James Francis Hanratty - the A6 murder.



James Francis Hanratty was born in Farnborough, near Orpington in Kent on October the 4th 1936.  By the age of 25 he had convictions for housebreaking and car theft and had been released from prison in March of that year.  However he had no convictions for violent offences. (photo here)


The crime.

34 year old Michael J. Gregsten, a married man, and 22 year old Valerie Storie, both worked for the Road Research Laboratory at Slough in Berkshire.  Photos here and here.  They were having an affair and on Tuesday the 22nd of August 1961 they had gone out for a drink together to the Old Station Inn in Taplow.  Afterwards they drove to Dorney Reach near Windsor where they sat chatting in Michael’s Morris Minor.

A man approached the car and tapped on the window.  Michael rolled down the window to be confronted with a revolver and told “This is a hold up.”  Their assailant got into the car and took their money and watches.  They drove around for some three hours before Michael was told to pull into a lay-by on the A6 at Deadman’s Hill near Clophill in Bedfordshire.  Their assailant decided to tie them up and bound Valerie’s wrists with Michael’s tie.  He had nothing suitable for Michael.  Seeing a duffle bag in the front foot-well he ordered Michael to pass it to him.  Michael lent forward to comply when two shots were fired killing him.  Valerie reacted, saying “You bastard, why did you do that?” to which the man replied “Be quiet, will you. I am thinking.”  This was said in a Cockney accent and the last word was pronounced “finking”.  He also told Valerie his name was Jim.

Valerie was ordered to get into the back seat where she was raped.  She was later forced to help pull Michael’s body from the car and show the attacker how to start it and use the gears.  Valerie was now shot three times and left for dead.  Although she survived, one bullet had severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed.  She was discovered by a farm labourer around 6.45 a.m. and he got Mr. John Kerr who was conducting a traffic census to fetch the police. When they arrived Valerie was able to tell them that her attacker had “staring eyes.”


The case was understandably headline news.  The car was found abandoned in Redbridge but revealed no forensic evidence linked to Michael’s killer. John Skillett and Edward Blackhall told the police that they had seen the Morris Minor being driven erratically and had nearly been involved in accident with it.  They were able to help the police create an Identikit picture of the driver.  It should be noted that Hanratty was a competent driver.  Valerie also helped create an Identikit picture, but it was quite different to theirs. Both pictures were released to the press and shown on television on the 30th of August.


The murder weapon was found wrapped in a handkerchief hidden under the back seat of a London Transport bus in Peckham Garage on the 24th of August. The bus had been serving route 36A running from Peckham to Paddington, via Maida Vale which passed very close to the Vienna Hotel.


Police Superintendent Robert Acott of Scotland Yard was in charge of the investigation and appealed to hotel managers to report any unusual guests that had arrived on the 23rd of August.  The manager of the Alexandra Court Hotel reported a man who had locked himself in his room for five days after the murder and was behaving strangely. The police interviewed the man who gave his name as Frederick Durrant. They soon found his real name was Peter Louis Alphon.  He claimed he had spent the evening of the 22nd of  August with his mother, and the following night in Room 6 at the Vienna Hotel, in Maida Vale. The police were able to confirm this.

Valerie Storie did not recognise Alphon in an identity parade, and he was released four days later having been detained on a charge of attempting to rape Meike Dalal, who also failed to pick him out.  PC Ian Thomson recorded that Alphon had told him "there can't have been any fingerprints in the car otherwise mine would have given me away".  In 1962, only a blood group could be determined from semen samples, and both Alphon and Hanratty were Group O, the most common group, found in 36% of the population.

Mrs. Galves, a housekeeper at the Vienna Hotel in Maida Vale was cleaning out Room 24 when she found two spent 38 calibre shell cases.  She reported this immediately and they were found to match those used to shoot Michael.  William Nudds was at the time of the crime the manager at the Vienna Hotel and told police that Room 24 had previously been occupied by Hanratty under the alias he frequently used of Mr. J. Ryan.  Nudds would later testify at the trial that “Ryan” had asked the way to the bus stop for a 36A bus.

