In the Summer of 1946, a small Welsh community was rocked by the murder of schoolgirl Muriel Drinkwater. Over seventy years later the murder of the twelve-year-old girl on her way home from school remains unsolved. Here I take a look at the murder and the investigation that followed.
Just Like Any Other Day
Muriel Drinkwater was born on July 19, 1933, in the town of Carmarthen in Wales. She was the youngest member of her family which consisted of her dad John Percival and mum Margaret as well as her three older sisters.
By 1946 the now twelve-year-old Muriel Drinkwater was attending Penllergaer Grammer School near Swansea. Muriel was also a member of the girl guides and was known to her friends as “Little Nightingale” due to her love for singing.
On the afternoon of June 27, 1946, Muriel Drinkwater made her way home from school. No different to any other day, she jumped on the bus home from Penllergaer Grammer School.
At around 2:30 pm Muriel arrived at her stop and got off the school bus, singing as she went. The stop was about a mile from her home Tyle-du Farm. To get there she would need to take a walk along a path through the woods, something she did every day.
Muriel’s mother Margaret happened to be in the kitchen of her home when the bus reached the stop. She saw Muriel step off the bus through the window and they exchanged a wave as Muriel set off on her way home through the woods.
Muriel Drinkwater Goes Missing
When Muriel failed to return home a short while after, her mother started to get worried. Margaret went to look for her. Firstly she walked along the path through the woods calling her daughters name, but Muriel didn’t reply. She then looked in the local village but Muriel was nowhere to be found. Now even more worried and anxious Margaret contacted the police.
An organized search party was quickly formed and a search began for the twelve-year-old girl. It was now late, so visibility was poor and made the search extremely difficult.
The search continued into the next day but unfortunately, this would be when the parents worst nightmare became a saddening reality. At around 4:30 pm the dead body of Muriel Drinkwater was discovered in the woods by PC David George Lloyd, not far from her home.
The Gun In The Woods
Muriel had been beaten around the head and shot twice in the chest. She had also been raped. Several marks were visible on Muriel’s head, these were believed to be caused by the butt of a gun, but officers also believed there was a second weapon used in the murder.
The murder weapon was discovered in some nearby undergrowth. The gun was a colt 0.45 which would have originally been issued during the first world war. Of note was the grips on the gun, they had been modified with perspex.
Police began a search of the area for a second murder weapon. The 169th bomb disposal unit was called in to help. Despite a thorough search of the area with the aid of metal detectors, no other weapon was found.
Several items that were discovered in the woods, including cigarettes and sweet wrappers led police to ponder on one possible theory. Had the killer planned the murder and been patiently waiting for his victim?
Another question was why no one had heard any of the gunshots that killed poor Muriel Drinkwater. It had been reported that Muriel could be heard through the trees singing as she made her way into the woods, yet, no one heard any gunshots.
The investigation into the murder of Muriel Drinkwater saw officers interview over twenty thousand men from the surrounding areas. They knocked on every door within 150 square miles of the murder scene. All with little to help lead them to Muriel Drinkwater’s killer.
The Funeral Of Muriel Drinkwater
Muriel’s funeral took place on July 2, 1946. Over 3,000 mourners, many of them children, came to pay their respects at the service held at St David’s Church in Penllergaer.
Hubert Hoyles – The Last Person To See Muriel Drinkwater
It was discovered that during her walk home Hubert Hoyles, a thirteen-year-old neighbour, passed Muriel in the woods.
Hubert, who had been to purchase some eggs from the farm, said he didn’t see anything unusual when he passed Muriel or on the rest of his journey. He did, however, tell police about an encounter he had had in the weeks prior to Muriel’s murder.
Hubert Hoyles told police that he had seen a stern-looking man not far from the location were Muriel was found. He described him as having a local accent, been in his thirties, and having thick fluffy hair. Despite a search for the individual he couldn’t be traced.
Although there was no evidence with which to mistrust him, suspicion fell on Hubert Hoyles within the community. The murder of Muriel Drinkwater and the doubts of his involvement would haunt Hubert Hoyles for decades.
Thankfully, in later years DNA was able to exonerate Hubert Hoyles as a suspect, proving his innocence to those who doubted him and giving him some peace in his later years.
