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James HANRATTY

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The A6 Killer"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 22, 1961
Date of arrest: October 11, 1961
Date of birth: October 4, 1936
Victim profile: Michael John Gregsten, 36
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Deadman's Hill, Bedfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Bedford Gaol on April 4, 1962
 
 
 
 
 
 

photo gallery 1

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The Supreme Court of Judicature
Court of Appeal

 

Regina, Respondent - and - James Hanratty deceased, Apellant

 
 
 
 
 
 

James Hanratty (October 4, 1936 April 4, 1962) was the eighth last person in Britain to be hanged for murder (the last two being Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans in 1964) after being convicted of carrying out the notorious 1961 "A6 murder".

Hanratty was a professional car thief, convicted of the murder of Michael Gregsten and the rape of Valerie Storie at Deadman's Hill on the A6, near the village of Ampthill, Bedfordshire, England, on August 22, 1961.

Ever since, he has been a cause celebre for opponents of the death penalty, who maintain that he was innocent, and sought to draw attention to evidence that would cast doubt on the validity of his conviction. However, in 2002, following an appeal by his family, modern DNA testing of his exhumed corpse, family members, and evidence from the case convinced Court of Appeal judges in 2002 that his guilt was proved "beyond doubt".

The Murder

These are the basic facts about the murder:

Michael Gregsten was a scientist at the Road Research Laboratory at Slough.

Valerie Storie was an assistant at the same laboratory, and was having an affair with Gregsten.

Michael Gregsten's grey 1956 Morris Minor was found abandoned that evening behind Redbridge Tube Station in London.

Witness Testimony of Valerie Storie

On Tuesday, 22 August 1961, Gregsten and Storie were in his car, making love, in a cornfield, at Dorney Reach, when someone tapped on the car window.

Gregsten wound down the window, and a large black revolver was shoved into his face, and a cockney voice said, "This is a hold-up, I am a desperate man, I have been on the run for four months. If you do as I tell you, you will be all right."

The man got in the car, told Gregsten to drive further into the field, then stop. The man then kept them there for two hours, with a constant stream of nagging, mindless chatter.

At 23:30, the man said he wanted food, and told Gregsten to start driving. They drove around the suburbs of North London, apparently aimlessly.

The gunman knew the Bear Hotel, Maidenhead.

The car was ordered to stop at a milk vending machine, then Gregsten was sent into a shop to buy cigarettes, then stop at a petrol station for more fuel.

Although Gregsten and Storie offered to give him all their money and the car, the man seemed to have no plan, and seemed to want them to stay with him.

The journey passed along the A5 through St Albans which the gunman mistakenly insisted was Watford before joining the A6.

At about 01:30, the car was on the A6, travelling south, when the man said he wanted a 'kip' (sleep). Twice he told Gregsten to turn off the road, and then changed his mind each time, and the car returned to the A6.

Then, at Deadman's Hill, the man ordered Gregsten to pull into a layby. Gregsten at first refused, but the man became aggressive and threatened them with the gun.

The man said he wanted to sleep, but said he would have to tie them up. Storie and Gregsten pleaded with him not to shoot them.

The man then proceeded to tie Storie's hands behind her back with Gregsten's tie. The man then saw a bag in the rear of the car with some rope. He told Gregsten to pass the bag; as Gregsten did so, the gun went off, killing Gregsten.

After a short while, he ordered Storie into the back, over Gregsten's body, and raped her, then forced her to drag Gregsten's body out of the car.

The man then told Storie to show him how to drive the car. It was clear the man had not driven before, as he did not know how to start the car, nor how to use the pedals or gears properly.

This failing, he then ordered Storie out of the car and next to Gregsten's body. She pleaded for her life, and then took a pound note from her pocket and screamed, "Here, take this, take the car and go."

The man then emptied the gun at her in the darkness. Most of the rounds missed, but she was hit in the legs. She slumped down next to Gregsten, and pretended to be dead.

Valerie Storie then heard the man drive off with much crashing of gears, and lay there petrified, finally passing out three hours later. She was discovered by a farm labourer at 06:45 next morning. He ran down the road and summoned John Kerr, a student occupied with taking a road census further down the road. Kerr flagged down two cars, shouting at them to get an ambulance.

The Investigation

The first policeman on the scene was handed a piece of paper, a census form. Kerr had written down Valerie Storie's gasped account of what she recalled at that moment. The document was never seen again. She gave another statement to the police later that morning, just before she underwent surgery in Bedford Hospital.

Almost at once, the evidence began to accumulate oddities. Valerie recalled what the man has said about being on the run for four months, yet he was immaculately dressed in a three-piece dark suit and with well-shone shoes. Also, there appeared to be a complete lack of motive.

On 23 August Audrey Willis was threatened in her home in Knebworth by a gunman with a long thin face and sallow complexion aged about 30. Incredibly he repeated this on 2 April 1962 claiming to be the A6 murderer.

The gun was then recovered on the evening of August 24, under the back seat of a 36A London bus, fully loaded and wiped clean of fingerprints.

The police put out an appeal to boarding-house keepers, to report any strange or suspicious guests. One hotel owner reported a man who had locked himself in his room for five days after the murder, and the police picked him up, and he said his name was Frederick Durrant, but that turned out to be false and he was actually called Peter Alphon. He claimed he had spent the evening of 22 August with his mother and the next night in a scruffy hotel in Maida Vale called the 'Vienna'. This checked out and he was released.

On 29 August, Valerie Storie (who was now paralysed from the waist down from her injuries), and another witness, Edward Blackall, who had seen the driver of the Morris Minor, compiled an Identikit picture which was then released. However, two days later, she gave an entirely different description to police.

Meike Dalal was attacked in her home in Richmond on 7 September by a man claiming to be the A6 murderer (whom she identified as Alphon in an identity parade on 23 September).

The investigation stalled then until 11 September, when the owner of the Vienna Hotel, Maida Vale, found two cartridge cases in the guest basement bedroom, which were matched to the bullets that killed Gregsten and also matched the ones in the gun found on the bus.