Alphon had stayed in the Vienna as he had earlier claimed, but Nudds insisted that the man had been in Room 6 all night. Later, Nudds changed his story, possible realising that the two men could have swapped rooms during the night. Now he claimed that Peter Alphon had stayed in a basement room. 

Police attention shifted from Alphon and Hanratty now became the chief suspect. On October the 5th 1961, he telephoned Scotland Yard to say he was not the man they were looking for and that he had been in Liverpool on the day in question.  He was finally arrested at the Stevonia café in Blackpool on the 11th of October.  Three days later Valerie was able to pick him out of an identity parade after each man was asked to say “Be quiet, will you. I am finkin” (her attacker’s pronunciation of thinking).



Hanratty’s trial was the longest on record at the time. It took place at Bedford before Mr. Justice Gorman from the 22nd of January to the 17th of February 1962.  Graham Swanick led for the prosecution and Michael Sherrard defended. 

Superintendent Acott related a conversation the he had had with Hanratty, in which the prisoner told him that he never left any fingerprints during his house burglaries and also wiped them off with his handkerchief.  He went on to say that his fence had given him money to start in business after his release from Strangeways Prison in Manchester and that he had asked the man to get him a gun so that he could do “stick ups”.  However Hanratty vehemently denied that had ever killed anyone.

Hanratty initially maintained that he had been in Liverpool with three men whom he would not or could not name, but then on the 9th of February changed his story, saying that he had been in Rhyl.  The defence was able to trace the owner of the boarding house in that town, who had a room with a green bath in it, as Hanratty had described.  The owner, Mrs. Grace Jones, remembered somebody fitting Hanratty’s description staying there but was uncertain of the dates.  Other guests were unable to identify him as having been there.  There is little doubt that this change of story irreparably damaged Hanratty’s defence, which could otherwise show considerable “reasonable doubt”.  He was found guilty after the jury deliberated for nine hours.



Hanratty’s appeal was dismissed on the 9th of March and he was hanged at Bedford prison at 8.0 a.m. on Wednesday the 4th of April 1962, by Harry Allen and Royston Rickard.  The gallows at Bedford was, according to Harry Allen’s biography, housed in a separate building from the main cell blocks.  Some 300 people had gathered outside the prison.


This was a very controversial execution, partly because Peter Alphon’s attempts to “muddy the waters” and also because of high profile people such as John Lennon, becoming involved on Hanratty's behalf.  There was also the contradictory evidence of Valerie Story, who’s description of her assailant changed over time and other oddities such as the perpetrator apparently not being able to drive, whereas Hanratty could.



Peter Alphon continued to insinuate that he may have been the A6 murderer and that he had been involved in a plot to break up the relationship between Valerie and Michael.  He had simply allowed Hanratty to be framed for the crime.  The authorities were of the view that he was a mentally disturbed publicity seeker.


On the 22nd of February 1966, Hanratty's remains were removed from Bedford Gaol and re-buried in Carpenders Park Lawn Cemetery near Watford in Hertfordshire.


At the request of the Hanratty family the case was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission in March 1997. Back in 1962 DNA testing was not available but by 2000 it was.  The family wanted to clear his name by using it to eliminate him based upon the semen on Valerie Storie's underwear and mucus found on the handkerchief that had been used to wrap the murder weapon.  However far from the result they expected, comparison of DNA taken from Hanratty's mother and his brother, Michael, showed a good match.  Hanratty’s body was therefore exhumed in 2001 and DNA extracted which proved an exact match.  Lawyers for the family argued that the clothes taken from Hanratty could have become contaminated by those from Valerie as they were stored together.  Whilst possible there would have to have been a third DNA sample found, which there wasn’t.

On the 10th of May 2002, the Court of Appeal dismissed the case as “fanciful” and upheld the conviction.


By the 1960’s the death penalty was increasingly a political issue. The establishment and those on the right believed in it and were insistent on Hanratty’s guilt, whereas the liberal left were convinced that he must be innocent.


Back to Contents Page