There was once a time when a kid could walk home from school without fear of being bothered by anyone besides their own schoolyard bullies. Kids could play outdoors from dawn until dusk in their own neighborhoods, safe beneath the watchful eyes of friends, family, and neighbors.
Yet, even these golden times had their odd incident. This is the story of a happy 12-year-old Welsh girl who loved to sing and the tragedy that stole her from the world…
Muriel (center) was only 12 years old. She lived in Penllergaer, Swansea, Wales, with her family and her three older sisters. Yet though she was the youngest of the four, she was by no means the baby. If anything, her status as the “baby” of the family only made her more determined to be even braver than her siblings.
Muriel attended school at the local grammar school during the week and always went to Sunday school as well. When she wasn’t in school, she served as a member of the Nightingale Patrol of the Girl Guides. This, plus the fact that Muriel had a habit of singing everywhere she went, would eventually earn her the nickname “little nightingale…”
The Walk Home
It was a cool June evening when Muriel caught the school bus back home. Her family’s house wasn’t far from the stop, only a small walk through Penllergaer Forest. It was a meandering walk and one that the 12-year-old had done many times before that day. It was a walk she wasn’t afraid of.
Seeing a Friend
Then again, there was very little that Muriel was afraid of. As she walked through the forest, she ran into 13-year-old Hubert Hoyles, a local boy who lived nearby and had just purchased some eggs from her parent’s farm. The two passed each other on the road and said hello. That would be last time anyone saw Muriel alive…
No Sign of Her
When Muriel didn’t arrive home, her mother went out to search the small village for any sign of her. She searched high and low to no avail. She was exhausted and defeated by the time she called the police. That night, a search party was assembled and dispatched to the surrounding area to find the missing preteen.
Searching in the Storm
The search was stymied before it even began. A rainstorm blew into the village and the desperate searchers were buffeted by stinging rain. Still, the torrential rain didn’t stop them. In the dark of the night their voices rang out through the woods, but Muriel Drinkwater wasn’t there to hear them…
The next day, at around 10:35 am, police constable David Lloyd George spotted something hiding around the forest floor. He walked over and picked up the sodden blue school coat and red gloves. These belonged to the missing 12-year-old, there was no doubt in his mind. Any misgivings he had evaporated immediately with what he found next…
Not far from the coat and gloves were the remains of Muriel Drinkwater. She was on her back and her arms were out at odd angles. Her skin was ghostly white. Most unnerving of all were her eyes, locked open into an endless stare. Muriel was dead, murdered and left to rot in the forest near her home. She was only a few weeks shy of her 13th birthday…
A Brutal End
An initial coroner’s report revealed that in addition to being beaten and sexually assaulted, the killer had delivered two killing shots to the head when he was done with her. Muriel’s murder was the talk of the small Welsh town, it also wasn’t the first such murder at the time. It seemed that someone had been committing heinous crimes like that all over the area.
Bringing them In
Detectives from Scotland Yard were dispatched to Swansea to assist in the investigation. Muriel’s was among a rash of slayings of women at the time and they needed to get to the bottom of it. The investigators began by visiting every house within 150 square miles and over the course of the investigation, interviewed more than 20,000 men…
In the meantime, Muriel was given a proper burial. More than 3,000 mourners showed up to attend her funeral less than a month later. She was buried at St David’s Church in Penllergaer and mourned by the town and her family. Of course, there were some among the town who thought they knew whodunit…
Eventually, after weeks of uncertainty, the investigation began to bear fruit. They now had a description of who they believed was behind the killings. The man was described as being approximately 30 years old, with “thick fluffy hair. The witnesses also said that he was wearing brown corduroy trousers and a light brown sports jacket before the attack…
Even though he wasn’t an “official” suspect, 13-year-old Hubert Hoyles had long been suspected by some locals as the murderer. After all, he was the last person that had seen the girl alive. There was no proof of course, but that hardly matters in these situations. Even after the police ruled him out, everyone believed it was him.
Weapon at the Scene
Detectives at the scene had also recovered the murder weapon, which was identified as a US Army Colt .45 pistol. Despite the customized and checkered butt of the gun, the killer has decided to drop it at the scene. As this was in the age before DNA testing, finding the owner would be hard…
Find the Owner
In order to try and track down the unique pistol’s owner, the police began showing a photograph of the gun, projected on the screen in local cinemas to see if anyone came forward. They then did this nationwide, hoping that somehow this appeal would spark someone’s memory. It was a bold move to be sure.
Their efforts to inform the public worked and it was eventually discovered that the pistol had been manufactured in the Springfield Armory in 1942. After that, it was shipped to the US, where it became one of millions of weapons in circulation at the time. This didn’t do much to come up with a culprit…
Decades of Silence
The case went cold, but it was kept sealed away and open for the next few decades. Muriel and her family tried to move on, but the uncertainty was hard to bear. In 2003 though, detectives re-opened the case. They had an idea that they might be able to use modern DNA technology to find DNA evidence on the gun.
Lost For Decades
Unfortunately, the murder happened in the late 1940s and the detectives at the time had been unaware that they might adulterate the DNA evidence by manhandling the gun. Too many had handled it over the years. They looked for the girl’s clothes as well, but discovered that this evidence had gone missing since 1949…
Things changed five years later when in 2008, forensic scientists were able to retrieve a DNA profile from a semen stain found on Muriel’s coat, one of the few remaining relics of the sealed case. Unfortunately, no match was found in the DNA database. That did, however, rule out Hubert Hoyles, who had been living under a cloud of suspicion since her death and was now vindicated.
Theories of the Unsolved
Despite many attempts to locate the killer, the case of who murdered Muriel Drinkwater still remains unsolved to this day. Many believe that it was her death which put an end to the rash of killings at the time, that the killer himself had gone too far and drawn too much attention and simply retired. Or was Hubert Hoyles somehow responsible? We may never know.