Unsolved Murders

Mary Helen Hoyles

Age: 55

Sex: female

Date: 14 Feb 1945

Place: Exmouth Street, Southampton

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Mary Helen Hoyles was found dead in a Exmouth Street, a cul de sac off New Road near her lodgings in Southampton.

There were marks of injury around her face and neck and bruises on her legs and a superficial wound on her right knee. Her stocking had been torn and it as thought that she had been manually strangled.

She was last seen shortly after she left work at the American Red Cross Club in Southampton at 10.40pm on the Monday night, 12 February 1940. She had worked at the American Red Cross Club as a kitchen worker and when she left at 10.40pm she signed her timesheet.

She was seen shortly after by a policeman who knew her walking along with an American soldier.

It was also thought that she had been seen in the Above Bar at about 11pm with an American soldier, although the witness said that they were not certain that Mary Hoyles had been with the soldier as the soldier had been walking a little behind her. The witness said that the soldier had appeared the worse for drink. However, the witness did say that he saw the soldier say something to Mary Hoyles who replied to the soldier over her shoulder.

Mary Hoyles had lodged at 40 New Road, Southampton. It was noted that she would have had to walk passed Exmouth Street to have got home. Her route from the American Red Cross Club home would have taken her past Above Bar and then into New Road.

She had been about 5ft 4in tall with a medium build and medium brown hair. At the time of her murder she had been wearing an imitation animal skin coat with a small Red Cross badge pinned to it. She had had a greenish scarf on, a dark blue woollen frock, stockings and low-heeled shoes with green uppers and yellow piping.

It was also reported that Mary Hoyles had been seen in the Robert Burns public house with a soldier on the previous Thursday. She was known to go there on her days off, and the police said that they were looking for an American soldier who was about 35 years old, 5ft 8in tall with fair hair, staring and penetrating blue eyes and who was of average build.

Close to where she was found the police found a US Army cap that had been altered by the wearer to smarten its appearance and in which a number of hairs were found. The hairs were carefully preserved for later examination by experts.

After Mary Hoyles was found murdered, the police brought in some bloodhounds from a Hampshire dog breeder. The hounds were brought to the scene of the crime and given the scent from the cap which they had in an envelope. The cap was taken from the envelope and held to their muzzles and the dogs were then given the order, 'Find him!'. The dogs were also taken to a number of parade grounds in the search for the scent.

On 20 February 1945, an American naval seaman said that he had been in Southampton on the night of 12 February 1945, a Monday, with a girl and that as they had passed the entrance to Exmouth Street he had heard a muffled voice saying 'Don't kill me, please, please', but said that he didn't report it as he thought that it was a couple skylarking. He said that he had gone to sea the next day and that it wasn't until he got back that he heard about the murder.

The seaman and the girl that he had been with noted that they didn't see the couple in Exmouth Street, but did say that they had seen an American Soldier standing outside the Bay Tree Inn which was on the corner of Exmouth Street, leaning with his back to the pub wall. As a result, it was said that the police then considered the possibility that there had been two people involved, one man keeping a watch out whilst the other was with Mary Hoyles.

Amongst Mary Hoyles possessions the police found a number of notes which were branded the 'lovely you' notes. They were identified after another woman who had notes written in a similar handwriting came forward with a letter that she had been given but which was signed. After his name was discovered, the police made an appeal in the press for the soldier by name and a major search was made to find him. However, on 26 February 1945 an American Army private who was at the time serving in a military hospital in the South Midlands came forward as the writer. He said that he came forward as soon as he read in the newspaper that the police were wishing to interview him. The police went up to see him and then later ruled him out of the investigation, stating that they were satisfied that he had nothing to do with the murder and had been no-where near Southampton on the night of the murder. He said that he had not seen Mary Hoyles for several months. The notes had been handed to Mary Hoyles by the barmaid as, although she and other women worked in the kitchen at the back of the club, they could be seen from the main rooms and soldiers would often give notes to the barmaid who would pass them on.

At the conclusion of her inquest on 15 August 1945 a verdict of murder by some person or persons unknown was returned.

The investigation into her murder took six months and had involved 40 police forces in the country. During their search, the police had also taken their investigations to the continent.

Mary Hoyles had run a poultry farm, but the business failed after which she opened a small general shop in New Road, but it was destroyed in the Blitz in late 1940. She then took a number of jobs before starting at the American Club in May 1944.


*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.


see Manchester Evening News - Thursday 22 February 1945

see Western Morning News - Saturday 17 February 1945

see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 18 February 1945

see Evening Despatch - Thursday 22 February 1945

see Birmingham Mail - Monday 19 February 1945

see Manchester Evening News - Thursday 22 February 1945

see Western Morning News - Tuesday 20 February 1945

see Gloucestershire Echo - Thursday 16 August 1945

see Gloucester Citizen - Thursday 16 August 1945

see Southampton at War 1939-45 by John J Eddleston