The owner, William Nudds, made a statement to police naming the last occupant of the room as James Ryan. At the trial Nudds also stated that the man, upon leaving, had asked the way to a bus stop for a 36A bus, his statement to police had merely mentioned the 36 bus.

Nudds' statement also said that Alphon had stayed in the hotel as he claimed, but had stayed in his room, room 6, all night The police raided the hotel, and requisitioned Nudds, who then changed his story, claiming Alphon had in fact been in the basement, Ryan had been in room 6, but then the two had swapped rooms during the night. Nudds also now said that Alphon had left 'calm and composed'.

The police then took the unusual step of publicly naming Alphon as the murder suspect. Alphon subsequently turned himself in, and was subjected to an intensive interrogation. Valerie Storie failed then to pick Alphon out of an identity parade, and he was released four days later. During the four days he was held on the charge of assaulting Meike Dalal, he is recorded by PC Ian Thomson as saying "there can't have been any fingerprints in the car otherwise mine would have given me away".

Police went back to Nudds, the hotel owner, who now said that his second statement was a lie, and his first statement, implicating Ryan, was in fact true. His reason for lying was that he had seen Alphon was the police's prime suspect and wanted to assist the police case.

After some investigation, Ryan turned out to be James Hanratty, a petty car thief and robber, who in fact was facing a six year jail sentence for robbery. He phoned Scotland Yard, saying he ran because he had no credible alibi for the time in question, but repeated several times that he had nothing to do with it.

He was eventually caught in Blackpool on October 11, and on October 14 Valerie Storie picked him out of an Identity Parade, after each of the men in the parade had repeated the phrase used by the murderer, "Be quiet, will you, I'm thinking."

Hanratty was charged with the murder of Gregsten, and his trial started at Bedfordshire Assizes on 22 January 1962. The trial venue was originally planned for the Old Bailey and there is no explanation of why the trial was switched to Bedfordshire, where there was, understandably, strong prejudice against the assailant. Among the prosecution team at the trial was Geoffrey Lane, who would later be appointed Lord Chief Justice.

The Trial

Hanratty initially put up a defence that he was in Liverpool on the day of the murder, but then, halfway through the trial changed part of his story, claiming in fact that he was in Rhyl in North Wales. This was odd, as his defence appeared initially to be good. There was no conclusive forensic evidence (although using modern DNA testing it was subsequently proven that DNA found on the exhibits from the scene was that of Hanratty) to connect Hanratty to the car or the murder scene.

Although the blood group of the murderer was the same as Hanratty's, it was a common blood type shared by half the population, and there was no evidence that Hanratty had ever been in the Maidenhead area. Although he was a professional thief, he had no convictions for violence, and apparently had never had a gun. Moreover, the murderer drove badly, whereas Hanratty was an experienced car thief. Hanratty did not know either of the two victims, and had no logical motive to commit the murder.

First Defence The Liverpool Alibi

Hanratty claimed that he was staying with friends in Liverpool at the time of the murder, but never identified those people involved. The best evidence was that he was there at least on the afternoon of the 22nd.

Hanratty claimed that his suitcase had been handed in to Lime Street Station to a 'man with a withered or turned hand'. At the trial the prosecution called Peter Stringer, who had an artificial arm, and not unnaturally denied ever having seen the suitcase or Hanratty. However, there was another person called William Usher, who did have two fingers missing from one hand, which looked 'turned'. he did admit to remembering Hanratty and the suitcase, remembered the name of the man as 'Ratty', and was located by private detectives working for the defence, but was never called as a witness.

Hanratty said he had called into a sweet shop on Scotland Road, and asked directions to 'Carleton' or 'Tarleton' Road. The Police tracked down a Mrs Dinwoodie, who did indeed run a sweetshop on Scotland Road, who recalled a man like Hanratty asking for directions. However, she was unsure whether it was Monday 21st or Tuesday 22nd.

On the other hand, there was also plenty of evidence he had been in London all day Monday 21st. In the morning he had definitely collected a suit from a dry cleaners in Swiss Cottage, definitely been to Charles France's house on the Monday afternoon, and at the Vienna Hotel in the evening. This means if he was in London till late Monday, the defence claimed that he could not have travelled to Liverpool to the sweetshop incident and then back in time to commit the murder at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

However, there was still doubt where Hanratty spent the evening of Tuesday 22nd.

Then, just before the Defence opened its case, Hanratty changed part of his alibi.

Second Defence The Rhyl Alibi

Hanratty stated to his defence barrister that he had invented part of the Liverpool story as he was unsure he could prove where he was. He then stated in actual fact he had been in the Welsh coastal town of Rhyl.

Within a few days, the defence had checked and assembled a new alibi for Hanratty. According to the new alibi, Hanratty had gone to Rhyl to sell a stolen watch to a 'fence'. He had arrived there late in the evening of Tuesday 22nd, and stayed in a boarding house near the railway station, in the attic room, which had a green bath.

Private detectives tracked down a Mrs Grace Jones, a landlady with a guest house whose layout exactly matched the description given by Hanratty, including the green bath in the attic. She remembered a man resembling Hanratty, and was sure it was during the week of 19-26th August.

Following the prosecutions dropping the books leaves all over the court, her hotel registers and accounts were in chaos, and little information could be extracted from them, and worse, the prosecution produced a string of witnesses that showed all the rooms were fully occupied at the time. The prosecution accused Mrs Jones of lying simply to gain publicity for her guest house, leaving her almost in tears.

However, counsel for the defence managed to salvage something, showing in fact the attic was empty on the night of 22nd and a bedroom exactly described by Hanratty was free on 23rd, showing that he could have stayed there as claimed.

Eventually, the jury retired, and after six hours returned to ask the judge for the definition of 'reasonable doubt'. They returned to the court and entered a unanimous verdict of guilty, after nine hours.

Hanratty's appeal was dismissed on March 9, and despite a petition signed by more than 90,000 people, Hanratty was hanged at Bedford on 4 April 1962, still protesting his innocence.

