Who Killed Little Red Riding Hood? One of Britain’s Oldest Unsolved Crimes

Updated on October 23, 2017

Who Was Muriel Drinkwater?

Muriel Drinkwater was a young Welsh schoolgirl. Born in the summer of 1933, she was the youngest of four children and lived with her parents Percy and Margaret on a small farm called Tyle-Du, near Penllegaer. Muriel was a bright girl and had earned a place at the local grammar school where she was proving to be a conscientious and diligent student. Outside school she was a member of the local girl guide group. She also loved to sing and earned the nickname 'the little nightingale'. As she walked, she sang.Those that remember her can still recall her beautiful voice trilling through the woods as she made her way homewards from school. In the evenings Muriel spent her time on her homework or doing chores around the farm. No doubt as the school year was drawing to a close, she was looking forward to the long summer days ahead. Muriel would never see those days. Brutally attacked as she walked through the local woods in June 1946, her killing became known as 'the Little Red Riding Hood Murder'.

Muriel Drinkwater (centre) and two siblings
Muriel Drinkwater (centre) and two siblings

The Walk Through the Woods

Muriel's last day on Earth was unseasonably damp and foggy. Despite it being June, she had left the house that morning wearing her school mackintosh and a pair of red woollen gloves. At 4.20 pm. a bus driver who knew Muriel, dropped her at the end of the lane that would lead the young girl home to her farm. As usual she gave the driver a cheery wave and was last seen by him singing to herself as she made her way up the steep path that led to her house. Within moments she encountered a friend she had known from junior school. Hubert (Brinley) Hoyles was 13 and had bought some butter and eggs from Muriel's mother at the farm. The two children exchanged brief pleasantries and continued on their way. Muriel had no idea she was walking to her death and equally Hubert had no clue that a cloud of suspicion would hang over him for almost his whole adult life.The path to the farm was not straight but meandered in and out of Penllegaer Woods. As 4:30 pm approached, Muriel's mother moved to the window of the farmhouse kitchen hoping to catch a glimpse of her daughter walking up the lane. Spying the girl in the distance, she went into the farmyard and waved to her. Muriel waved back until the path rambled back into the forest again and she disappeared from view. Confident her daughter would be home in less than five minutes, Mrs. Drinkwater returned to the kitchen to put on the kettle for tea.

The path to Muriel's home
The path to Muriel's home

The Search Begins

When more than an hour had passed and Muriel had not arrived home, Mrs. Drinkwater went in search of her daughter. Mild irritation turned to concerned anxiety and then to frantic panic as she made her way up and down the path her child had taken without finding any trace. Her calls through the woods were met with silence and as the evening crept onwards to nightfall, Mrs Drinkwater made the decision to run to the nearby village and fetch the constable.That evening, a search party of local men accompanied by the constable and Muriel's parents, began to scour the woods. It must have made an eerie sight as the searchers moved through the trees. Shrouded in mist on a moonless night, their only light came from the thousands of glow worms that lit up the forest floor and the dim glimmer of lanterns puddling into the darkness.

Penllegaer Woods
Penllegaer Woods

A Tragic Discovery

By morning the exhausted search party had not met with success and reinforcements were called in. Almost every police officer in the local district joined in the thorough search of the woods. Within hours a keen eyed constable, David Lloyd-George, spotted one of Muriel's bright red gloves caught on a bush. A search of the nearby undergrowth uncovered a terrible truth. Muriel was dead, sexually assaulted and then murdered. Close to her body a World War I issue Colt .45 was found abandoned. Muriel had been shot twice in the chest. She had five gashes to her head which had been inflicted with the butt of the gun.The child lay with her eyes open and one red gloved hand extended forwards as if imploring her attacker to stop. A further search uncovered a few sweet wrappers, a cigarette and discarded bread. Had Muriel's killer lain in wait for her, knowing the child's route home? Was she killed because she knew her attacker? Every man in the area including 13 year old Hubert, was a suspect.

Searching for Muriel's body
Searching for Muriel's body

Scotland Yard

After discovering the young girl's body, detectives from Scotland Yard were called in to lead the investigation. In charge was Chief Inspector William 'Bulldog' Chapman. The search for the murderer began with the last person known to have spoken to Muriel, her classmate Hubert Hoyles. Whether Chapman considered Hubert a viable suspect, we can only guess. He was certainly interviewed and until recently the cloud of suspicion hung over him. Hubert claimed he passed nobody other than Muriel on the path through the woods. Indeed, on his many trips to purchase eggs and butter from the farm, he had never met any other person on the path other than Muriel, except for once. A few weeks before the murder he recalled meeting an aggressive man in the woods and was able to offer a description which was circulated throughout Wales. The man was never identified. In all 20,000 men were interviewed without success. Chapman also reached out to the American public for help. The gun that had been used to kill Muriel was a Colt .45 issued to U.S. troops in World War I. Chapman suspected that the gun which had been modified with Perspex to improve the grip, had been sold to a local by an American serviceman stationed in Wales during the war. Once again Chapman met a dead end. Eventually, the case went cold until the beginning if this century when the interest of a retired Welsh police officer reinvigorated the case.

