On this day in history….22nd January 1962

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….

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James Hanratty – Fair use

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….

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Deadman’s Hill on the A6 – close to the lay-by and the murder scene….

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….

On this day in history….18th December 1985

On this day in history : 18th December 1985 – British born Kevin Barlow and Australian Brian Chambers face the death penalty in Malaysia after their appeal against conviction for drug smuggling is rejected….

The pair, who were both 28 years old and residents of Australia, were arrested in the November of 1983 at Penang International Airport with 180 grams of heroin in their possession…. Each blamed the other and pleaded innocence – however, at their trial in the following July both were found guilty….

The two men appealed the decision…. Barlow’s aunt, back in Britain, appealed directly to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and to the Foreign Office to intervene and seek clemency on their behalf…. But it was the Australian authorities who took the lead – headed by Bill Hayden, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and who was firmly against the death penalty…. However, the Supreme Court of Malaysia refused any leniency and upheld the ruling that they should be executed….

The Honourable Bill Hayden – Image credit : Ali Kazak 9 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite a last minute plea for a stay of execution from Australian Prime Minster Robert Hawke both men were hanged in Pudu Prison on the 7th of July 1986…. A law had been introduced in Malaysia in 1983 that if anyone was caught with more than 15g of heroin it carried a mandatory death penalty…. Barlow, a welder from Perth and Chambers, a building contractor from Sydney, were the first non-Malaysians to be hanged under the country’s strict drug laws…. In Australia a similar offence would have received a sentence of three years imprisonment…. After the executions relations between Australia and Malaysia soured….

On this day in history….14th November 1864

On this day in history : 14th November 1864 – German tailor Franz Muller is publicly hanged at Newgate Prison, for the murder of Thomas Briggs – the first killing on a British train….

Franz Muller – Public domain

On the 9th of July 1864 city banker Thomas Briggs had been travelling on the 9.50pm London Railway train between Fenchurch Street and Hackney Wick…. Train travel at the time was not without its risks – robberies were commonplace but as of yet nobody had been killed…. However, this was about to change…. Briggs was beaten, robbed of his gold spectacles, watch and chain…. He was then thrown from the train, to be later found by the driver of another train travelling in the opposite direction…. He was taken to a nearby public house but died of his injuries….

A pool of blood was found in the compartment of the train where Briggs had been sitting – along with a black beaver hat assumed belonging to the murderer…. Then John Death, a jeweller from Cheapside, gave a description of a German man who had exchanged a gold chain two days after the attack – this chain was identified as having belonged to Briggs….

Nine days after, by which time a substantial £300 reward had been offered, a cab driver by the name of Matthews came forward with information…. He claimed he had not heard about the murder (even though it had been widely publicised) – but said he had become suspicious about a jeweller’s box with Death’s name on it, in the possession of his future son-in-law…. The cab driver’s daughter was engaged to 24-year-old Franz Muller – and Matthews was able to provide a photograph of the German…. This was then identified by the jeweller as being the man who had exchanged the chain; a warrant was issued for Muller’s arrest….

However, Muller was now onboard a passenger liner heading for New York…. Fortunately two detectives from Scotland Yard managed to get passage on a much faster ship and were in New York three weeks before Muller – who was arrested upon his arrival….

Extradition was to prove a little tricky as diplomatic relations were not good between America and Britain at the time, due to the American Civil War…. But eventually Muller was brought back to face trial….

The trial caught the attention of the British public, who were becoming increasingly wary about the safety of travelling by train…. Many believed Matthews had only shopped his future son-in-law to get the reward money and speculated that he might even have been involved in the crime himself…. Much of the evidence against Muller was circumstantial and he pleaded not guilty, protesting his innocence throughout…. Nevertheless he was found guilty and sentenced to hang…. His was one of the last public executions and a large, unruly, drunken crowd of some 50,000 gathered to watch…. Muller’s last words were “Ich habe es getan” ~ “I did it”….

Engraving of Newgate Prison, early 1800s – Public domain

The case was to lead to the establishment of the communication cord onboard trains, giving passengers a way of contacting train staff…. Briggs had been murdered in a closed compartment with no way of exiting between stops…. As a result railway carriages were created with corridors….