Evidential anomalies

Prosecution Evidence

In the second line up, Valerie Storie picked Hanratty (though she admitted she only ever saw the face of the man for a second or two in the lights of a car headlamp while he raped her).

John Silkett picked out Hanratty as the driver of the Morris Minor as it sped down Eastern Avenue (his companion, Edward Blackall had a closer view of the man, did not).

James Trower identified Hanratty as driving the Morris as it turned into Redbridge Lane (Trower's companion was adamant that Trower couldn't have seen him from where they were standing).

Another prosecution witness was Roy Langdale. He was serving time in prison, and claimed that Hanratty confessed to him (two other persons that Hanratty exercised with said that Hanratty consistently denied any involvement).

Charlie France, a friend of Hanratty's, testified that Hanratty had said to him once that 'the back seat of a bus was a good place to hide something'.

Defence Evidence

No witnesses were able to place Hanratty in the vicinity of Dorney Reach (Valerie Storie excepted)

Elsie Cobb said that around 14:30 on 21 August she saw a man passing her house who she described as aged 27 to 30, 5 foot 6 with dark hair brushed back and a thin nose. Her neighbour Frederick Newell added that the man had a sallow complexion.

The gunman said "I've been in institutions since I was eight", Hanratty would never use words like "institutions".

Mary Lanz proprietor of the Old Station Inn, Taplow where Gregsten and Storie had last been before the cornfield was later able to identify Alphon as having also been there.

Even if you disregard the Rhyl alibi, Hanratty's meeting with Olive Dinwoodie would make his presence in Dorney Reach by 9 p.m. extremely implausible.

On Thursday 24 August at 20:40 Hanratty sent a telegram from Lime Street, Liverpool in which he purported to be in London

In the first line up, Valerie Storie picked out with total certainty an innocent sailor instead of the police suspect Alphon

In the second line up, Hanratty stood out as his hair was bright orange and the police were so concerned about this they considered acquiring skullcaps

Although the cartridge cases were found in the Hotel Vienna, no one ever adequately explained how they came to be there the day before the murder.

Hanratty disposed of his suit jacket 6 weeks after the crime, Alphon disposed of his raincoat straightaway.

Unlike the gunman's description of himself, Hanratty had never lived in a house with a cellar (let alone been locked in one and given only bread and water), was not coming up for PD, had not served five years for housebreaking and had already been in prison on the Isle of Wight.

Valerie Storie had said that Jim was obviously not the gunman's real name despite what the gunman claimed.

Juliana Galves said she saw Alphon with a pair of black gloves on his suitcase during his stay in the Vienna.

Peter Alphon wrote to the Daily Express in 1962 saying he believed Hanratty was innocent and he supported a reprieve.

Peter Alphon wrote to the Home Secretary in 1962 saying "I killed Gregsten".

In her original statement, Valerie Storie states the man who abducted her was in his 30s, whereas in her second statement she changed this to 'mid 20s'. Hanratty was 25 but Alphon was 31.

Evidence emerging after Hanratty's execution

A group of people called the 'A6 Defence Committee' was set up to assist Hanratty in his defence. It was instrumental in deriving new evidence, albeit too late. Twelve years after the execution, the A6 Committee found the original statement made by Valerie Storie. This statement was not referred to or available during the trial or the appeal.

By 1968, the A6 Committee had found 6 substantial witnesses to show Hanratty had in fact been to Rhyl. They had also found a fairground worker called Terry Evans who admitted to letting Hanratty stay at his house early in 1961, and to fencing a stolen watch for Hanratty.

Another man, Trevor Dutton, had just made a payment into his bank account, and consequently his bank book was stamped with the correct date, 23 August, when minutes later he was approached by a man with a cockney accent in a smart suit, trying to sell a gold watch.

The problem here for the conviction was that there were now six witnesses who could positively say they had seen or spoken to Hanratty on the 23rd, and what is more, the day in question was the only day that all six were in Rhyl at the same time.

Who killed Gregsten?

During 1962, the case caught the interest of a businessman called Jean Justice, whose hobby was the Law. Justice tracked Peter Alphon in February 1962, and began a long friendship with him, for the purposes of establishing the truth.

Very slowly, over the months, Alphon began to confess to Justice, including drawing diagrams of the murder scene and knowing precise details of the events on Deadman's Hill. Justice took the precaution of making thorough notes, and recording all telephone conversations with Alphon. When Alphon found out, he flew into a rage. As it got closer to Hanratty's execution date, Alphon's behaviour became more and more bizarre. He started to bombard his own solicitor with threatening phone calls and letters, and Charles France was also bombarded with phone calls, saying on several occasions, "If Hanratty dies, you die."

France committed suicide about two weeks before the execution, pouring spite and venom in a suicide letter to Hanratty, but at no point actually accusing him of committing the murder.

Alphon's Account

Eventually, Alphon's continued confessions formed a picture. According to him, a man had paid him a sum of 5,000 to end the affair between Gregsten and Storie. Another man obtained a gun for Alphon, and Alphon had set off and hijacked the pair. According to Alphon, he gave Gregsten two chances to get away but "each time the bloody man kept coming back".

He claimed the gun went off by accident. There was a plan for this eventuality. Alphon says he travelled to Southend, and gave the gun to France, who would dispose of it. France had a grudge against Hanratty, as he had had an affair with France's daughter, so he planted the gun under the bus seat and the two cartridges in the hotel.

On 22 August 1962 Alphon visited the Hanratty family and offered to compensate them for their son's death. They threw him out of their house and in a fracas the following day, Alphon assaulted Mary Hanratty. A BBC Panorama programme in 1966 included extracts from the Jean Justice tapes.

In May 1967 there was a bizarre press conference, in which Alphon confessed to the world media and related the full story of the gun, the 5,000 and France's involvement. Alphon stuck with his confession and continued to propagate it up to approximately 1971. Sceptics noted that he had been paid considerable sums of money by Justice, and recanted after he had secured his payments.