The Psychic Investigates

Peter Hall, a retired police sergeant with South Wales Police had long been frustrated by the failure to solve Muriel's murder and undertook some research of his own. Intrigued by the claims of psychic Diane Lazarus that she could assist police in solving crimes, he asked her to visit the scene of Muriel's death to see what further information she could glean. Lazarus claimed to know nothing about the victim but within minutes of arriving she began to see psychic images of the crime. Impressively, the psychic could describe details about Muriel and her killer which weren't widely known to the public. Most intriguingly, Lazarus suggested that the now elderly killer lived in nearby Morriston and came from a farming background. While her investigation did not lead directly to an arrest it triggered a renewed interest in the crime and a fateful phone call to a cold case team that would lead to the case being reopened.

Diane Lazarus Investigates

A Cold Case Warms Up

When retired police detective Paul Bethell was offered the chance to head up a civilian team of retired detectives investigating cold cases, it was an offer he probably couldn't refuse. The ex officer had an exemplary police career and his keen investigative skills would eventually be vital in cracking cases that had lain dormant since the eighties. Named Operation Moscow the team were tasked with cracking unsolved murders in South Wales.Their dogged determination brought great results. In 2002 Bethell received a telephone call from a curious journalist inspired by Diane Lazarus' intervention. It was a case he was unfamiliar with, the murder of Muriel Drinkwater. Keen to discover more, his team began to trawl through old police and evidence files. Before long Bethell made a stunning discovery. At the back of a store cupboard in a Swansea police station, he discovered a box inscribed with Muriel's name. In the box were Muriel's clothes carefully labelled with the embroidered tags her mother had sewn in many years ago. On the back of Muriel's mackintosh was a yellow circle marked with a chinagraph pencil. Inside that circle was a semen stain, now invisible to the human eye but fresh enough to one day extract a DNA sample. Bethell held in his hands, what could be the clue to cracking the entire case.

The victims of Harold Jones
The victims of Harold Jones

Links to Other Crimes

Throughout the various investigations into Muriel's murder, connections to other crimes were made which may yet provide feasible clues. Immediately after the crime, a link was made to the robbery and killing of a cinema manager in Bristol. The connection in this case was the gun. A .45 Colt was used in both murders and the proximity of Bristol to South Wales provided a tantalising but ultimately fruitless link. Another possible link was the murder of 11 year old Sheila Martin two weeks after Muriel in Kent. Although she was killed hundreds of miles away, there were some similarities between the two cases. Sheila was also killed in woodland close to her home. Sexually assaulted like Muriel, she was then strangled with her own hairband. Sheila lived a short distance from the motor racing circuit Brand's Hatch where 9,000 visitors from all over the country had converged that day to watch a race. Her killer could have come from anywhere in the country. Sheila's case also remains unsolved. The crime writer Neil Milkins suggested that there is a very strong candidate for Muriel's murder that has been overlooked by the police. In his book 'Every Mother's Nightmare: Abitellery in Mourning', he details the murder of two young Welsh girls in 1921. Their killer, Harold Jones, escaped the hangman's noose because he was only aged 15. By 1946, he had been released back into wider society and, Milkins suggests, was ready to murder again.

DNA
DNA

The DNA Breakthrough

Three years after her clothes were discovered in a store cupboard, Peter Bethell and his team finally made the breakthrough they were seeking. Dr. Colin Dark of the Forensic Science Services managed to extract a DNA and familial profile from the semen stain on Muriel's mackintosh. Despite the age of the stain Dr. Dark was able to identify a number of Y-STR markers on the male chromosome contained in the semen. This meant that if the killer or any close male relative committed a crime and appeared on the national DNA database, his identity would be revealed. Sadly, there were no matches. What the DNA profile did do, however, was clear Hubert Hoyles of any involvement. Now an elderly gentleman, the cloud of suspicion that had hovered over him for a lifetime was finally lifted. In 2010 a veil of secrecy was thrown over the cases of Muriel Drinkwater and Sheila Martin case. South Wales Police made a request to restrict access to all files on the case while both murders were reinvestigated. The reason, a determination not to prejudice either case if vital evidence is uncovered and the murderer identified. The files are still closed and the investigations active.

Muriel's grave
Muriel's grave

Never Forgotten

When Muriel Drinkwater died, 3,000 people attended her funeral. Her classmates wept and local women laid posies on her grave.Today the little farm where she lived has gone, as has the path that she followed through the woods. The road where she alighted from her bus is now a busy motorway. A petrol station and a McDonalds stand where she would have turned to walk uphill. Only the very elderly in the district can really say they knew the girl who sang like a nightingale. Despite this, her name lives on. A few years ago the local girl guides raised funds to replace the wooden cross on her grave with a proper headstone. Fresh flowers are often placed nearby. The bitter truth is that Muriel's killer is probably long dead. No doubt he thought his secrets went with him to his grave. Technology though, is a wonderful thing, as is the dogged determination of those seeking justice. One day, in the not too distant future, there must surely be a familial DNA match that unmasks the wicked wolf that lay in wait that June day in 1946, as Little Red Riding Hood took her final walk through Penllegaer Woods.

Sources

The Murder of Muriel Drinkwater : Wikipedia

'The mystery of 1946 murder in the woods' by Clare Gabriel : News BBC

'Secrecy over 1940 murder as DNA offers new leads' by Robin Turner : Wales Online

'Secrecy over 1940 murder DNA' : The True Crime Library

'Possible link in schoolgirl murders': Kent Online

'Author names new killer in Drinkwater case' : Wales Online

'Did Abertillery murderer kill a child in Swansea?' : Wales Online

'The real waking the dead' by Barbara Davies : Daily Mail



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      Moira Renwick 2 months ago

      Thank you for writing this interesting article. Hopefully one day soon the DNA will get a match and the child's remaining family will know the truth.

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