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The Unsolved Murder of Muriel Drinkwater

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 Case File Overview

On¬†June 27, 1946, twelve-year-old Muriel Drinkwater made her way home from school in¬†Penllergaer, Swansea. Muriel was seen at 2:30PM, singing as she exited the school bus. Her route to her family’s home ‚ąí Tyle-Du Farm¬†‚ąí¬†entailed a mile-long journey that wove in and out of the woods.

Sometime later that afternoon, Muriel’s mother Margaret glanced out of her kitchen window and noticed Muriel approaching their property from approximately 400 yards away. Margaret went out into the yard and her and Muriel exchanged waves. A moment later, Muriel’s path wound into a thickly wooded area, and her mother returned to her chores in the kitchen.

Muriel never made it home.

Muriel (centre) with her sisters

Murder victim Muriel Drinkwater with her sisters
Source: Daily Mail

A village-wide search was swiftly underway, and at 4:30PM the following day Muriel’s body was located in a Japanese larch plantation near her home.

An autopsy later determined that Muriel had been bludgeoned, raped, and shot twice in the chest.

The police found the murder weapon in the undergrowth near where Muriel’s body had been discovered. The gun was described as a¬†“Colt 45 American army issue automatic pistol, first issued for World War I but probably also used in World War II, which significantly had the original wooden stocks next to the grip modernised with perspex.”

Murder weapon

Weapon Used in Muriel Drinkwater Murder
Source: BBC News

Although an extensive investigation was conducted that involved the police visiting “every farmhouse and cottage within 150 square miles” and interviewing “20,000 men in Swansea, Aberdare and Carmarthenshire,” the case that has become known as the¬†Little Red Riding Hood Murder remains unsolved.

Police searching for evidence

Police searching for evidence in the Muriel Drinkwater case
Source: Daily Mail

Case File Theories

Hubert Hoyles

For decades, a key person of interest in Muriel’s murder has been Hubert Hoyles. On the afternoon of Muriel’s murder, thirteen-year-old Hoyles purchased eggs from Muriel’s mother at their family farm. On his way home, he passed Muriel as she walked along the path. Given that Hoyles was the last person to see Muriel alive, he quickly fell under a thick veil of suspicion.

In 2008,¬†Detective Chief Inspector Paul Bethell located Muriel’s blue coat, underwear, and school uniform in police storage. Bethell was thrilled to discover that “on the back of the coat, a no-longer visible dried semen stain was circled with yellow crayon.” Bethell sent the coat to¬†Dr. Colin Dark, and over the course of three years (MUCH longer than depicted on television and in the movies) Bethell analyzed the material and was able to extract enough fragments of DNA to¬†successfully create a Y-STR profile from the semen stain. This will enable the police to identify Muriel’s murderer by taking and testing swabs from the perpetrator’s sons, grandsons, or even great-grandsons.

Although the profile was loaded into the UK National DNA Database, it failed to match any of the approximately five million DNA records held there.¬†Importantly, though, the DNA results cleared Hoyles of any involvement in Muriel’s murder.

Killer Lying in Wait

There is little doubt that Muriel’s murderer was lying in wait, just counting the minutes until he could commit his heinous crime. The perpetrator left cigarette stubs, sweet wrappers, and pieces of bread at the scene of the crime, which the authorities have said indicates that he was waiting in the dense woods for his chance to strike. The unanswered question, however, is whether or not the killer was specifically waiting for Muriel or if any girl or woman who happened by would have made a suitable target. Was a local stalking Muriel? Or was she just in the wrong place at the wrong time?

The police think that Hoyles, who as mentioned above passed Muriel on her way home, encountered Muriel’s killer weeks before her death. After a previous visit to the Drinkwater family farm, Hoyles was surprised when a man in his thirties with¬†“thick fluffy hair and wearing brown corduroy trousers and a light brown sports jacket” stepped from the bushes at exactly the same location where Muriel was later ambushed. Hoyles told police that the man looked “terribly stern” and “had a local accent.” Although this person of interest could have just been out for hike or involved in some other unrelated nefarious activity, the authorities believe that he may have been in involved in Muriel’s murder.

