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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Steeltown Murders

Big warning and spoiler alert - do not read this if you have not watched the last episode of BBC's Steeltown Murders.

Who was Joseph Kappen and what happened to him, as seen in Steeltown Murders? The BBC true crime drama documents his heinous crimes.

Joseph Kappen's name crops up in the second episode of BBC drama Steeltown Murders, which recounts how pioneering DNA technology was used to expose him as the man responsible for the rape and murders of Sandra Newton and best friends Pauline Floyd and Geraldine Hughes.

The killings took place in the Port Talbot area of Wales in 1973.

The three victims, all 16 years of age, had been heading home from nightclubs when Kappen preyed on them, with the press labelling him the "Saturday Night Strangler".

DS Vic Jenkins disappears momentarily while he heads inside Kappen's home to collect a statement from the 32-year-old.

The audience stays with detectives Paul Bethell and Phil Rees, who are examining Kappen's white Austin 1100. But in episode 3, we're taken back to that moment where we join Jenkins as he puts the question to Kappen about where he was the night Pauline and Geraldine were killed.

He claims his evening was spent watching television at home with his wife, and that his car was out of action at the time.

But in the early 2000s, the evidence was reexamined with fresh eyes and new scientific research, with Kappen unmasked as the killer. After three decades without answers, the family and friends of Sandra, Pauline and Geraldine finally had the confirmation they'd been waiting for.

Who was Joseph Kappen?

Kappen was born in 1941 in Port Talbot, where he grew up with six siblings. After his parents' marriage fell apart, it's reported his step-father raised him.

He began committing crime at 12 years old and over the years, he was convicted of more than 30 offences, including burglary, car theft and assault, which saw him drift in and out of prison. When he wasn't behind bars, he worked as a driver and a bouncer.

It was former detective Elwyn Wheadon who first flagged Kappen to the original investigations team. He described him as "a man of violent disposition", recalling an incident in which he hurled a young boy down a flight of stairs.

He would also seek out "boys and girls to commit crimes on his behalf", according to Wheadon.

Kappen and his wife Christine first met in 1962 on the beach in Port Talbot. She was 17 at the time. But their relationship was not a happy one.

Sixteen-year-olds Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd are found murdered at Llandarcy on Sunday 16th September 1973. The crime would remain unsolved for nearly 30 years. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Bethell reviewed the cold case in 2000. Over the course of three years, he would become the first detective to identify a killer through his son's DNA, the first to solve a crime that had lain unsolved for nearly 30 years, the first ever to exhume a serial killer to prove his identity.

The couple lived on the Sandfields estate in Port Talbot and had three children, one of whom was a son called Paul, who later earned himself a criminal record for car theft. With his DNA in the police database, the authorities were able to link his father, who had remained on file as a possible suspect, to the victims.

Paul was seven when the murders took place.

The police then collected swabs from Kappen's wife and daughter Deborah to build a more robust picture, bringing the probability of him being the perpetrator to 75 per cent.

Kappen's body was then exhumed in May 2002 at the Goytre cemetery over a two-day period after the home secretary granted the police permission – and it was a first for the UK.

The results led to the following announcement from Detective Chief Superintendent Wynne Phillips (via The Independent): "On the basis of the evidence obtained, we can say that if the suspect was alive today, he would have been arrested, interviewed and is likely to have been charged with these offences."

Kappen died of lung cancer in June, 1990, 12 years after he killed Sandra, Pauline and Geraldine. He was 48 years old.

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