Lamentably, the hunt for Muriel Drinkwater’s killer soon turned cold and would remain that way for decades.
The Murder Of Sheila Martin
Over the years links have been made between the murder Of Muriel Drinkwater and that of eleven-year-old Sheila Martin.
Sheila was also found murdered in woodland half-mile from her home just two weeks after Muriel’s murder. Like Muriel, she had been sexually assaulted, though the cause of death for Sheila Martin was strangulation.
The location of the murder, some 250 miles away in Fawkham Green, Kent, cast doubt on a link. However, worth mentioning is that nearly ten thousand visitors were near the area that day attending Brands Hatch (a motorsports track), so it’s not impossible that Muriel’s killer was one such visitor.
No official link has ever been made between the murders of Muriel Drinkwater and Sheila Martin. Sheila’s murder also remains unsolved.
Review Of Muriel Drinkwater’s Murder
In 2003 a new review into the murder of Muriel Drinkwater began. Investigators were hopeful that advancements in DNA may result in new evidence.
Particular interest was made to the gun. Unfortunately, testing showed that it had been handled so many times no new evidence would be forthcoming.
Another key piece of evidence, the clothes of Muriel Drinkwater, appeared to have been lost.
Cold Case Investigation Into The Murder Of Muriel Drinkwater
In 2008 the case was again re-examined by a cold case team, which consisted of a number of retired detectives. In a fantastic bit of news for the investigation, the new team were able to locate several items of clothing belonging to Muriel Drinkwater, thought to have been lost.
A blue raincoat, her school uniform and underwear were all located and examined. The raincoat was found to have a yellow evidence circle drawn on it which was investigated further. The evidence, which was no longer visible to the naked eye, was revealed to be a semen stain.
A familial DNA sample was extracted and checked against the national database. Unfortunately, there were no matches on record. This sample was also used to clear Hubert Hoyle’s name.
In 2010 the investigation into the murder of Muriel Drinkwater took another interesting development. Police investigating the death of the young schoolgirl decided to close public access to the files relating to the murder. They believed this would help in thier investigation. Also worthy of note is that the Shelia Martin files were also closed to the public.
Convicted Child-Killer Harold Jones
Author Neil Milkins named Harold Jones as a suspect in the murder of Muriel Drinkwater. Milkins has for years looked into linking Jones with crimes after he was released from prison, most notably the Jack The Stripper murders.
Harold Jones was released from prison after spending twenty years incarcerated. He was in prison for killing two young school girl’s in his home town of Abertillery when he himself was just fifteen years of age. In fact, it was only Jones age which kept him from receiving the death penalty.
Harold Jones first murder was that of Freda Burnell, who was just eight-years-old. Jones had lured the young girl to a shed before raping and then bludgeoning her to death.
After discovering he was the last person to see Freda Burnell and because parts of his story seemed odd Jones became the prime suspect. After Freda’s handkerchief was discovered in the shed at his workplace he was charged with her murder. Jones, largely due to the support from the community including false testimony, was found not guilty.
Not long after the verdict, the fifteen-year-old would kill again. This time he lured eleven-year-old Florence Little to his home and cut her throat. Harold Jones again became a suspect and this time he was convicted for the murder.
After his release in 1941, Jones, who was now 35, joined the merchant navy. After the war, we know that Harold Jones eventually married and had a child. It is also known that he died from bone cancer in 1971. However, despite the atrocities Harold Jones carried out as a fifteen-year-old there is no hard proof I can find that he committed any crimes after his release from prison, let alone murder.
Harold Jones Ruled Out As Suspect For Murder Of Muriel Drinkwater
Whether Harold Jones did commit more murders once he was released from prison I cannot say. I can say, however, that he didn’t murder Muriel Drinkwater. In the spring of 2019 Harold Jones was ruled out as a suspect by South Wales Specialist Crime Review Unit after DNA testing:
“The results of the forensic examination categorically confirm that Harold 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 him out completely as a suspect in this case.”DCI Mark Lewis
The quest to discover who murdered poor Muriel Drinkwater, the innocent young girl with the beautiful singing voice and her whole life ahead of her goes on.