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


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

Sandra Newton didn't know Pauline Floyd and Geraldine Hughes, but she will be tied to them forever. Two months after she was raped and murdered by Joseph Kappen in the Port Talbot area of Wales in 1973, they also suffered the same fate.

Like Sandra, friends Pauline and Geraldine were unaware of what Kappen was planning when they hitched a ride with him after a night on the town. As they climbed into his white Austin 1100, they knew not of the horror that awaited them, or of the pain their families would carry for the rest of their lives.

The grisly details of their final moments are laid out in Steeltown Murders, a BBC drama which recounts the initial investigation into the murders, which failed to identify the perpetrator, and the reopening of the cold cases in the early 2000s, which proved Kappen's guilt. But alongside the pain inflicted on the three victims and the subsequent anguish endured by their parents, the spotlight is also placed on the other women who were harmed by Kappen, as well as those women in Port Talbot and beyond who thankfully weren't subjected to his wanton cruelty, but were permanently changed by what happened to the three 16-year-olds.

Natasha Vasandani as young Sita Anwar in Steeltown Murders
Natasha Vasandani as young Sita Anwar in Steeltown Murders BBC/Severn Screen/Tom Jackson

In the series, we meet Sita Anwar, a headmistress who worked at a local factory with Geraldine and her mum when she was a teenager. She had planned to join her colleague and Pauline at the Top Rank nightclub in Swansea on the night of the murders but was dragged home by her father after he stormed into the pub.

Unlike numerous people in the drama, Sita isn't based on a real individual, but is an amalgam of several girls who knew Pauline and Geraldine, and is a stark depiction of the grief and guilt they have been forced to shoulder.

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The events of that night have never left Sita, but when news breaks that the police are once again looking into the murders, the pain she has learned to live with, the heartbreak that has never left her, bubbles to the surface once again, impacting both her personal relationships and her work. Sita becomes distracted and distant, with both her husband and daughter, as well as her colleagues, concerned for her wellbeing.

For the most part, she remains tight-lipped about how she feels, but there comes a moment when she is unable to suppress her emotion.

"Why?! Why did you make me leave them?" she bellows at her elderly father, a haunted expression splashed across her face.

Had she stayed with them that night, would the outcome have been different? Would the girls still be alive?

It's not just those closest to Pauline, Geraldine and Sandra who were impacted by their trauma. Every woman in Port Talbot and the surrounding areas was affected by their ordeal.

With the 1970s investigation failing to identify Kappen, the threat of further attacks hung over the community like the smog from the steelworks. Achieving closure was impossible given the heinous nature of the crimes, but the peace of mind that would come from bringing Kappen to justice remained out of reach while he was able to roam free.

"When she's in Tesco buying her tea, the bloke in front of her might be him, the bloke behind the till," says DCI Paul Bethell to DC Phil Rees when discussing a woman called Susan, who they believe was raped by Kappen. The total number of women he preyed upon is unknown.

"How can she be free of anything while he's still out there?"

In a small town, that acute fear would have been amplified further. As soon as darkness fell, many women would have hurried indoors, looking over their shoulders as they did so. Every solo walk was an act of bravery that could result in the unthinkable, with many women moving in groups or chaperoned by their male partners, their independence dramatically curtailed in the name of survival.

That's no way to live but with the absence of a conviction, it was all they had.

a detective looking at an evidence board
Colin Dark (RICHARD HARRINGTON). Severn Screen/Tom Jackson

Steeltown Murders also draws attention to Kappen's ex-wife Christine. They were married for 18 years and had three children, one of whom, Paul, was the key to catching the killer. Following his conviction for car theft, his DNA was stored in the police database, which led the authorities to his father.

When one of the detectives pays the couple a visit during the initial investigation, Christine doesn't vocalise her fear, but it's palpable. She's reluctant to call her husband in from the garden and when he does appear, the steely gaze he casts on her ensures that she only speaks when spoken to, playing the part demanded of her.

But when the police seek her out again 30 years later, she voices just how frightened she was of Kappen – and still is, even in death.

"When I turn out the lights, he's there," she cries. "When I come in from the shops, he's waiting for me."

Speaking to The Guardian in 2003, Christine revealed the full extent of her nightmare: "I thought it was natural for men to hit women. I thought all men were violent."

She added that he used to assault her every two weeks. "Joe would say, 'Come on, come on', and then he would insist on his conjugal rights."

Joseph Kappen is long gone, but the scars from his campaign of terror run deep.

For information and support, visit the NHS website or Rape Crisis England & Wales.

Steeltown Murders is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what else is on.


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