However Bob Woffinden writes (in Chapter 20 at page 332 in the paperback) there was only one occasion when Justice and Jeremy Fox supported Alphon financially (when Fox paid a hotel bill for him). Alphon was also to decline money and publicity when offered the opportunity to appear on national TV being interviewed by David Frost on 16 November 1967.

Eventually, the A6 Committee made a list of facts that, in their view, pointed towards Alphon being the killer:

Alphon resembles the identikit pictures more than Hanratty did.

When stressed, Alphon lapses into cockney.

He never produced a convincing alibi to the police.

He provides a more credible motive than Hanratty can.

He is a poor driver.

Paul Foot obtained a copy of his bank account, showing that Alphon did indeed receive payments in cash totalling 7,569 between October 1961 and June 1962. Alphon is unable to account for 5,000 of these payments.

The A6 Committee have also pointed out that the police have consistently refused to investigate Alphon's confessions and credibility in the light of the new evidence.

Official Inquiries

Three Home Office inquiries have been set up. Detective Superintendent Douglas Nimmo reported on 22 March 1967, Lewis Hawser QC reported on 10 April 1975 and Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Matthews reported on 29 May 1996. The Home Secretary Roy Jenkins received the first two and Michael Howard received the third.

On 19 March 1997, the Home Office referred the case to the new Criminal Cases Review Commission where Baden Skitt chaired the investigation.

DNA evidence and appeal in 2002

In 1991 Bedfordshire Police allowed Bob Woffinden access to their previously undisclosed files on the case. The CCRC report had also revealed the mileage on the Morris Minor which invalidated Skillet's sighting in Brentwood and Trower's in Redbridge Lane. Bob Woffinden writes that there is no evidence that they even saw the same Morris Minor. These anomalies were considered sufficiently significant to justify an appeal against the conviction on behalf of Hanratty's family.

The surviving exhibits were lost until 1991 when they were found in envelopes in a laboratory drawer. DNA was donated by Hanratty's relatives, which they expected to exonerate him when compared with material on surviving evidence. Results from testing in June 1999 were said to be equivocal. In addition Hanratty's body was exhumed in 2001 in order to extract DNA.

This was compared with mucus preserved in the handkerchief within which the murder weapon had been found wrapped. It was also compared with semen preserved in the panties worn by Storie when she was raped. No forensic evidence from the crime had ever been linked to Hanratty, yet both matched Hanratty's DNA.

At the subsequent appeal hearing the barrister acting for the Hanratty family claimed that the evidence may have been contaminated because of lax handling procedures. Amongst the surviving evidence a vial had been broken which could account for contamination. This argument was dismissed as "fanciful" by the judges, who concluded that the "DNA evidence, standing alone, is certain proof of guilt".

Hanratty's family and their supporters have continued to contest this conclusion.

Sources and references

  • Louis Blom-Cooper The A6 Murder (1963) ISBN B0000CLMCA

  • Jean Justice Murder Vs Murder - the English legal system and the A6 case (1964) ISBN 0861846711

  • Lord Russell of Liverpool Deadman's Hill - was Hanratty guilty? (1965) ISBN B0000CMR21

  • Jean Justice Le Crime de la Route A6 (1968) ISBN B0000DQ7SP

  • Paul Foot Who Killed Hanratty? (1973) ISBN 0586038132

  • Bob Woffinden Hanratty: The Final Verdict (1997) Macmillan ISBN 0330353012.

  • Bob Woffinden Hanratty: The Final Verdict (1999) Pan Books ISBN 0330353012.

  • Leonard Miller Shadows of Deadman's Hill (2001) ISBN 1902878221.

 
 

James Hanratty (4 October 1936, Bromley, Kent 4 April 1962, Bedford Prison, Bedford) was the seventh-to-last person in England and Wales (the eighth-to-last in the United Kingdom) to be hanged for murder after being convicted of carrying out the 1961 "A6 murder" committed on the main path at Maulden Wood. The guilt of the later convicts was never in doubt, but Hanratty's guilt has been disputed.

Hanratty, a professional car thief, was convicted of the murder of Michael Gregsten at Deadman's Hill on the A6, near the village of Clophill, Bedfordshire, England, on 23 August 1961. Gregsten's companion Valerie Storie had been raped and shot. She survived but was paralysed by her injuries. Charges on these additional crimes were kept in reserve.

The case for Hanratty's innocence was pursued by his family as well as by some of the opponents of capital punishment in the United Kingdom, who maintained that Hanratty was innocent and sought to draw attention to evidence that would cast doubt on the validity of his conviction. However, following an appeal by his family, modern testing of DNA from his exhumed corpse and members of his family convinced Court of Appeal judges in 2002 that his guilt was proved "beyond doubt". Paul Foot and some other campaigners continued to believe in Hanratty's innocence and argued that the DNA evidence could have been contaminated, noting that the small DNA samples from items of clothing, kept in a police laboratory for over 40 years "in conditions that do not satisfy modern evidential standards", had had to be subjected to very new amplification techniques in order to yield any genetic profile. However, no DNA other than Hanratty's was found on the evidence tested, contrary to what would have been expected had the evidence indeed been contaminated.

Hanratty's family continue to press for a review of his conviction.

The murder

Michael J. Gregsten (28 December 1924 - 23 August 1961) was a scientist at the Road Research Laboratory at Slough who lived with his wife and two children at Abbots Langley. Valerie Storie (born in Slough on 24 November 1938) was an assistant at the same laboratory, and was having an affair with Gregsten, although this did not become public knowledge until much later. Michael Gregsten's body was discovered in the lay-by on the A6 at Deadman's Hill, near the Bedfordshire village of Clophill, at about 6:30 on 23 August 1961. Valerie Storie was lying next to him semi-conscious. The evening after the murder, Michael Gregsten's grey 1956 Morris Minor was found abandoned behind Redbridge tube station in Essex.

