‘Steeltown Murders’ Recap & Ending, Explained: Did Paul Prove That Kappen Was The Killer?

BBC’s Steeltown Murders revolves around the Llandarcy Murder Case from 1973, which took nearly thirty years to be resolved. The series delves into the chilling and groundbreaking case of serial killings in Port Talbot during the 1970s. Initially, the murders of three young women, Sandra, Pauline, and Geraldine, were considered separate incidents. However, advancements in DNA investigation technology in the 2000s revealed that these murders were connected and committed by a single perpetrator. The series focuses on the extensive investigative procedures carried out by the South Wales Police that led to the identification of the killer.

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Spoilers Ahead


Plot Summary: What Happens In ‘Steeltown Murders’?

In the 1970s, DCI Paul Bethell was a young investigator fully dedicated to the case of Sandra Newton’s murder. Sandra, a teenage girl from Neath Port Talbot, had been brutally killed while returning from her boyfriend’s house. The investigation into Sandra’s murder was unable to definitively determine if she had been sexually assaulted. Consequently, Sandra’s boyfriend, John, became a prime suspect due to his extramarital affair with her, but John vehemently denied any involvement in the murder. Following Sandra’s murder, two other girls named Pauline and Geraldine were discovered raped and murdered in the Llandarcy woods of Neath. Like Sandra, Pauline, and Geraldine had also been enjoying a night out, drinking, and having fun. The similarity of the killings strongly suggested the work of a single perpetrator, who had been nicknamed “The Saturday Night Strangler.” However, apart from Paul Bethell and his colleague Phil Rees, the rest of the department, including their superior Ray Allen, were unwilling to accept the idea that these murders were connected. An eyewitness who saw Pauline and Geraldine in a white Austin 1100 provided a description of the driver—a man in his 30s with bushy hair and a mustache. During the 1970s, bushy hair and mustaches were popular hairstyles for men, and the white Austin 1100 was a commonly owned car. Even Sandra’s stepfather had one, making him a suspect in the murder. Throughout the 70s, the South Wales police interrogated nearly 35,000 men, including notable suspects such as Sandra’s boyfriend John, her stepfather Dai Williams, a local man named Willoughby, and another individual named Joseph Kappen, who also owned a white Austin 1100.

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Paul made earnest efforts to interrogate all the suspects, but Joseph Kappen’s wife provided an alibi, claiming that on the night Pauline and Geraldine were killed, Joseph was with her, watching television together. As time passed, and with the lack of evidence and viable suspects, the investigation gradually came to a halt, leaving the families of the victims dissatisfied. However, in 2002, when DNA samples started being used to identify serial killers, the investigators finally discovered who the killer was.


Who Was The Killer Of Sandra, Pauline, And Geraldine?

Nearly three decades have passed, and advancements in DNA technology have begun to play a significant role in solving murder cases. Finally, using DNA samples, forensic scientists were able to establish a connection between the murder of Sandra Newton and the killings of Pauline and Geraldine. In the Llandarcy murders, the lead investigator, Jackie, expressed a desire to reopen the case that had been dormant for thirty years. Paul, who had struggled to come to terms with the investigation being halted, found new hope in pursuing the case. He convinced his longtime friend Phil to join him in the endeavor. The duo approached the individuals they had previously interrogated, starting from Sandra’s stepfather, Dai Williams, to her boyfriend and others, asking for their cooperation in providing DNA samples. However, a local man named Willoughby refused to offer his DNA, raising suspicions in the investigators’ minds. For a moment, Paul held a steadfast belief that Willoughby was the culprit, but he couldn’t be entirely sure. Meanwhile, the headquarters of the South Wales Police pressured Paul and Jackie to abandon the case, citing the excessive consumption of time and resources. However, Paul managed to convince them of the importance of finding the killer for the sake of the grieving families and the victims themselves.

