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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Murders suspect exhumation begins
Tent over Joe Kappen's grave in Goytre cemetery
A huge tent has been erected in the graveyard
Work has begun in a graveyard in south west Wales to exhume the body of a man suspected of the murders of three teenage girls in south Wales almost 30 years ago are due to begin.

Police have sealed off Goytre cemetery in Port Talbot for two days to allow the body of former nightclub doorman Joe Kappen to be exhumed.

Sandra Newton
Sandra Newton died in 1973

A giant inflatabale blue and white tent was erected over Mr Kappen's grave early on Thursday shielding the exhumation from onlookers.

Detectives believe he may have been responsible for the murders of two 16-year-olds - Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd.

Their bodies were found in woodland at Llandarcy, near Neath in September,1973. They had been raped and strangled.

Detectives also believe Mr Kappen may have been connected to the death of Sandra Newton, who was also 16, at nearby Briton Ferry three months earlier.

Modern forensic techniques employed in a reopened inquiry into the Llandarcy deaths have established a link between the three killings.

"It is the first time that a suspect in a criminal investigation has ever been exhumed," said a spokesman for South Wales Police.

"From what I understand it could take up to a year before a DNA profile is obtained and the results known."

Police first applied to the Home Office late last year for permission to exhume the body of Mr Kappen who died aged 48 from lung cancer 12 years ago.

Joe Kappen's grave at Goytre Cemetery, Port Talbot
Mr Kappen's body will later be reburied

Earlier this month his family - who firmly believe in his innocence - asked for the exhumation to be put back a day because it clashed with the anniversary of the death of Mr Kappen's stepfather, Clemente Proietti, who is also buried in the plot.

Digging at the graveside is expected to start at midnight with Mr Proietti's body the first to be removed early on Friday morning.

Mr Kappen's coffin is expected to follow a few hours later and be moved to a mortuary where DNA samples will be taken from his remains.

Two forensic archaeologists from Bournemouth University are due to assist in the exhumation.

Both men's coffins are then expected to be reburied later on Friday afternoon.

Police have reassured familes that all the graves affected by the two-day operation will be restored exactly as they were found.

Whatever the outcome of the testing, Mr Kappen could never be named publicly as the girls' killer because he never stood trial for the murders.

However, a Home Office review in the light of any new evidence would allow detectives to finally end an inquiry which has stood unresolved for almost three decades.

The investigation into the Llandarcy murders was reopened two years ago after a DNA profile of the killer was established from crime scene samples.

Among the people linked to the case was the notorious serial killer Fred West - although he was later ruled out.

BBC Wales's Gilbert John reports
"The brutal murders of three teenage girls frightened the local community"

Where I Live, South West Wales
See also:

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Dead murders suspect is named
29 Oct 01 | Wales
Woodland murders 'breakthrough'
15 Sep 01 | Wales
Fresh appeal on woods murders
13 Jun 01 | Wales
Website hope for woods murder
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