Testimony of Valerie Storie

On Tuesday, 22 August 1961, Gregsten and Storie were sitting in his car in a cornfield at Dorney Reach in Buckinghamshire when someone tapped on the car window. Gregsten wound it down. A large black revolver was thrust into his face, and a cockney voice said, "This is a hold-up, I am a desperate man, I have been on the run for four months. If you do as I tell you, you will be all right." The man got in the car and told Gregsten to drive further into the field, then stop. The man then kept them there for two hours, with a constant stream of chatter. At 23:30, the man said he wanted food, and told Gregsten to start driving. They drove around the suburbs of North London, apparently aimlessly. The gunman knew the Bear Hotel, Maidenhead. The car was ordered to stop at a milk vending machine, then Gregsten was sent into a shop to buy cigarettes, then stop at a petrol station for more fuel. Although Gregsten and Storie offered to give him all their money and the car, the man seemed to have no plan and seemed to want them to stay with him.

The journey continued along the A5 through St Albans, which the gunman mistakenly insisted was Watford, before joining the A6. At about 01:30, the car was on the A6, travelling south, when the man said he wanted a 'kip' (sleep). Twice he told Gregsten to turn off the road and then changed his mind, and the car returned to the A6. At Deadman's Hill the man ordered Gregsten to pull into a layby. He at first refused, but the man became aggressive and threatened them with the gun. The man said he wanted to sleep, but said he would have to tie them up. Storie and Gregsten pleaded with him not to shoot them. The man tied Storie's hands behind her back with Gregsten's tie and then saw a bag in the rear of the car with some rope. He told Gregsten to pass the bag but, as Gregsten moved, there were two shots. Gregsten was hit twice in the head and died more or less instantly. According to Storie's testimony, when she asked the gunman why he had shot Gregsten he replied that Gregsten had frightened him by turning too quickly.

After a short while, he ordered Storie into the back, over Gregsten's body, and raped her, then forced her to drag Gregsten's body out of the car. The man then told Storie to show him how to drive the car. It was clear the man either had not driven before or at least was unfamiliar with this model of car, as he did not know how to start it or how to use the pedals or gears properly. This failing, he then ordered Storie out of the car and next to Gregsten's body. She pleaded for her life, and then took a pound note from her pocket and screamed, "Here, take this, take the car and go." The man then emptied the gun at Storie in the darkness. Of approximately seven bullets fired, five hit her body (causing injuries that were to paralyse her permanently from the waist down). She slumped down next to Gregsten, and pretended to be dead. Valerie Storie then heard the man drive off with much crashing of gears, and lay there petrified, finally passing out three hours later. She was discovered by a farm labourer, Sydney Burton, at 06:45 next morning. He ran down the road and summoned John Kerr, a student occupied with taking a road census. Kerr flagged down two cars, shouting at them to get an ambulance.

The investigation

The first policeman on the scene was handed a piece of paper, a census form. Kerr had written down Storie's gasped account of what she recalled at that moment. The document was never seen again. She gave another statement to the police later that morning, just before she underwent surgery in Bedford Hospital. Almost at once, the evidence began to throw up anomalies. Storie recalled what the man had said about being on the run for four months, yet he was immaculately dressed in a dark three-piece suit and with well-shone shoes. Also, there appeared to be a complete lack of motive.

The gun was then recovered on the evening of 24 August, under the back seat of a 36A London bus, fully loaded and wiped clean of fingerprints. There was also a handkerchief found with the gun which was to provide DNA evidence many years later. The police put out an appeal to boarding-house keepers to report any strange or suspicious guests. One hotel manager reported a man who had locked himself in his room for five days after the murder, and the police picked him up, and he said his name was Frederick Durrant, but this turned out to be false and he was actually called Peter L. Alphon. He claimed he had spent the evening of 22 August with his mother, and the following night in a scruffy hotel in Maida Vale called the 'Vienna'. The police quickly confirmed this and Alphon was released.

On 29 August, Valerie Storie and another witness, Edward Blackall, who had seen the driver of the Morris Minor, compiled a Identikit picture which was then released. However, two days later, she gave a different description to police.

Meik Dalal was attacked in her home in Richmond, Surrey, on 7 September by a man claiming to be the A6 murderer (whom she identified as Alphon in an identity parade on 23 September). The investigation stalled then until 11 September, when the owner of the Vienna Hotel, Maida Vale, found two cartridge cases in the guest basement bedroom, which were matched to the bullets that killed Gregsten and also matched the ones in the gun found on the bus. The manager, William Nudds, made a statement to police naming the last occupant of the room as James Ryan. At the trial Nudds also stated that the man, upon leaving, had asked the way to a bus stop for a 36A bus, though his statement to police had merely mentioned the 36 bus. Nudds' statement also said that Alphon had stayed in the hotel as he claimed, but had stayed in his room, Room 6, all night The police raided the hotel, and questioned Nudds again, who then changed his story, claiming that Alphon had in fact been in the basement and Ryan in Room 6, but then the two had swapped rooms during the night. Nudds also now said that Alphon had left 'calm and composed'.

The police then took the unusual step of publicly naming Alphon as the murder suspect. Alphon subsequently turned himself in, and was subjected to an intensive interrogation. Valerie Storie failed to pick him out of an identity parade, and he was released four days later. During the four days he was held on the charge of assaulting Meike Dalal, he is recorded by PC Ian Thomson as saying "there can't have been any fingerprints in the car otherwise mine would have given me away". Police went back to Nudds, the hotel employee (himself the owner of a criminal record for fraud), who now said that his second statement was a lie, and his first statement, implicating Ryan, was in fact true. His reason for lying was that he had seen that Alphon was the police's prime suspect and wanted to assist their case. After some investigation, Ryan turned out to be James Hanratty, a car thief and burglar, who in fact was wanted on suspicion of two offences of burglary. He phoned Scotland Yard, saying he ran because he had no credible alibi for the time in question, but repeated several times that he had nothing to do with it. He was eventually caught in Blackpool on 11 October, and on 14 October Valerie Storie picked him out of an identity parade, after each of the men in the parade had repeated the phrase used by the murderer, "Be quiet, will you? I'm thinking." Hanratty, with his cockney accent, pronounced thinking as 'finking', as had the murderer.

