by Paul Stickler
In August 1961, 22-year-old Valerie Storie and 36-year-old Michael Gregsten were the victims of James Hanratty in the notorious ‘A6 Murder’.
After a five-hour ordeal, ending in a layby on the A6 in Bedfordshire, Michael was shot dead and Valerie was raped, shot and left for dead. She survived, but was paralysed and remained in a wheelchair until her death in 2016.
In 1962, Hanratty became one of the last men in the UK to be hanged, unleashing forty years of fierce and passionate debate, as many were convinced of his innocence, until 2002 when DNA evidence proved that he was indeed guilty. Valerie, however, was never in any doubt, and picked out Hanratty in an identity parade. She always intended to write a book, and over the years had secretly drafted its contents and written hundreds of notes. Yet for over thirty-five years she gave no interviews, despite persistent media pressure to do so.
The Long Silence is, in essence, Valerie’s posthumous autobiography, explaining for the first time every explicit detail of the ‘cat and mouse’ drive, as Michael and Valerie tried on over twenty occasions to deter and thwart the apparently indecisive Hanratty.
The car crept through the silent streets of Clophill village and edged slowly north, the occupants’ eyes searching for an obvious spot. The A6 north of the village meanders to the left before swinging back to the right, stretches out and then bears back round to the left. The road then climbs gradually, known locally as Deadman’s Hill, a RAC Box a few feet in on the left-hand side. At this point, the road was flanked with wide verges and telegraph poles. Fifty yards further along, a small opening appeared in the verge and the gunman shouted.
‘Go in there.’
By the time he shouted out his instruction, Michael had already passed the entrance and was told to turn the car around and go back. He carried out a three-point-turn in the road, his second that night, and headed back in the opposite direction, purposely driving past the entrance. Unsurprisingly, the order came to turn around again. Michael complied but it had been his attempt to frustrate the man who had been tormenting him for hours. This time, when reaching the entrance he turned in and then immediately turned right again along a concrete strip. ‘I thought it was a disused runway,’ Valerie would later say. It led almost immediately to a cul-de-sac with a pile of gravel blocking the way ahead. The instruction came to turn the car around again, stop and ‘turn all the lights out.’ This was it.
The journey seemed to have come to an end. The fear began to surface again and in a vain attempt to still try to attract attention, Michael kept the reversing light switched on, but it was noticed and he was told to turn it off. The ignition key was passed back. The view of the car’s position from the A6 was partially blocked by the low verge, well over twenty feet wide and with a single tree and a few wild flowers three or four feet tall. With its lights out, any passing motorist would have been excused for not seeing the silent Morris. The abducted couple had now been held prisoner for four and a half hours and were over sixty miles from home. It was two o’clock in the morning. It was dark. No cars were passing. The handkerchiefed cowboy, gun in hand, pointed it at his victims.