There are, of course, other theories regarding who was lying in wait on that fateful day. Two other specific persons of interest have been put forward. Welsh author Neil Milkins¬†argues that Harold Jones,¬†a convicted murderer who killed two girls in Abertillery in 1921 when he was just 15 years old, was Muriel‚Äôs killer. Jones was released from prison in December of 1941, so he was a free man when Muriel was killed. Even though Jones died in 1971, his male descendants’ DNA could be tested to determine if he was the culprit responsible for Muriel’s murder.¬†The Welsh police¬†have also examined connections between Muriel’s case and a second murder that occurred a mere ten days after she was killed. On July 7, 1946, eleven-year-old Sheila Martin “was raped and strangled in woods near her home in Dartford.” This seems like a dubious connection because there is roughly 230 miles (370 kilometres) between Dartford and Penllergaer,¬†but on the day of Sheila’s murder a large race meeting was held at Brands Hatch with over 9,000 attendees, one of whom could have been both Muriel and Shiela’s killer.

Some people turn to the murder weapon for answers and suggest that the killer was either an American serviceman who had previously been stationed at Penllergaer or that an American soldier may have sold the gun to the perpetrator in the village. The authorities went as far as to suggest that someone in the Penllergaer region knows about the murder weapon but is protecting the owner by withholding information. Nevertheless, the FBI was called in to assist with determining the ownership of the murder weapon, but nothing seems to have ever transpired from this lead.

Taking into consideration all of the above information and the decades that have passed since Muriel was killed, I think that the only way this case will be closed is through a familial DNA match. This forensic approach is becoming more common. In fact, it was recently used to identify Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer who is thought to be responsible for at least a dozen murders and 50 rapes in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States.

Who do you think killed Muriel?

Oftentimes the public wonders why resources should be allocated to cold cases such as Muriel’s, cases in which most of victim’s immediate family, and even the perpetrator, are likely dead. Chief Inspector Bethell aptly explains, “Re-opening the case is as much about proving who didn’t do it, as who did.” Remember that Hoyles was suspected of Muriel’s murder for decades and lived under a cloud suspicion that followed him everywhere he travelled in his small village. Hoyles lamented, “For years, I’ve lived with the knowledge that some people in the community suspected me. I could never hurt anyone or anything, but in a small, close-knit community, people talk ‚ąí¬†and I knew that in the eyes of some people I was the murderer. It blighted my life.” For Hoyles, and no doubt numerous other people in Penllergaer,¬†every dollar spent bringing Muriel’s killer one step closer to justice has been a dollar well spent.

A village mourns

Muriel Drinkwater funeral
Source: Daily Mail

If you have any information about Muriel’s murder, please contact the South Wales Police¬†via email at¬†publicservicecentre@south-wales.pnn.police.uk.

Related Reading

“Mystery of 1946 murder in woods”BBC News article

“The real waking the dead: This schoolgirl’s savage murder has mystified police for 62 years. Now cutting-edge forensics to rival any TV thriller have identified her killer’s DNA”Daily Mail article

“Unsolved: The Little Red Riding Hood murder” –¬†Sword and Scale article

“Muriel Drinkwater murder file is declared secret at request of police”The Sunday Times article

Interested in unsolved murders? Check out the heartbreaking murder of Lisa Leckie and the mysterious slaying of Caroline Glachan.

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28 Comments

  1. Grace Patterson Grace Patterson

    If the perpetrator was lying in wait as I believe he was, why select that certain spot? Her mother seen her approaching 400 yards away, so perhaps she was a “selected” victim. I wonder if there was a sketch done when Hoyles confronted a man weeks earlier. There must be other victims of this person as I can’t see him stopping. I guess a DNA test of Sheila Martin must have been taken to see if it was the same person. Interesting case Christine.

