Saturday Night Strangler unmasked decades after crimes due to victims knickers

Back in September 1973 no-one had even heard of the phrase 'serial killer' – least of all 16-year-old factory worker friends Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd.

They'd left a nightclub in Swansea, South Wales to hitch a lift home but would never reach their destination.

Instead, they were found the next morning raped and strangled in nearby woodland, sparking a massive police manhunt and leaving a community cowering in fear as to when or where the killer might strike again.

Around 150 detectives worked flat out on the case but, with no mobile phones, internet or computers, the investigation soon became swamped in a sea of paperwork.

And Britain back then – floundering in a state of emergency, crippled by an energy crisis and restricted to a three-day working week – was hardly rich with the kind of resources required to enable such back-breaking, round-the-clock enquiries.

Consequently, come mid-1974, the murder team was quietly wound down and boxes upon boxes of evidence and admin shelved in station storerooms where they were either ruined by damp or nibbled by mice.

It seemed like the culprit, dubbed The Saturday Night Strangler, would never be caught.

However, the girls' underwear had been sent to a forensics lab and kept intact.

That meant, with the emergence in the late '90s of more sophisticated genetic testing methods, the killer's genetic fingerprint – previously indistinguishable from his victims' – could finally be isolated from the ageing samples.

And while his DNA failed to materialise on any existing police databases, it was enough to get the murder investigation – dubbed Operation Magnum – back up and running in 2000.

Headed up by detective chief inspector Paul Bethell and two near-retirement age colleagues, the trio undertook the unenviable task of trying to swab thousands of potential suspects.

Nevertheless, regardless of decades having passed, the team – along with the help of a psychological profiler – slowly whittled down the number of names to 500 over an eight-month period.

Painstaking passport, driving licence and criminal record checks followed, leading to 353 men, one as far away as New Zealand, being tested. But, while all elected to cooperate, none proved to be a match.

Among the remaining 147 however was a nightclub bouncer from Port Talbot called Joseph Kappen. He'd initially been quizzed at the time of the deaths but somehow slid under the radar – despite driving the same model of car spotted on the night in question, namely a white Austin 1100.

The problem was that, by now, he'd already been dead for 12 years, having succumbed to lung cancer.

But Bethell and his boys were not yet done with the late doorman – who was also known to have been a petty criminal with a violent temper.

Another 1973 cold case – the rape and murder of a 15-year-old hitchhiker from Briton Ferry – was to provide a valuable lead. Swabs taken from her now proved that her killer was the same man who'd also attacked Geraldine and Pauline.

A moment of inspiration followed – if the killer himself wasn't on the national database, what if a relative or child of his was? It wouldn't be an exact DNA match, but 50% would be better than nothing.

As a result, one name would stand out – that of habitual car thief Paul Kappen who, although only seven at the time of the original murders, was Joe Kappen's son.

Officers then persuaded Kappen Snr's ex-wife and her daughter to volunteer swabs of their DNA, while Bethell applied to Home Secretary David Blunkett in June 2002 to exhume Joe Kappen’s body.

DNA taken from his femur and teeth proved a full match.

Nearly 30 years later, in a sodden Welsh hillside cemetery, justice had finally been served.

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