Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Mystery of 1946 murder in woods

Clare Gabriel
BBC News website

Muriel Drinkwater
Muriel Drinkwater was last seen singing as she started walking home

She was a "brilliant scholar", a 12-year-old who hoped to be a teacher but instead she was raped and shot in the chest on her way home from school.

But this is not a story from 2008. It was 1946, and the murder of Muriel Joan Drinkwater remains unsolved.

The investigation into the murder of the Swansea farmer's daughter is now being revisited after scientists found a family DNA profile of her murderer.

After 62 years, her killer may at last be identified - alive or dead.

Muriel Drinkwater, the youngest of four girls, was heading for Tyle-Du Farm at Penllergaer on 27 June, 1946, and was about to start the mile-long lonely walk home through the woods.

She was last seen at 1430 BST singing as she got off the school bus.

But she never arrived home from Gowerton County School.

Every man in the village took part in an all-night search, but at 1630 BST the next day Muriel's body, still fully dressed in school clothes, was found in an isolated spot near a path in the wood just a quarter of a mile from her home

The Colt .45 automatic pistol used in the murder
The American army gun used in the murder was altered

However, the murder was not headline news of the day for the Western Mail newspaper - there were just three paragraphs printed about it on 29 June, 1946.

Two days later police had found the murder weapon near where the body was found.

Officers from the Glamorgan force, helped by Scotland Yard detectives, were still looking for another weapon believed to have been used to bludgeon Muriel about the head.

Three days later, on 2 July, 3,000 people went to Muriel's funeral at St David's Church in Penllergaer, with mourners, many of them women and young children who had travelled from miles around, gathered in the churchyard.

Posies

As Muriel's coffin was carried into the church followed by her family and classmates, the choir sang "There's a home for little children".

The chief constable sent a wreath and many women carried posies and sprays and flowers which they later placed on the grave.

The Western Mail reported Muriel's parents had been thinking of moving away, but decided against it because she was "so happy" at school.

Police Supt Charles Pugh said Muriel "a brilliant scholar" was last seen leaving her school bus at the gate of Penllergaer forestry.

Penllergaer Woods
The scene today - the woods where Muriel's body was found

A day later it was reported thousands of statements from had been taken and some men taken in for further investigations.

The post mortem examination showed Muriel had died of gunshot wounds to the chest and head injures.

A few days late on 6 July, 1946 it emerged the murder weapon was 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.

A similar weapon, officers said, had been used in the murder of a cinema manager in Bristol and the bullets used in both crimes were being compared.

Four days later police issued thousands of notices asking for help from the public.

Photos of the gun were handed out and police appealed for "good citizens" to inform them at once if they knew of anything which could help.

'Deliberately shielding'

A description of a man - about 30 with "thick fluffy hair and wearing brown corduroy trousers and a light brown sports jacket - whom officers want to question was given.

But the schoolgirl's murder was steadily slipping out of the headlines as no breakthrough was made.

In August, police appealed in the United States.

During the war, the Western Mail reported, many American servicemen were stationed at Penllergaer and it was thought one of them may have sold on the gun there.

"The opinion is strongly held that someone in the Penllergaer district knows about the weapon but is deliberately shielding the owner to withhold information," the newspaper said.

After 62 years, with the help of modern forensic techniques, we could finally be about to discover who murdered Muriel Drinkwater as she walked home from school.

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