On this day in history….28th October 1986

On this day in history : 28th October 1986 – Jeremy Bamber is jailed for life for the White House Farm murders – where he killed five members of his own family….

Bamber shortly after his arrest – Fair use

The Bambers were a wealthy farming family, living at White House Farm, a large Georgian property near to Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex…. Jeremy was legally adopted by the family as a baby…. Four years previously they had also adopted a baby girl, Sheila….

White House Farm (in 2007) – Image credit : Glyn Baker CC BY-SA 2.0

After leaving school Bamber’s adoptive father paid for him to travel to Australia and New Zealand…. Here he reputedly became involved in drug smuggling – and also broke into a jewellery shop, stealing two valuable watches….

Once he had returned to the UK and after a few casual jobs, Bamber began to work for the family farm…. However, he was resentful of the low wage – despite living rent free in one of the family’s cottages and having been given a car…. He further showed his lack of appreciation by committing a robbery at the caravan park owned by his family….

Bamber’s adoptive parents Neville and June Bamber – Fair use

Bamber’s adoptive sister, Sheila, had been treated in hospital for schizophrenia…. On the 7th of August 1985 at 3.30am 24-year-old Bamber phoned the police to say his father had phoned him and told him that Sheila had got hold of his gun and had gone berserk with it…. When the police arrived at the house they found her dead, with the gun lay on her chest – along with a Bible…. Her mother lay dead in the same room, her father was found dead in the kitchen and Sheila’s 6-year-old twin boys lay dead in their beds upstairs….

Sheila and her twin boys, Daniel and Caffell (around 1984) – Fair use

At first police believed that Sheila had killed them all before turning the gun on herself…. But when Bamber’s girlfriend came forward and said that he had talked about killing his parents forensic tests were carried out and revealed his fingerprints on the gun…. Bamber had been set to inherit £436,000….

As the guilty verdict was read out at Chelmsford Crown Court Bamber showed little reaction…. Judge Mr. Justice Drake described him as “Warped and evil beyond belief”…. He then handed down five life sentences….

Bamber has always protested his innocence…. In July 2001 an inquiry was launched into the case and it was referred back to the Court of Appeal…. In December 2002 Bamber lost his appeal….

On this day in history….24th October 1983

On this day in history : 24th October 1983 – Dennis Nilsen, a civil servant from North London, goes on trial at the Old Bailey – accused of six murders and two attempted murders….

Mug shot of Nilsen – Full Sutton Prison – Fair use

37-year-old Nilsen had been arrested after human remains were found in a blocked drain at his home in Muswell Hill…. The tenants at the flats had complained to the landlord about the drains smelling – it was a plumber who made the grisly discovery….

Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill – where Nilsen occupied an attic flat – Image credit : Chris Whippet CC BY-SA 2.0

After a search of Nilsen’s flat the remains of three bodies were found; the bones from at least eight others were discovered at his former home in Cricklewood, Northwest London…. Nilsen admitted to further murders, telling police he had killed fifteen or sixteen….

Nilsen would meet his victims in pubs; they were always male – some were homeless, some were homosexual and some were prostitutes…. He would invite them back to his flat for a drink – and would then strangle them using a tie or electrical cable…. He would usually spend the night lying in bed beside the corpse and would invariably have, or attempt to have, sex with it….

He disposed of the bodies in a variety of ways…. He hid them under floorboards, in a wardrobe, in suitcases and even under the sink…. Having spent eleven years in the Army he had learned butchery skills in the Catering Corps…. He cut up many of his victims, burying limbs in the garden – or burning body parts on a bonfire…. He even flushed remains down the toilet….

Fair use

When Nilsen came to trial he pleaded not guilty to all charges, citing diminished responsibility due to a mental defect…. The jury retired on the 3rd of November to deliberate but were unable to reach a unanimous verdict…. The next day the judge agreed to accept a majority verdict and at 4.25pm on the 4th of November a guilty verdict was delivered an all six counts of murder…. Nielsen was sentenced to life in prison and it was ordered that he should not be eligible for parole for 25 years….

During his time in prison Nilsen wrote his autobiography History of the Drowning Man – but this was denied publication…. On the 12th of May 2018 he died of a pulmonary embolism (a blockage in an artery of the lungs)….