The trial

Hanratty was charged with the murder of Gregsten, and his trial started at Bedfordshire Assizes on 22 January 1962. It had originally been planned for the Old Bailey, and it is not known why it was re-sited to Bedfordshire, where there was, unsurprisingly, strong feeling against the defendant. Among the prosecution team at the trial was Geoffrey Lane, who was subsequently appointed Lord Chief Justice.

Hanratty's initial defence was that he had been in Liverpool on the day of the murder, but then, halfway through the trial, he changed part of his story, claiming that he had in fact been in Rhyl in North Wales. At that time there was no conclusive forensic evidence to connect Hanratty with the car or the murder scene. Although Hanratty's blood group was the same as the murderer's, it was a common blood type shared by half the population, and there was no evidence that Hanratty had ever been in the Maidenhead area. Although he was a professional thief, he had no convictions for violence, and apparently had never had a gun. Moreover, the murderer drove badly, whereas Hanratty was an experienced car thief. Hanratty did not know either of the two victims, and did not appear to have any logical motive to commit the murder.

First defence The Liverpool alibi

Hanratty claimed that he was staying with friends in Liverpool at the time of the murder, but never identified the people involved. The best evidence was that he was there at least on the afternoon of the 22nd. Hanratty claimed that his suitcase had been handed in to Lime Street Station by a 'man with a withered or turned hand'. At the trial the prosecution called Peter Stringer, who had an artificial arm, but who denied ever having seen the suitcase or Hanratty. However, there was another person called William Usher, who did have two fingers missing from one hand, which looked withered. He did admit to remembering Hanratty and the suitcase, and remembered the name of the man as 'Ratty'; he was located by private detectives working for the defence, but was never called as a witness.

Hanratty said he had called into a sweetshop in Scotland Road and asked directions to 'Carleton' or 'Tarleton' Road. The Police tracked down a Mrs Dinwoodie, who did indeed run a sweetshop in Scotland Road, who recalled a man like Hanratty asking for directions. However, she was unsure whether it was Monday 21st or Tuesday 22nd. On the other hand, there was also plenty of evidence that Hanratty had been in London all day on Monday 21st. In the morning he had definitely collected a suit from a dry cleaners' in Swiss Cottage; he had definitely been to his friend Charles France's house on the Monday afternoon, and at the Vienna Hotel in the evening. This defence therefore claimed that he could not have travelled to Liverpool to the sweetshop incident and then back in time to commit the murder at 9 p.m. on Tuesday. However, there was still doubt where Hanratty spent the evening of Tuesday 22nd. Just before the defence opened its case, Hanratty changed part of his alibi.

Second defence The Rhyl alibi

Hanratty stated to his defence barrister that he had invented part of the Liverpool story as he was unsure he could prove where he was. He then stated that he had in fact been in the Welsh coastal town of Rhyl. Within a few days, the defence had checked and assembled a new alibi for Hanratty. According to this, Hanratty had gone to Rhyl to sell a stolen watch to a 'fence'. He had arrived there late in the evening of Tuesday 22nd and had stayed in a boarding house near the railway station, in the attic room, which had a green bath. Private detectives tracked down a Mrs Grace Jones, a landlady with a guest house whose layout exactly matched the description given by Hanratty, including the green bath in the attic. She remembered a man resembling Hanratty, and was sure it was during the week of 19-26 August.

Following the prosecution's dropping of the book's leaves all over the court, her hotel registers and accounts were in chaos, and little information could be extracted from them; and worse, the prosecution produced a string of witnesses who showed that all the rooms were fully occupied at the time. The prosecution accused Mrs Jones of lying simply to gain publicity for her guest house, leaving her almost in tears. However, counsel for the defence managed to salvage something, showing in fact the attic was empty on the night of the 22nd and a bedroom exactly described by Hanratty was free on the 23rd, showing that he could have stayed there as claimed. Eventually, the jury retired, and after six hours returned to ask the judge for the definition of 'reasonable doubt'. They returned to the court and entered a unanimous verdict of guilty, after nine hours. Hanratty's appeal was dismissed on 13 March, and despite a petition signed by more than 90,000 people, Hanratty was hanged at Bedford on 4 April 1962, still protesting his innocence.

Evidential anomalies

Prosecution evidence

  • In the second line up, Valerie Storie picked Hanratty (though she admitted she only ever saw the face of the man for a second or two in the lights of a car headlamp while he raped her).

  • John Skillet picked out Hanratty as the driver of the Morris Minor as it sped down Eastern Avenue (his companion, Edward Blackall, who had a closer view of the man, did not).

  • James Trower identified Hanratty as driving the Morris as it turned into Redbridge Lane (Trower's companion was adamant that Trower couldn't have seen him from where they were standing).

  • Another prosecution witness was Roy Langdale, who was serving time in prison, and claimed that Hanratty confessed to him. (Two others that Hanratty exercised with said that Hanratty consistently denied any involvement.)

  • Charlie France, a friend of Hanratty's, testified that Hanratty had said to him once that 'the back seat of a bus was a good place to hide something'-

Defence evidence

  • No witnesses (with the sole exception of Valerie Storie) were able to place Hanratty in the vicinity of Dorney Reach.

  • Elsie Cobb said that around 14:30 on 21 August she saw a man passing her house who she described as aged 27 to 30, 5 foot 6 with dark hair brushed back and a thin nose. Her neighbour Frederick Newell added that the man had a sallow complexion.

  • The gunman said "I've been in institutions since I was eight": Hanratty would not use words like "institutions".

  • Mary Lanz, proprietor of the Old Station Inn, Taplow where Gregsten and Storie had last been before the cornfield was later able to identify Alphon as having also been there.

  • Even if the Rhyl alibi is disregarded, Hanratty's meeting with Olive Dinwoodie would make his presence in Dorney Reach by 9 p.m. extremely implausible.

  • On Thursday 24 August at 20:40 Hanratty sent a telegram from Lime Street, Liverpool in which he purported to be in London.

  • In the first line up, Valerie Storie picked out with total certainty an innocent sailor instead of the police suspect Alphon.