    • Christine Christine

      Great questions! I am leaning towards it being a targeted attack, in part because of the positioning of the perpetrator as you mentioned. And I also think there are likely more victims. Fingers crossed that one day a DNA match can give us the breakthrough needed to solve this case. Have a great week!

  2. Hi. I am awaiting D.N.A tests to be carried out on Harold Jones’ family members. This will conclude a 10 year wait to see if Jones was indeed Muriel’s killer.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Neil. Thank you for the update. What a big moment in this case! Please let us know how it goes. And if you want to write a guest post that covers the update for distribution on the website, let us know.

  3. Will do Christine. I think it will be at least 3 months before anything definite will be announced. Regards. Neil Milkins.

  4. Hi Christine. Are you able to help please? The police have a Y-STR profile from Muriel’s coat. As you know it is not possible to prove whether Harold Jones was Muriel’s killer by D.N.A testing Jones’ daughter. Is it possible that scientists could examine Muriel’s coat and find another profile that could be compared to Jones’ daughter’s D.N.A.? Regards. Neil Milkins.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Neil. I am not a DNA scientist so sadly I cannot answer this question for you. I suggest reaching out to a DNA expert and seeing what insight they might be able to provide. You can Google ones in your area or check out Twitter (but I recommend checking their credentials). All the best with pursuing answers in this case, and please keep us updated. ~ Christine

  5. Thank you Christine. will do what you suggest. Regards. Neil.

    • james Camron james Camron

      Hi Neil. You will need a male dna profile from a decendent on harold jones’s family tree. Some companies will provide you with upto 6 generations. A brother, nephew, grandson. Does his daughter have a son.?

  6. Nicola Nicola

    Hi Neil
    I live on the land of penllergaer woods and I have some information that I think u would like to hear.. how can I get in contact with u to chat.?

  7. Fana Fana

    Jones was ruled out at the beginning of May, 2019. An amazing campaign by Neil Milkins, but unfortunately, no breakthrough for Muriel.

  8. The police statement that Jones was ruled out is a misleading statement. Jones’ D.N.A was not compared to the D.N.A left on Muriel’s coat by the killer. The D.N.A. left on the coat was compared to D.N.A. taken from Jones’ one and only child, a daughter. She may or may NOT have been Jones’ biological daughter. Her parents Harold and Muriel Jones/Stevens kept a lot of secrets from this daughter one of which may be that she wasn’t Harold’s daughter. Only by comparing D.N.A. found on Muriel’s coat and D.N.A. taken from Jones’ exhumed body can the police honestly say catergorically that Jones was or was not Muriel’s killer.

  9. Hi Nicola,

    We are hoping to make a BBC documentary (follow on from Dark Son) to see if we can shed any new light on the case. If you have any new information I would be extremely interested to hear it! If you can contact megan@monsterfilms.net I’d really appreciate it.

    Best wishes,
    Meg

  10. Hard to work out the logic of your comment Charlotte? Can you explain please.

  11. The new B.B.C. Wales documentary screened at 10.30pm on Sunday 8 November 2020 spent a full 5 minutes suggesting that 2 books found in a Carmarthen bookshop recently had been taken from Muriel’s schoolbag in 1946 as trophies by the killer. They visited the Carmarthen bookshop to identify if the killer’s family had taken the books there. Well here is the TRUTH. Muriel’s niece’s family took the books to the bookshop after Muriel’s brother-in-law died last year. Colin Dark suggested the possibillity of using D.N.A to identify who took the books into the shop with the hope of identifying the killer. I have informed South Wales Police regarding this information to save them a fortune on a wild goose chase trying to extract D.N.A. Muriel’s niece Margaret is desperate to get the books back. They have a suspect in the murder case and a cousin of the suspect has given D.N.A to prove whether or not the cousin Ron Harries was the killer. Another wait and see. I have spoken to former D.C.I Paul Bethel and given him this information. It is frustrating that the Wales Online story of Saturday 7 November states the police have D.N.A. from Ron Harries and his cousin and from Muriel’s coat and yet are not releasing the results of the tests. Muriel’s niece is in a dreadful state. She was hoping in her lifetime to find out who killed her aunt. To see documentary google Dark Lands – Muriel Drinkwater iplayer.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Neil. Thank you so much for this detailed update. I really appreciate how you’re helping keep the true crime community informed on what’s going on behind the scenes in this frustrating and heartbreaking case. I hope Margaret gets the answers she deserves sooner rather than later. It’s amazing the documentary could screw things up so much. Thanks again and take care.

