based on truth, with 2002 marking the year the young girls’ murders were finally solved.
Pauline and Geraldine were colleagues at a factory and had enjoyed an evening at Top Rank nightclub before they met their terrible fates.
The girls had been raped and strangled after hitching a ride home, and the killings sparked a huge police manhunt for the person responsible.
The wider community were terrified, on edge about when or if the murderer would strike again.
Sandra had also been hitchhiking when she was raped and choked to death with her own skirt.
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All three youngsters had been lured into a car before being driven away and assaulted.
For decades, police had no answers as to who had committed the sickening crimes.
However, in the early 2000s, a new crime-solving tool brought promise to detectives investigating historic murders.
The ground-breaking new material was DNA evidence – a tool society can no longer imagine life without.
With the life-changing evidence now available, an array of older cases could be reopened.
Four-part drama series Steeltown Murders takes a look back at how killer, Joe Kappen, was at last identified in 2002.
Both investigations were linked at the start of the 21st century when South Wales Police decided to re-open cold cases, hoping DNA would finally solve some of the mysteries.
It would emerge that semen stains on Geraldine and Pauline’s clothing were eventually matched to that on Sandra’s.
However, there was no matching sample on the national database, meaning the killer still couldn’t be identified.
BBC Crimewatch aired an appeal for help, but scientists discovered a ground-breaking way of using the DNA they had to catch the killer.
Dr Colin Dark, of Chepstow-based Forensic Science Services, came to the case in 1990.
He told BBC: “We started to think was it possible that we could use the idea that crime can run in families.
“You inherit your DNA from your parents and you pass your DNA onto a child. So could we look on the DNA database for a child of the offender? This was a definite possibility.”
He told the publication this would mean “getting a spreadsheet printout of several thousand DNA profiles from men in the south Wales area, sitting down with a pencil and a ruler and crossing out everyone that doesn’t match”.
“After several hours of going through the process, we were left with about 100 names.
“They were all exact half matches to the offender’s profile. So they were potentially children of the offender,” he told the BBC’s Steeltown Murders documentary.
“This was a groundbreaking technique, the first time it’s ever been done in the UK and possibly the world – and from there, the new investigative tool now known as familial DNA was developed.”
Detectives were tasked with whittling down the list of 35,000 possible killers to just 500 prime suspects.
Joe Kappen would be the name that stood out and with the DNA evidence, he soon became the prime suspect.
Unfortunately for the police, Kappen had died of lung cancer back in 1990.
To further confirm his guilt, scientists requested DNA swabs from Kappen’s ex-wife and daughter.
“That gave us two-thirds of a full profile for Joe Kappen,” said Dr Dark.
Investigators wanted to be absolutely certain though, which meant Kappen’s body had to be exhumed – this would be the first time that a suspect would be exhumed in the UK to prove guilt.
Finally, in May 2002, suspicions were confirmed and history was made as Kappen was at last confirmed as the murderer of the three girls.
BBC’s adaptation of the historic case stars Philip Glenister, Steffan Rhodri and Scott Arthur.
Steeltown Murders starts on Monday, May 15 at 9pm.
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