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Among the victims, Pauline and Geraldine, there was another girl named Sita Anwar who had a stroke of luck that fateful night. Sita’s father had dragged her away from the bar where she was with her friends, Pauline and Geraldine. Upon hearing the news of their murders, Sita went through a traumatic phase, grappling with the realization that she could have lost her life that night. She blamed her father for the tragedy, as he had insisted she leave her friends behind. Even after thirty years, the sense of guilt and trauma lingered in Sita’s mind. When the Llandarcy murder case was reopened, it became evident that she was still haunted by those memories. In the 1970s, during the ongoing investigation, Paul promised Sita that he would find the killer. Therefore, with the case closed without resolution, Paul felt deep shame and guilt for not fulfilling his promise. 

After thirty years had passed, Sita appeared at the department, seeking to meet Paul and providing an alibi for the time she spent with Pauline and Geraldine. Finally, a new lead emerged, bringing a glimmer of hope. When nearly 300 DNA test results failed to match the semen found in the victims’ bodies, Phil decided to examine the fingerprints they had obtained from the car thief, Paul Kappen, during the initial investigation in the 1970s. The DNA collected from those fingerprints showed striking similarities to the DNA found in the semen. However, the issue was that these fingerprints belonged to Paul Kappen, a seven-year-old kid. It was quite unimaginable for the detectives to suspect a child as a potential murderer, and thus the entire suspicion fell upon Paul’s father, Joseph Kappen, becoming a strong lead to pursue. But upon arriving at the Kappen residence, the investigators discovered that Joseph had passed away from lung cancer in 1990.

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‘Steeltown Murders’ Ending Explained: How Did Paul Prove Kappen’s Crimes?

Joseph Kappen’s ex-wife opened the door and informed Paul and Phil that Kappen was no longer alive. However, Paul and Phil still wanted to speak with her about the alibi she had provided in the 1970s. Initially, Kappen’s ex-wife, who had divorced him, maintained that her alibi was true. But upon learning that Paul’s DNA nearly matched the killer’s DNA, she began to reconsider. She confessed that her alibi in the 1970s had been false, revealing that Kappen had also subjected her to torture and had pressured her to lie to the investigators. Paul had a strong suspicion that they had found the killer, but they needed to ensure the accuracy of the DNA results. He collected some samples from Kappen’s ex-wife, which would help them obtain Joseph’s DNA. However, the obtained DNA sample showed only a 75% match with the killer’s DNA. While it was enough for Jackie and the rest of the investigating team to conclude that Joseph Kappen was the killer, Paul wasn’t confident enough to conclusively identify Joseph as the culprit.

As Paul met with the parents of the deceased, particularly Geraldine’s parents, Hughes and Sita Anwar, he realized that these families and friends couldn’t be provided with any information until it was proven 100% accurate. Paul explained to Jackie that they needed to exhume Joseph Kappen’s body to access his femur or teeth for a more accurate DNA test. Eventually, Jackie granted permission for the exhumation. In 2002, after obtaining consent from Joseph Kappen’s son and his family, the exhumation took place. The femur and teeth were collected and sent to the lab for further investigation. After about a week, the forensic scientist, Colin, called Paul to inform him that Joseph’s DNA matched 100% with the killer’s DNA. Paul regained confidence and faced Hughes, the parents of the deceased, as well as Sita, informing them that they were now 100% certain that Joseph was the killer. Although Joseph Kappen never faced punishment or legal consequences for his crimes, the investigation revealed him to be a sick monster who had been hiding in plain sight for all those years after committing such heinous acts. If DNA technology had been available in the 1970s, Paul would have been arrested long ago and brought to justice. However, it took a considerable amount of time to deliver justice to the families of the victims.


Final Words

Steeltown Murders is a captivating series that tells the true story of the Llandarcy murder investigation from 1973 to 2002. It skillfully depicts both the young and older versions of Paul Bethell, who works tirelessly to bring the murders to a peaceful resolution. The series provides a detailed look at the investigators’ relentless pursuit of the truth, showcasing each step they took. While some parts of the story are fictionalized for dramatic purposes, they add to the overall impact and leave the audience wanting more. Despite the abundance of information, the series remains engaging and maintains its charm. The focus is not on the killer, who remains hidden, but on the other suspects and their elimination, which adds suspense and keeps us wondering what will happen next. Steeltown Murders successfully portrays one of the most groundbreaking murder cases of all time, combining heart-wrenching realities with thought-provoking fictional elements.


Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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