James Francis Hanratty was a small-time crook who was found guilty of the A6 murder and became one of the last three men in Great Britain to be executed. Controversy about the case continues to this day. He was born in Farnborough, near Orpington in Kent ; although, soon after his birth, he moved with his Irish father and his English mother to Wembley in Middlesex. He spent most of the time between the ages of 18 and 25 in prison, for offences such as housebreaking and stealing cars. On no occasion was it suggested that he had been involved in anything violent. In 1961, Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie, two assistants at the Road Research Laboratory in Slough, Buckinghamshire, were having an affair. Michael's wife, Janet, was well aware of this and was not best pleased. On the evening of the 22nd. August, the lovers were sitting in Michael's car, which was parked in a field near Slough, when a man knocked on the window. Michael wound down the window and the stranger threatened him with a gun, then demanded to be allowed to sit in the back of the car. After a while, he demanded that they drive off, and they travelled for about thirty miles, as far as a spot named, appropriately, Deadman's Hill, on the A6 road near Bedford. The stranger asked for a duffle bag to be passed to him ; Gregsten threw it at him, and was at once shot dead. The gunman then raped Valerie, shot her and left her for dead. She survived, but is to this day confined to a wheelchair. The first suspect was Peter Louis Alphon, a drifter and a member of the Nazi Party who lived off an inheritance and from gambling on greyhounds. Two .38 cartridge shells were found at the Vienna Hotel, where he had been staying, and he was unable to provide an alibi. However, Valerie failed to pick him out from an identity parade. The police then investigated the other guests at the Vienna, one of whom was Hanratty, who had been staying there under the assumed name of Jim Ryan. Hanratty at first claimed to have been in Liverpool on the night of the murder, but changed this to Rhyl in North Wales. Largely because of this, and because Miss Storie did pick him out of the identity parade, Hanratty was found guilty of murder, and was hanged at Bedford Gaol. Not a single piece of forensic evidence linking him to the car, the murder weapon or the scene of the crime was produced in court, although two witnesses claimed that they had seen him driving the car in Ilford, Essex, the following morning. It has since been established that Superintendent Acott, who was in charge of the case, held back Gregsten's meticulously-kept logbook, which demonstrated that the car had been driven for two hundred miles before the killer had abandoned it, and this showed that it could not possibly have been in Ilford at that time. In the years since then, Peter Alphon has, on many occasions, confessed to having committed the murder. He has suggested that he did so because the "immorality" of the lovers offended his extreme right-wing views ; at other times, he has implied that he was paid to frighten Michael Gregsten, and had no intention of injuring him until Gregsten made a sudden movement. Many attempts have been made to re-open the case. On the 22nd. February 1966, Hanratty's remains were removed from Bedford Gaol and re-buried in Carpenders Park. In October 2000, samples of D.N.A were taken from Hanratty's mother and his brother, Michael, and compared with the semen found in Valerie Storie's underwear and with the handkerchief which the killer had used to hold the gun. To general astonishment, this showed that the killer was 2,500,000 times more likely than not to be a blood relation of theirs. Hanratty's body was then exhumed, and it was announced that the samples were hundreds of millions of times more likely to have come from Hanratty than from anyone else. This confidential data was leaked to the press in advance of the appeal. Hanratty's lawyers pointed out that D.N.A can be identified from a single cell and that any D.N.A. is magnified into huge quantities, even though it may have got into the evidence by accident. This is an important point because, during the trial of 1962, clothing from James Hanratty and Valerie Storie was taken to the court in the same cardboard boxes. However, there was no sign of D.N.A. from a third party, as would be expected if the murderer had been someone else. On 10th.May 2002, the Court of Appeal ruled that Hanratty's conviction was not unsound and that there were no grounds for a posthumous pardon.
Bio by: Iain MacFarlaine