The Saturday Night Strangler

In September 1973, two 16-year-old friends were on a night out in Swansea, dancing at the Top Rank nightclub. Pauline Floyd and Geraldine Hughes knew each other from their jobs at a sewing factory, earning £16 a week. As a taxi would cost a quarter of their weekly wage, they always hitch-hiked home, which was normal in these parts. When a white Austin 1100 swerved to the side of the road and the driver offered them a lift, they eagerly jumped inside. It would be the last journey they ever took. 

At 10am the next morning, both were found dead less than 50 metres (164 feet) apart. They were fully clothed but had been assaulted and strangled, the rope still taut around their necks. Post-mortem examinations revealed they had been raped; both had been virgins before their vicious assault. A colossal murder team of more than 150 detectives was quickly assembled to find the person responsible for these brutal murders, the biggest murder inquiry in Wales’ history.

Members of the public that had seen the two girls on the night of their deaths quickly came forward, informing the police that they had seen them enter a white Austin 1100 in the early hours of the morning. Each owner of the 11,000 matching cars was visited, but no leads were generated by the police’s enquiries. In spite of continued pressure from the victims’ parents, the police’s investigation ground to a halt.

In 1998, Low Copy Number DNA was developed and used on the girls’ clothing. After two years of meticulous analysis, the murderer’s full genetic profile was obtained, but he wasn’t on the police’s database. Then in January 2000, Operation Magnum was opened and a psychological profiler was brought in to try and figure out what type of person the killer was likely to be. This profile matched 35,000 men that had lived in the area at the time. The police didn’t realise it at the time, but the killer was in that long list of suspects.

TURNING POINT

Suspect number 200, Joseph Kappen, seemed ordinary enough. In August 2001, police visited his last-known address to find that he’d been dead for 12 years, so he was assigned to the dead pool of suspects. The major breakthrough came two months later, when a three-way profile was extracted from Sandra Newton, another 16-year-old who had been murdered three months before the other victims in nearby Llandarcy. It matched the profile generated from Geraldine and Pauline. This strongly suggested that the killer was a local, and that he had probably been investigated at the time of the murders.

One detective decided he would try and find a DNA profile that was a partial match to the killer’s, in the hope that a relative would be somewhere on the police database. Sure enough, a car thief called Paul Kappen was identified. Having two Kappens on file was too much of a coincidence; the police were now sure that Paul’s father, Joseph, was their man. All they had to do now was prove it.

AFTERMATH

The team in charge of the investigation were overjoyed that they had found their man, but they weren’t going to start celebrating until they were sure it was him. On Christmas Eve 2001, an application was made to the home secretary to exhume the suspect, in order to confirm that he was, in fact, the killer. This was to be a truly historic exhumation, as it was the first time that a serial killer had ever been pulled from the grave to prove their guilt.

Kappen’s coffin was sandwiched between his stepfather and grandfather, meaning that all three coffins would have to be exhumed to try to find that vital piece of viable DNA. It wasn’t until May 2002 that the huge team of forensic scientists and police officers were finally ready to perform the exhumation. All three coffins were fortunately intact, and were taken to a local mortuary to be reopened. Finally, the Police came face to face with a man they had dreamt of putting away for so many years. Some of the deceased’s teeth and one of his femurs were removed for DNA analysis, as these were the likeliest locations of any surviving DNA. Just three weeks after the DNA was sent off for analysis, the results were back. Operation Magnum had finally found its man.

Operation Magnum was finally closed, but it did leave a number of questions about the original investigation. The police revealed that there had been a very small but hugely significant oversight, relating to Kappen’s Austin 1100. When detectives turned up at his house, his car was up on blocks, probably because the killer knew that his tyre tracks had been recovered from the scene and wanted to switch tyres as soon as possible. Unfortunately, after he was interviewed, Kappen and his car were wrongly recorded as being on the road. This inconsistency ultimately led to the killer evading capture throughout his life, taking many of his secrets to the grave. It was some small consolation to the victims’ families that in death, he was brought to justice.

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