On this day in history : 22nd January 1962 – The start of the trial of James Hanratty – also known as the A6 Murderer – who is accused of the murder of Michael Gregsten….
The trial was to become one of the longest and most controversial in British legal history….
It was the 22nd of August 1961 ~ lovers Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie were sat in a parked car in a quiet spot near to Slough….when a gunman climbed into the back seat and ordered Gregsten to drive…. At around 1.30am he told Gregsten to pull in to a lay-by….
Saying he needed to sleep the gunman told the pair that he would have to tie them up…. Using Gregsten’s necktie he secured Valerie Storie’s hands behind her back…. Gregsten was then shot twice in the head. Valerie Storie was raped and shot five times in the shoulder and neck….leaving her paralysed. She was then left for dead, lying in the road next to Gregsten while the murderer made off in their car…. The car, a grey Morris Minor, was found abandoned in Ilford, Essex the following evening….
Gregsten and Storie were discovered at 6.45am on the morning of August 23rd by farm labourer Sydney Burton and John Kerr, an Oxford undergraduate, who was conducting a traffic census…. The police and an ambulance were called to the lay-by on the A6, at Deadman’s Hill, near to Luton, Bedfordshire…. A search of the area by police using sniffer dogs revealed two .38 cartridges….
During the following investigation a hotel room in Maida Vale was searched – that had been occupied the night prior to the murder by a Mr J. Ryan (who later turned out to be James Hanratty) and .38 cartridge cases were found. The murder weapon, a .38 revolver, had been found under a seat on a 36A London bus…. However, the hotel room had also been previously occupied by a Peter Louis Alphon – and he was publicly named as a murder suspect…. Alphon turned himself in to the police – but four days later was released as Valerie Storie failed to pick him out in an identity parade….
Hanratty was known to the police – he was a petty thief and car thief and was already facing a jail sentence for robbery…. On the 11th of October he was arrested in Blackpool on suspicion of Gregsten’s murder – and this time Valerie Storie identified him as the murderer….
At the trial the prosecution focused mainly on identification as there was no forensic evidence to connect Hanratty with the murder scene or the car…. Valerie Storie had said that the murderer had driven badly when leaving with the car – whereas Hanratty was an accomplished car thief…. He did not have a violent history and had never owned a gun…. He did not know either of the victims and had little motive to kill them…. He also claimed he was in Rhyl, North Wales at the time – some 200 miles away from the scene of the murder….
Despite there being no firm evidence and over nine hours of deliberation by the Jury, Hanratty was found guilty of the murder of Gregsten and the death sentence was passed…. He was hanged on the 4th of April 1962, confessing his innocence to the end, at Bedford Prison and was one of the last eight to face the hangman’s noose before the death penalty was abolished in Britain….
However, too many questions remained unanswered…. Hanratty’s family, lawyers and journalists began to dig deeper in to the case….and things just did not add up…. Then to add to the discrepancies Peter Louis Alphon confessed to the murder but later retracted his confession….
Hanratty’s family tried for over thirty years to gain a posthumous pardon and eventually in March 1999 the case was referred back to the Court of Criminal Appeal….and Hanratty’s remains were exhumed in order to obtain a DNA sample…. In March 2001 forensic experts matched two samples from the crime scene to that taken from Hanratty’s exhumed body….
On the 10th of May 2002 it was ruled by the Court that the conviction was sound – Hanratty’s guilt was established beyond doubt….
Valerie Storie survived the shooting – but spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She died in 2016….