Historical Murders presented by Paul Stickler

The

A6 Murder

aka the James Hanratty affair

August 1961

Headshot for the A6 Murder
Headshot for the A6 Murder

In August 1961, 22-year-old Valerie Storie and her partner, 36-year-old Michael Gregsten, were approached by a gunman as they were sitting in their Morris Minor car in a cornfield in Dorney Reach, Buckinghamshire.

The gunman demanded their valuables and then held them captive for 2 hours before ordering them to drive towards London. Seemingly with no obvious plan, the gunman continued to order the couple to drive through the night. They eventually found themselves driving along the A6 and just north of Clophill, Bedfordshire, they were ordered to pull over into a layby. Within the hour, Michael had been shot dead in the back of the head and Valerie was raped as blood poured from her partner’s wounds. The killer then shot Valerie five times but miraculously she survived, though she would be paralysed from the neck down for the rest of her life.

Illustration for the The A6 Murder
The gunman demanded their valuables and then held them captive for 2 hours before ordering them to drive towards London.

Within 2 months James Hanratty was arrested and charged with the murder and the following year he was convicted and hanged.

He was 25 years old. But this was the beginning of the story. For forty years there would be claims that there had been a miscarriage of justice, the police had allowed the real killer to slip through the fingers and Valerie had been mistaken in her identification of her attacker. She was subjected to public ridicule for sending an innocent man to the hangman’s noose until 2001 when DNA evidence confirmed Hanratty’s guilt. This is the story of a brave and resourceful woman who maintained a dignified silence throughout the 40-year ordeal. After she died in 2016, her personal papers were passed to Paul Stickler who has described the events from 1961 to 2016 in great detail in his book, The Long Silence.

A pile of photographs for The A6 Murder
The victims...
Victim Image
Valerie Storie

Valerie Storie was born on 24 November 1938 in Cippenham, Buckinghamshire. She was the only child of Jack and Marjorie. She was a bookish child and went to grammar school but refused to go to university. Instead, she took a job at the Road Research Laboratories in Langley where she met Michael Gregsten. After her shooting and subsequent paralysis, she returned to the laboratory and became involved in assessing the causes of car accidents. After the death of her parents, who had become her full-time carers, she fended for herself and immersed herself in work and several hobbies, particularly family history research. Those who knew personally, described her as brave, intelligent and a no-nonsense sort of woman. Despite her horrendous ordeal and paralysis, she never complained about her predicament and was always seen with a smile on her face. She died on 26 March 2016.

Michael Gregsten
Michael Gregsten

Michael Gregsten was born in December 1924 and after attending grammar school he joined the RAF. He left the service in 1946 and a few years later he met his wife-to-be, Janet Phillips. Michael and Janet married in 1951 and had two children, Simon (1953) and Anthony (1959). Michael met Valerie Storie at the Road Research Centre at Langley in 1957. After this, Michael and Janet’s relationship started to deteriorate which resulted in Michael leaving home on a number of occasions though he remained a devoted father to his two children. It is clear that Michael was suffering from episodes of anxiety and depression but no more so than many others who found themselves in similar positions. On the day that Michael was shot dead, he had separated once more from his wife and had seemed set to start a new life in Maidenhead.

Another pile of photos from The A6 Murder
  • What were Valerie and Michael doing in the cornfield in the first place?

    They had stopped there on the way home from the Old Station Inn at Taplow to discuss their future. Michael had recently left his wife and had found a new home in Maidenhead.

  • Where did Valerie live?

    She lived in the house in which she had been born in Anthony Way, Slough with her parents. She died in the same house in 2016.

  • Why would James Hanratty be in cornfield with a gun when he was a petty thief from London?

    This is a long answer and is outlined in detail in The Long Silence. However, he was not a petty thief, and he was an accomplished burglar for which he had been sent to prison three years earlier. He had boasted about getting a gun and becoming a stick-up man. He routinely toured the countryside looking for houses to break into. On 22 August 1961, he accidentally stumbled across Michael and Valerie in their car. At this point, he became a stick-up man.

  • What made Hanratty turn into a killer and a rapist?

    Again, this is a long answer and is outlined in detail in The Long Silence. In essence, he got carried away with his adventurous plan and suddenly panicked when he thought he was about to be overpowered. He pulled the trigger of his gun and then turned his attentions on Valerie.

  • Was James Hanratty the last man to be hanged in Britain?

    No, but he was the last man to be hanged in Bedford prison on 4 April 1962.

Further reading...
Cover of The Long Silence

The Long Silence

Paul Stickler

2021

Presentations

The A6 Murder case is available as a presentation. Whether delivered on world-wide cruise ships or in a local village hall, it's absorbing, informative, and entertaining. Contact Paul Stickler for more information...

Paul Stickler presenting on stage on a cruise ship