  12. Sorry I doubled up on some of the above but can’t edit it.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Neil. I was able to edit the comment for you before it went live. Thanks again for sharing this.

  13. Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes

    Blackmail

  14. Lets deduce, her killer was obviously male, or were they, unless they had extracted the sperm from another person it is definite that they are a male, so we have a male, s/ that narrows it down. We can also deduce it is a average male because he must have had enough power to dominate a 12 year old girl. Unless he bludgeoned first then he raped, this would have caught her by surprise. He could possibly be a rival farmer and or business owner, we can tell the Drinkwater’s run a business due to the fact that Hoyles bought eggs from Margaret Drinkwater, near to the death of Muriel Drinkwater. Also, it was near a Japanese plantation and the workers may have possibly assaulted her and the cigarette butts, bread and sweet wrappers may have come from the plantation. Just a few thoughts, so we can deduce its a man, not too young to be weaker than Muriel, not to old because they would be frail, so we are saying middle aged man in 1946. He must have known she was near home because she waved and if we are saying this was a planned attack he would’ve studied Muriel’s routine, studied her route, he was near where her route went, that is a very specific route to go in and out the forest, and with balance of probability he therefore must have known Muriel and her family business to cripple the mother to cripple the business.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Sherlock. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Interesting insights! I agree with the killer being male and the suggested age range. Also that they likely watched Muriel and knew her route. I’m not sure how much of a farming business the family had or if they just casually sold eggs like many people in the country do. And no idea and Japanese workers. Thanks again! Here’s hoping one day soon Muriel gets some semblance of justice.

  15. Tracey Folan Tracey Folan

    I have a special interest in this case as I too was brought up in Penllergaer. Muriel was murdered 16 years before I was born, but it was a story I had heard from a young age.
    Muriel was the same age as my Aunt Peggy and they went to Primary school together.
    This was a very small, close knit community and everybody knew everybody and everybodies business.
    This murder shook the village and all the boys came under suspicion.
    There were whispers that it was her stepfather that did it, although I believe John Drinkwater was her blood father. I think it was suggested that the police thought that the family knew more than they were letting on.
    I personally think whoever did it was a true psychopath and he would probably of done something like it before and has done other crimes since. This was no spur of the moment event. The savage nature of the attack stands out from other rapes. Who sodomises a 12 year old girl and batters her about the head, then shoots her twice in the chest?
    I personally think it was someone still in the area from the Second World war. There were soldiers still in the area after the war and they used to train in Penllergaer woods. There was a camp a mile away in Grovesend. It was supposed to have been abandoned in 1944 but I know there were GI’s who married Swansea girls still around in 1946.
    There was another murder in 1943. Norah Irene Bartlett. She was sexually assaulted and strangled and last seen with an American soldier.
    It was the 75th anniversary this year, and still we are no nearer to finding her killer. It’s her birthday tomorrow, and still no closer to finding her killer. The police have DNA but keep any results they may have a closely guarded secret. Why? 0

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Tracey – Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts on Muriel’s case. Talk about a case hitting close to home for you! I really appreciate your local insights. Like you I hope there is justice one day for Muriel – but sadly as more and more time passes I worry that becomes less likely. Sometimes the rumours and suspicion in these unsolved cases does almost as much damage to the community as the crime itself. Thanks again and take care. ~ Christine

  16. In 2007 whilst researching for my 2008 True Crime book Every Mother’s Nightmare – Abertillery in Mourning, which dealt with the murders of two Abertillery school-girls in 1921, I received a surprise visit from Victor Penaluna, a cousin of the second Abertillery victim Florence Little aged 11.