  • In the second line up, Hanratty stood out as his hair was bright orange and the police were so concerned about this they considered acquiring skullcaps.

  • Although the cartridge cases were found in the Hotel Vienna, no one ever adequately explained how they came to be there the day before the murder..

  • Hanratty disposed of his suit jacket six weeks after the crime; Alphon disposed of his raincoat straight away

  • Unlike the gunman's description of himself, Hanratty had never lived in a house with a cellar (let alone been locked in one and given only bread and water), was not coming up for PD, had not served five years for housebreaking and had already been in prison on the Isle of Wight.

  • Valerie Storie had said that Jim was obviously not the gunman's real name despite what the gunman claimed.

  • Juliana Galves said she saw Alphon with a pair of black gloves on his suitcase during his stay in the Vienna.

  • Peter Alphon wrote to the Daily Express in 1962 saying he believed Hanratty was innocent and he supported a reprieve.

  • Alphon wrote to the Home Secretary in 1962 saying "I killed Gregsten".

  • In her original statement, Valerie Storie states the man who abducted her was in his 30s, whereas in her second statement she changed this to 'mid 20s'. James Hanratty was 25 but Peter Alphon was 31.

Evidence emerging after Hanratty's execution

A group of people called the 'A6 Defence Committee' was set up to assist Hanratty in his defence. It was instrumental in uncovering new evidence, albeit too late. Twelve years after the execution, the Committee discovered the original statement made by Valerie Storie, which was neither referred to nor available at the trial or the appeal.

By 1968, the A6 Committee had found six substantial witnesses to testify that Hanratty had been to Rhyl. They had also found a fairground worker called Terry Evans who admitted to letting Hanratty stay at his house early in 1961, and to fencing a stolen watch for him. Another man, Trevor Dutton, had just made a payment into his bank account, and consequently his bank book was stamped with the correct date, 23 August, when minutes later he was approached by a man with a cockney accent in a smart suit, trying to sell a gold watch.

The problem here for the conviction was that there were now six witnesses who could positively say they had seen or spoken to Hanratty on the 23rd, and what is more, that the day in question was the only day that all six were in Rhyl at the same time.

Who killed Gregsten?

During 1962, the case caught the interest of a businessman called Jean Justice. Justice tracked down Peter Alphon in February 1962, and began a long friendship with him for the purposes of establishing the truth. Justice attended the trial every day, being driven there by his chauffeur, and Alphon accompanied him from time to time. Slowly, over the months, Alphon began to confess to Justice, including drawing diagrams of the murder scene and demonstrating precise knowledge of details of the events on Deadman's Hill. Justice took the precaution of making thorough notes, and recording all telephone conversations with Alphon.

When Alphon found out, he flew into a rage. As it got closer to Hanratty's execution date, Alphon's behaviour became more and more bizarre. He started to bombard his own solicitor with threatening phone calls and letters, and Charles France was also bombarded with phone calls, with the message: "If Hanratty dies, you die." France committed suicide about two weeks before the execution, pouring spite and venom in a suicide letter to Hanratty, but at no point actually accusing him of committing the murder. France left behind several letters for his family, the contents of which have never been made public.

Alphon's account

Alphon's continued confessions formed a picture. According to him, a man had paid him a sum of 5,000 to end the affair between Gregsten and Storie. Another man obtained a gun for Alphon, and Alphon had set off and hijacked the pair. According to Alphon, he gave Gregsten two chances to get away but "each time the bloody man kept coming back". He claimed the gun went off by accident. There was a plan for this eventuality: Alphon says he travelled to Southend and gave the gun to France, who was to dispose of it. France had a grudge against Hanratty, who had had an affair with France's daughter, so he planted the gun under the bus seat and the two cartridges in the hotel.

On 22 August 1962 Alphon visited the Hanratty family and offered to compensate them for their son's death. They threw him out of their house and in a fracas the following day, Alphon assaulted Mary Hanratty. A BBC Panorama programme in 1966 included extracts from the Jean Justice tapes. In May 1967 there was a bizarre press conference, in which Alphon confessed to the world media and related the full story of the gun, the 5,000 and France's involvement. Alphon stuck with his confession and continued to repeat it up to about 1971. He subsequently withdrew his claims. Sceptics noted that he had been paid considerable sums of money by Justice and had recanted after he had secured his payments.

However, Bob Woffinden writes (in Chapter 20 at page 332 in the paperback) that there was only one occasion when Justice and Jeremy Fox supported Alphon financially (when Fox paid a hotel bill for him). Alphon was also to decline money and publicity when offered the opportunity to appear on national TV being interviewed by David Frost on 16 November 1967.

The A6 Committee made a list of facts which, they contended, indicated that Alphon was the murderer:

  • Alphon resembled the Identikit pictures more than Hanratty did;

  • When stressed, Alphon lapsed into Cockney;

  • Alphon never produced a convincing alibi;

  • He provided a more credible motive than Hanratty could;

  • He was a poor driver;

  • Paul Foot obtained a copy of his bank account, showing that Alphon received payments in cash totalling 7,569 between October 1961 and June 1962. Alphon was unable to account for 5,000 of these payments.

The A6 Committee have claimed that the police refused to investigate Alphon's confessions and credibility in the light of this material. In the London Review of Books, 11 December 1997 (p. 37), Paul Foot warned "against jumping to hasty conclusions, in particular about Peter Alphon... he really didn't know as much as he pretended. He certainly didn't know what he alleged that Mrs Gregsten was the prime mover in commissioning the murder."

Official Inquiries

Three Home Office inquiries have been set up. Detective Superintendent Douglas Nimmo reported on 22 March 1967, Lewis Hawser QC reported on 10 April 1975 and Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Matthews reported on 29 May 1996. The Home Secretary Roy Jenkins received the first two and Michael Howard received the third. On 19 March 1997, the Home Office referred the case to the new Criminal Cases Review Commission where Baden Skitt chaired the investigation.

