This feature contains information from all four episodes of Steeltown Murders.


This feature also contains discussion of themes such as sexual assault that some readers may find upsetting.

BBC drama Steeltown Murders charts the cold case investigation into the rapes and murders of three teenage girls in the Port Talbot area of Wales, near Swansea.

Sandra Newton and friends Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd, all aged 16, were fatally attacked while travelling home from nights out in 1973, but the identity of the perpetrator wasn't confirmed until 2002.

The follow-up investigation, led by Detective Chief Inspector Paul Bethell, used pioneering DNA evidence to posthumously expose Joseph Kappen, who is believed to have committed other crimes of a similar nature.

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"This case would go down in global criminal history for the revolutionary methods used by the South Wales Police," said Bethell. "It was a massive moment for us as investigators. We now had a golden opportunity to search for the killer of these girls."

Who is Paul Bethell?

Bethell was born in Bridgend in south Wales and joined the Glamorgan Constabulary, now South Wales Police, in 1967 as a cadet, before becoming a police constable. He then set his sights on becoming a detective and later joined the Criminal Investigation Department, ascending the ranks to Sergeant, Detective Sergeant, Detective Inspector and Detective Chief Inspector.

He remained in the profession for 54 years.

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In the initial investigation, there were 150 detectives working the case but the second time around, the team of three had to trawl through 10,500 suspects and 14,000 statements (via Wales Online).

Over time, the list of potential perpetrators was trimmed down to 500, with the first 353 checks failing to deliver a positive result. But through a stroke of genius, they eventually had their man.

Kappen's son Paul, who was seven at the time of the murders, had been convicted for car theft and his DNA was in the police database – 50% of which he shared with his father.

"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," forensic scientist Dr Colin Dark told the BBC's Steeltown Murders documentary.

Police at a crime scene
Police at the crime scene on 16th September 1973. Western Mail Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The police also collected swabs from Kappen's ex-wife Christine and his daughter to bolster their case. His body was then exhumed – a first for the UK – and it was confirmed that Kappen was the serial rapist and murderer they had been searching for.

"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," said Detective Chief Superintendent Wynne Phillips (via The Independent).

What happened to Paul Bethell?

Bethell, who is now retired, consulted on Steeltown Murders, with Philip Glenister, who plays the detective in the 2000 timeline, speaking to him as part of his preparation for the role.

"He is so laid back," Glenister said: "Paul is such a nice guy, when I first met him before we started shooting, we had dinner together, a few of us. It was great to be able to ask him a few questions. I don't get too bogged down with 'what are your mannerisms like?' and all that, I am not so much interested in that, rather his thoughts on how he worked on the case.

"He told me something which I thought was really interesting, he said he didn’t like using the word 'closure', because in a case like this there is never closure, especially for the family. There is hopefully a sort of peace of mind that you eventually get the whole story.

"You know what happens, you know who did it, but you never get closure from what these families have suffered, so he never used the word 'closure', particularly to them."

Philip Glenister stars in Steeltown Murders
Philip Glenister stars in Steeltown Murders BBC/Severn Screen/Tom Jackson

Scott Arthur, who plays Bethell in the '70s timeline, added: "It was good to meet him and pick his brain – the routes he would go down or the little things he would do.

"For instance, Paul told me that when they were in the incident room and someone would come in with some evidence or a photograph or a piece of paper with information on it, they'd put it up on a wall and Paul would look at it and then two minutes later would just adjust it slightly – kind of putting his own stamp on things. Little things like that you can take from the real person."

In 2008, Bethell was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the force for his outstanding service. He now lectures at South Wales Police and law enforcement agencies across the country.

Steeltown Murders is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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