    Victor told me that he had seen a T.V. programme called Crime Secrets presented by H.T.V’s Jonathan Hill. Victor said that the programme had made him suspicious as to whether Florence’s killer Harold Jones who had been released from a 20 year prison sentence in 1941 for the Abertillery murders was responsible for 12 year-old Muriel Drinkwater’s death.

    I contacted Detective Superintendent Martyn Lloyd-Evans (now retired) of South Wales Police by phone and had a friendly conversation with him about Victor Penaluna’s suspicions. D.S. Lloyd-Evans told me that he was convinced that a suspect regarding Muriel’s murder would soon be identified through D.N.A. profiling. (My belief now is that the suspect he referred to was Hubert Hoyles who as a 13 year-old boy had come into contact with Muriel’s family shortly before her murder. Some time after speaking to D.S Lloyd-Evans, D.N.A. profiling cleared Hubert who stated he had long been suspected by some locals of being the murderer and was happy to clear his name.)

    In mid 2007, I had extensive contact with Detective Constable Paul Rogers of the London Metropolitan Police. I had informed him that Harold Jones had been living incognito in various West London locations after his release from prison in 1941. First he lived in Fulham with a former London Metropolitan Police officer John Widdows and his daughter Muriel whom he married in 1948. Although he was first registered at Widdows Fulham address at Hestercombe Avenue in 1947 as Harold Jones, the following years and up until 1962 he was registered as Harry Stevens. Then for 3 years he was registered at Colinette Road Putney as Harry Stevens.

    However in 1965 he was registered as Harry Stevens in Putney AND at the same time he rented a property in Aldensley Road Hammersmith and was also registered but using the name Harry Jones. He died at that address in 1971. D.C, Paul Rogers, independent of Victor Penaluna’s theory, contacted me by phone and told me that his research had led him to believe that Harold Jones may have been Muriel Drinkwater’s killer.

    I received the following letter from D.C. Paul Rogers on 6 December 2007.

    “Dear Neil.
    Re: Harold Jones.

    Thank you for all your assistance in this matter, the information you have provided has proved to be very helpful. My enquiries are now complete and have led me to believe that Harold Jones would have presented a danger to young girls throughout his life… All relevant information has now been presented to South Wales Police, Major Crime Review Unit,who are currently in the process of making further inquiries into the murder of Muriel Drinkwater. Thank you once again and I wish you every success with your forthcoming publication. Paul.”

    I contacted D.S. Martyn Lloyd-Evans again regarding the letter from D.C.Paul Rogers. On this occasion he was rude to me claiming that he knew nothing about any information sent to South Wales Police from D.C. Paul Rogers. He stated that I was barking up the wrong tree regarding Harold Jones having killed Muriel and finished by saying “Happy Hunting” before slamming the phone down on me.

    On 30 March 2010 the ‘Times Online’ quoted an unnamed police source with South Wales Police as saying: “We have a real problem with amateur sleuths in this area. There are far too many retired people out there who want to write books about unsolved murders, trawling through these records and coming up with half-baked theories.”

    It doesn’t take much working out who the unnamed source with South Wales Police was! However, if it wasn’t for Victor Penaluna and D.C. Paul Rogers of the London Metropolitan Police I would have been none the wiser about the Muriel Drinkwater murder.

    Over the years, South Wales Police have fought tooth and nail to prevent me gaining any information under the Freedom of Information Requests Act. I have requested information regarding the cost of the re-investigation of Muriel’s murder since 2008.