DNA evidence and appeal in 2002

In 1991 Bedfordshire Police allowed Bob Woffinden access to their previously undisclosed files on the case. The CCRC report had also revealed the mileage on the Morris Minor which invalidated Skillet's sighting in Brentwood and Trower's in Redbridge Lane. Bob Woffinden writes that there is no evidence that they even saw the same Morris Minor. These anomalies were considered sufficiently significant to justify an appeal against the conviction on behalf of Hanratty's family.

The surviving exhibits from the trial were lost until 1991, when they were found in envelopes in a laboratory drawer. DNA was donated by Hanratty's relatives, which they expected to exonerate him when compared with material on surviving evidence. Results from testing in June 1999 were said to be equivocal.

Hanratty's body was exhumed in 2001 in order to extract DNA. This was compared with mucus preserved in the handkerchief within which the murder weapon had been found wrapped. It was also compared with semen preserved in the underwear worn by Storie when she was raped. No scientific evidence from the crime had previously been linked to Hanratty, yet DNA samples from both sources matched Hanratty's DNA. At the subsequent appeal hearing Michael Mansfield QC, the barrister acting for the Hanratty family, admitted that if contamination could be excluded the DNA evidence demonstrated that Hanratty had committed the murder and rape. He argued that the evidence may have been contaminated because of lax handling procedures. Among the surviving evidential items a vial had been broken which could account for contamination. However, neither sample yielded DNA from any second male source, as would presumably have been expected if another male had committed the crimes and the samples had subsequently been contaminated.

The argument for contamination was dismissed as "fanciful" by the judges, who concluded that the "DNA evidence, standing alone, is certain proof of guilt". Hanratty's family and their supporters have continued to contest this conclusion.

Peter Alphon died in January 2009 following a fall at his home. The following month Richard Ingrams, a close friend and colleague of Paul Foot, wrote a brief article about Alphon's part in the case in The Independent. Ingrams said that Alphon, in conversations with Foot and others, had spoken obsessively about the case, frequently incriminating himself. Ingrams said that Foot continued until his own death to believe in Hanratty's alibi, despite the DNA tests of 2002.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Hanratty, James

Valerie Storey was having an affair with Michael John Gregsten who had quite recently separated from his wife. They met on the 22 August 1961 and went for a drink together at a pub in Taplow before driving to a spot known as Deadman's Hill. While they were sat in the car talking there was a tap on the window. Gregsten wound down the window to find himself staring down the barrel of a gun. The man climbed into the back seat and began by robbing them of their watches and money.

For two hours they sat in the car together before he ordered Gregsten to get into the boot. After Valerie Storey begged him the man changed his mind and told Gregsten to drive towards London. In was now early in the morning and the man told Gregsten to pull into a lay-by on the A6 road.

Once they had stopped the gunman asked Gregsten to pass him a laundry bag. As Gregsten leaned forward the man shot him twice in the head, killing him instantly. He then told Valerie to get into the back seat where he raped her. Afterwards he made Valerie help him move the body from the car. The man then got her to show him how to work the gears on the car. When she went back to her dead lover's body the man shot her several times.

He went over to her body and kicked her, convinced that she was dead the man drove away. Valerie Storey was found at by a passing motorist at daybreak. She was still alive, but paralysed. In hospital she was able to describe her attacker as having dark hair and deep-set brown eyes. The car was later found abandoned in Ilford and the murder weapon was discovered under a seat on a London bus. As well as Miss Storey's description, the police also had one from a witness who saw the man driving the car. Both descriptions differed so the police released two Identikit pictures to the public.

Believing the man to be worried the police published an appeal to landlady's who might have a guest who was keeping a low profile. As a result of this appeal, police attention was drawn to a man named Durrant who had booked into a hotel in Amersham the day after the murder and had stayed in his room ever since. When police questioned the man he was identified as Peter Alphon. He said that he had spent the night of the killing at the Vienna Hotel, Maida Vale.

Meanwhile another report came in that on 7 September, Mrs Dalal of Richmond had been assaulted by a man with brown hair. He had enquired about a room that she had to let and had grabbed her, tied her up and told her that he was the 'A6 killer.' He had tried to rape her but had run away when she screamed.

The manageress of the Vienna Hotel was moving the chairs in room 24 when two cartridge cases fell out of one of them. She remembered the police enquiry and handed them over. The police tested the cartridges and found they had come from the gun that killed Gregsten. They checked the register and found that the man who had stayed in room 24 had booked in as 'J. Ryan'. They questioned the night-manager of the hotel who recalled the night of the murder and Peter Alphon.

Alphon had told police that he was in his room by 11pm but the night-manager contradicted this, saying that Alphon had not returned by the time he had gone to bed at 2am. One thing he was able to confirm was the fact that Alphon had slept in room 6 and not room in room 24.

On 22 September Peter Alphon was put on an identity parade. Mr Nudds, the hotel night-manager, said that Alphon 'could be' the man, Mrs Dalal failed to pick him out but then collapsed and said that Alphon was the man who had assaulted her. The other witnesses also failed to pick Alphon out. In a last ditch attempt the police arranged an identity parade at the hospital where Valerie Storey was slowly recovering, she picked out the wrong man and Alphon was released.

The police now turned their attention to 'J. Ryan'? Police enquiries revealed that this was an alias used by a petty thief named James Hanratty. He was a 25-year-old with a lengthy record for car theft and house-breaking but nothing more serious. Hanratty was arrested in Blackpool on 11 October. Yet another identity parade was arranged and this time Valerie Storey picked him out and he was charged with murder.

It was this identification by Valerie Storey that formed the basis of the case against Hanratty. During her time in hospital she had recalled further details of the killer, like his 'saucer-like staring blue eyes', a detail which was different from her earlier description and fitted Hanratty but not Alphon.

Hanratty's alibi was that on the night of the murder, he was in Liverpool with three men, but he refused to name them, he changed this later to say that he had actually spent the night in Rhyl. There were no witnesses to corroborate either story.

It took the jury 94 hours to deliberate before finding him guilty. He was sentenced to death and hanged at Bedford Gaol on 4 April 1962. There are serious doubts over his guilt and the whether there was a miscarriage of justice which remain to this day. 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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