A long time ago I gave up on the Jack The Ripper debate. If you are one of those still enthralled by it then good luck to you. The mist shrouded serial killer of the 1880s certainly left a mystery worth looking at but I gave up because of the ‘True Crime’ writers and their theories. After years of watching one ‘Final Solution’ after another roll by I believe the real killer is lost. Lost amid the chaos of self serving sleuths and their assumptions.
There are genuine Ripperologists. Maybe you are one of them. Perhaps you feel the same as I do. The shear tonnage of books on the subject does support scepticism about the credibility of many theories.
If you ignore the not so strong parts of a theory and concentrate entirely on the good bits two things can happen. First you might get a book sold along with the recognition as a web sleuth extraordinaire. The second thing that is likely to happen is that at some point you will be proved wrong.
On 27th June 1946 a school girl was walking through countryside on her way home. 12 year old Muriel Drinkwater had only a mile to travel from the South Wales village of Penllergaer to the farm she lived on with her family. Ms Drinkwater was seen by her mother in the distance. The light was good, it was only 4.30 pm. The track on which her daughter walked curved around and then dropped into some woods.
When her daughter did not arrive home a little time went by and Mrs Drinkwater went into the village to look for her. As alarm grew people from Penllergaer helped look for the schoolgirl. Ms Drinkwater was found the next day by a police officer.
She had been raped and beaten. Finally she had been shot twice in the chest with a large calibre pistol. The gun was later found, it was a Colt .45 which was 30 years old. The grips, originally wooden, had been replaced with Perspex. It was believed it had been in the possession of US servicemen who had been garrisoned in Penllergaer until only a year before. A theory went that it had been sold to a local. Appeals aimed at US ex military got no useful response.
What has helped is the careful storage of the poor girl’s clothing. It was placed in a paper bag and buried under later years of evidence.
The Little Red Riding Hood Murder Theories
This 12 year old girl had been wearing a blue coat so I am not sure where the commonly used name for this murder comes from.
The cruelty of the act seems amplified by the fact that the threat of war had only been lifted the year before. So as the nation was breathing a sigh of relief because of a return of peace and security Muriel Drinkwater is killed on a summer’s day in sight of home. The years rolled by and despite Scotland Yard’s help nothing solid came from extensive enquiries.
In a Daily Mirror article some good news was heralded in May 2019. A cold case review team found the victim’s clothes and because of advances in forensic science we had DNA profiling.
Over the years many theories had developed as to who had ended the life of Ms Drinkwater. A 13 year old boy had bought eggs from the Drinkwater farm. He was walking home along the track when the victim passed him. He became a suspect and apparently remained so in the minds of many locals.
True crime writers and ex cops developed an interest in the case. I have written about this sort of ‘investigation’ before. I am not a fan of the theories that often come out. One of the issues I have is when a known killer is linked with a murder. Then that link is reported in the newspapers, bold declarations are made that evidence has been handed to the police and then nothing happens. Usually these sort of stories involve pictures of the ex cop/true crime writer pondering themselves in a home office.
Another aspect of amateur sleuthing I am suspicious of is when a case is considered and some poor man or woman is named as a suspect from outfield. A person who the cops never interviewed and never suspected. Their name is published and in every such case they are long dead. Dead as in they cannot defend themselves nor can their relatives who are left reeling and wondering if old uncle Fred was really a child murderer.
In this case a known child killer was linked in print to the killing of Ms Drinkwater. Harold Jones was a despicable creature for sure. He killed one little girl in 1921 and was acquitted. Then he went out and within 17 days he killed another. By November 1921 he had admitted the murders and at the unimpressive age of 15 he escaped the death penalty. He did 20 years in prison, came out and joined the merchant navy. From what I can tell he didn’t return to live in Wales. He died in 1971 of cancer, at that time time he lived in London.
A ‘True Crime’ writer believed that Jones was the killer of Muriel Drinkwater after he left the services in 1946. In fairness I would have to read the reasons why this writer came to that conclusion before any heavy criticism. What I can say is it is a safe bet he was wrong.
The cold case unit found the victim’s clothes and on the coat was a semen stain that had been circled in yellow pencil. The news has since come out that whoever the killer of Muriel Drinkwater was it was not Harold Jones. The writer Neil Milkins, also linked Jones to a series of sex worker murders in the 1960s. These are known as the Jack the Stripper murders. This is, as was the case with the original Jack the Ripper killings, a name drawn from the way the victims were debased.
He, along with others involved in a documentary series, asked for the killings to be reinvestigated by the Metropolitan Police. His evidence was apparently looked at and rejected. A reply to him is quoted in a SW Londoner article as saying:
‘To link Harold Jones to any murder other than those for which he is convicted is purely speculative and without any evidential basis.’