    First, I was told that South Wales Police weren’t obliged to say. I appealed that decision and was then informed that as the information I requested was kept in paper format in various locations in South Wales then it would be too costly and time-consuming to check out so the request was denied. I then appealed that decision and was shocked to be told that the information I requested had been eaten by vermin or had been damaged owing to a leaking roof.

    So with that revelation the re-opened inquiry could have cost £15 million or more as did the Gwent Police inquiry into the disgraced former Abertillery care home owner Dr Dana Pras. And the truth will never be known.

    With the help from a niece of Muriel Drinkwater I pursued my research which led to South Wales Police taking a D.N.A. sample from Harold Jones’ daughter. Detective Chief Inspector Mark Lewis, head of the South Wales Police’s Specialist Crime Review Unit announced to the press in May 2019: “The results of the forensic examination categorically confirm that Jones was not responsible for the murder of Muriel Drinkwater. Due to advances in forensic technology, we have been able to look again at evidence from the murder in 1946 and I am now able to rule out Harold Jones completely as a suspect in this case.”

    After discussing this development with Muriel’s niece, myself, Muriel’s niece and a number of of her nursing friends came to the same conclusion that if Jones’ daughter isn’t his biological daughter then Jones could not completely rule out Jones as a suspect. I informed D.C.I. Mark Lewis by email of this fact but my email was ignored. Jones and his wife Muriel hid a lot of secrets from their daughter and one of these secrets may have been Jones wasn’t her father. Only the exhumation of Jones body or D.N.A. taken from one of Jones’ many nieces or nephews in Wales would prove conclusively if Jones was or was not Muriel’s killer.

    A different D.C.I. with South Wales Police has recently conceded that it CANNOT be categorically stated that Harold Jones has been ruled out completely as Muriel’s killer.

    On 28 June 2021, I sent the following Freedom of Information Request to South Wales Police.

    “Dear Sir/Madam. I am making a F.O.I. request regarding the unsolved murder of 12 year-old Muriel Drinkwater near Swansea in June 1946. South Wales Police some years ago announced that a potential suspect Hubert Hoyles had been cleared of Muriel’s death through DNA profiling. They also announced in May 2019 that Abertillery double child killer Harold Jones had also been cleared of Muriel’s murder.
    However, the BBC documentary Darklands shown in November 2020 identified Ronald Harries who murdered his aunt and uncle as Muriel’s killer, and a cousin of Harries was shown in the documentary and was expected to give DNA to prove or disprove the theory..
    Would you be able to tell me please if Harries has been cleared of Muriel’s murder as well.
    Also, as I understand matters, members of Muriel’s family have given DNA samples to ascertain whether Muriel’s father may have killed her. Are you able to tell me if her father has been cleared via DNA profiling?”

    I was made aware the following day that my request would NOT be granted. Although the decision was made immediately it took nearly 7 weeks until 16 August 2021 to get a formal decision.

    And shockingly the reply was that the information I requested was in written format and would take at least 16 hours at a cost of more than £450 to supply and my request was denied.

    On 29 August 2021, I sent the following email to Freedom Of Information at South Wales Police.

    “Dear Sir/Madam.

    I would like to request an internal review of (an adverse) decision made by South Wales Police regarding information I requested on 28-6-21. Request number 772/21.

    Adding: “Please may I make a comment that the information that I request would be available via computer in an instant. The Crime Review Group already have the information that I request.
    I am in regular contact with a niece of Muriel Drinkwater who has told me that members of her family gave South Wales Police samples of their D.N.A.”

    Roll on another 2 months for a denied request.

    • Christine Christine

      Hi Neil. Thank you for sharing this detailed update on Muriel’s case with the community. And we appreciate your dogged determination to get to the bottom of what happened. Your work keeps this case alive and I hope it will one day reveal the true identity of Muriel’s killer. Why on earth would the police continue to stonewall after all these decades? It truly is baffling and I can’t help but wonder what they are trying to hide (and why!). Thanks again ~ Christine

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