The Unsolved Murder of Muriel Drinkwater
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 − Tyle-Du Farm − 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
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.”
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
Case File Theories
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’s 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 − 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
If you have any information about Muriel’s murder, please contact the South Wales Police via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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