That would appear to have been a real blow. Mr Milkins had linked Jones to Muriel Drinkwater’s murder and it turns out it wasn’t him in all probability. Then after over a decade of work the police abruptly say there is no good evidence that Jones killed the sex workers of over 50 years ago either.
Mr Milkins is quoted then as saying the police response does not give any credit for all the hard work he had put into the investigation. I am not sure why you get credit for presenting something that is seen as wrong, but I am maybe a simple writer as opposed to an investigative consultant, true crime writer and historian. All of those titles have been given to Mr Milkins in articles I have seen him quoted in.
A guy called Ronnie Harries is mentioned as being a possible murderer of Ms Drinkwater. He was a killer. In 1953 he battered his aunt and uncle to death and forged a cheque in their name. This 24 year old was hung for the crimes in 1954. It is true he lived in the area near Swansea/ Penllergaer and in two references there are claims he once worked for the Drinkwater’s on their farm.
Where I think an answer could be found is in the testimony of the then 13 year old Hubert Hoyles. He was the lad who had bought eggs from the Drinkwater farm. He passed Muriel as I mentioned. They said hello and given the distance she had to walk to home doubtless she was attacked a short time later. He said that a couple of weeks before he had been almost at the same spot when a man in his 30s emerged from the bushes.
The man seemed startled at seeing him and was annoyed. He demanded to know what the boy was doing there. The lad said he had just bought eggs and was on his way home. This seemed to confound the man. He was abrasive and told Mr Hoyles to get on his way.
When the scene of Ms Drinkwater’s murder was examined traces of bread and cigarette stubs were found. It looked like her attacker had been waiting awhile for her. Mr Hoyles apparently had tears in his eyes despite the passage of the time. He said that he had never seen anyone else before or after on that track other than the family.
If that account is still as crisp as the one he told the police, and I have no reason to doubt it, then that could not have been Ronnie Harries. First if he was working there at the time Hubert Hoyles would have probably known him. Even if he did not, Harries was 16 at the time, not the 30 years plus of Mr Hoyles description. Of course the killer on the day may not have been the man that Mr Hoyles had seen. It seems a bit illogical to discount his account though.
To my mind the killer had local knowledge and was a local man. Mr Hoyles said he had an accent that matched that theory. The track was narrow and largely hidden. The girl’s routine allowed for a thought out ambush and as the boy saw no-one following it is unlikely an outsider would have known where to intercept the school girl. By the same logic would you agree that this so called man was not likely to have been living in the village then? My thinking is if he was a resident then the chances are a 13 year old like Mr Hoyles was would have at least seen him before.
A Returning Soldier?
I am not asserting this little theory, it was just something that was nagging at me as I wrote about Mr Hoyle’s account. The gun that was recovered was from the WW1 era. It had been adapted using material only available years later. The cops contacted many US servicemen who had been garrisoned around the village yet established no original owner of the gun. Yet if an American garrisoned there had a gun with adapted grips it would have been an unusual weapon. Anyone seeing it would have remembered it. I can understand the owner not wanting to step forward, but would everyone who had seen it have covered for him?
Given that the weapon was a Colt it made sense to wonder if a soldier had sold it to a local. However, many British men went off to war. They may have been away for longer than their US counterparts. WW2 started for us in September 1939. If a local went away then Mr Hoyles may have only been about seven years old. Once off to war opportunities and trauma meant people moved around more than they had in centuries.
Was this child murderer a local who picked up the gun on his travels in the military? Someone who returned to the village to visit for a short time? Someone who knew the terrain and the lane and who saw Ms Drinkwater, watched her and returned to kill her. After the murder he left. Whoever he visited might have seen the leaving as natural as he now lived in another part of the country. Mr Hoyles would have been too young to remember the man from when he used to live locally.
A Case Review In 2020
In a Walesonline article former detectives got together and re examined the case. They came to the conclusion that the uncle and aunt killing Harries was a very likely candidate. In the article it also establishes that Harries was working for the Drinkwaters at the time. The text also stated that the DNA taken from the coat had been compared to the DNA of Harries but the results had been withheld. I would be very interested in what else they must know.
In the final analysis there is a DNA profile of the likely killer but of course it is now over 75 years since this awful crime took place. Anyone involved would now be dead. What a crushing blow all that must have been to Ms Drinkwater’s parents and sisters.
NB: Just a thought that I could not quite fit in anywhere. The gun that was used was a .45 calibre. That is a big, loud pistol. I cannot find any mention of gunshots. As the family home was only about 400 metres away and her mother was there, how come no-one mentions hearing any shots? If you know anything about this I would be grateful if you would tell me.