1098: Rainald Porchet, martyr Crusader 1916: Joseph Hani, abandoned

1962: James Hanratty, the killer all along

April 4th, 2012 Headsman

Fifty years ago today, still insisting that he had “a clean conscience,” James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison for the murder of Michael Gregsten and the rape-shooting of his mistress Valerie Storie.

Hanratty, a petty criminal with no history of violence — “I try to live a respectable life, except for my housebreaking” he testified* — fell into a web of questionable circumstantial evidence, plus the (also questionable**) eyewitness identification of the surviving Ms. Storie.

It was called the “A6 murder” because a stickup man had forced the lovers at gunpoint to drive him along that road, until pulling them over at the aptly-named Deadman’s Hill where he did the vicious deeds and left his victims for dead.

This was a bizarre and shocking crime, and the investigation led back to Hanratty only via a winding, almost accidental trail.

The murder weapon materialized on a bus, wiped clean of fingerprints; later, cartridges to match it materialized at a boarding house, and a confused reconstruction of whose aliases were occupying which rooms there uncertainly suggested Hanratty as a suspect.

The case, checking in at a then-record 21 trial days, featured 70 witnesses battling over inconclusive data points like the doubtful relationship between autobiographical remarks made by the killer and Hanratty’s actual biography, and Hanratty’s want of an apparent motive for an act so foreign to his previous m.o. On the other hand, some witnesses put him in incriminating places, and Hanratty damningly lied about and changed his alibi.

What to do? A jury mired in hours of inconclusive deliberation at one point sent back to the court to clarify the concept of “reasonable doubt.” In the end, it decided its doubts weren’t reasonable enough to spare James Hanratty the noose.

Meanwhile, another suspect from the same boarding-house, Peter Alphon, behaved extremely erratically in the run-up to Hanratty’s hanging, hounded Hanratty’s friend until the latter committed suicide, and then eventually (after the hanging) confessed outright. For Hanratty’s many advocates, Alphon looked an awful lot like reasonable doubt … or more.

This case was long a cause celebre for death penalty foes in the U.K. owing to its evidentiary shakiness; none of the other seven put to death in Great Britain after Hanratty were plausible innocents.


John Lennon and Yoko Ono commiserate with James Hanratty’s parents in 1969. (Photo by Express/Express/Getty Images, via here.)

In 2000, DNA tests conducted on Valerie Storie’s underwear and the handkerchief which wrapped the recovered gun finally offered the prospect of more certain forensic identification than had been available at the time of the trial. Those tests matched (pdf) James Hanratty’s DNA … and nobody else’s.

While this result has not resolved all controversy about the A6 murder case — witness this book-length forum discussion — nor ended the Hanratty family’s campaign for exoneration, it’s pretty well cut the legs from Hanratty’s actual-innocence argument. Whatever one can say about the original trial, it sure looks like Hanratty was the killer all along.

A few books about James Hanratty and the A6 case

* Feb. 8, 1962 testimony, as reported in the next day’s London Times.

** Aside from the inherent unreliability eyewitness testimony, Valerie Storie at one point picked an airman stand-in in a lineup; when she later identified Hanratty, it was not by his appearance but by his cockney accent.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

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9 thoughts on “1962: James Hanratty, the killer all along”

  1. Jon says:

    These lying murderes at the homo office are guilty of murder without a doubt. They lied thru ther back teeth fabricated false evidence and are still doing it today by lying about dna testing. But then this british government are always been in corruption against its own ppl. I doubt if the corruptets will own up and do the right thing and finally admit ther wrongdoings but i wont hold my breath. Ther liars thieves and murderers. Rest in peace james hanratty. Oi doubt justice will prevail in yur favour

  2. John says:

    The guy was guilty

    1. COLIN FISCHER says:

      ITS 54 YRS TOMORROW SINCE THE WORST CRIME IN BRITISH LEGAL HISTORY WAS COMMITTED.YOUNG JAMES HANRATTY WAS NEVER IN A THOUSAND YEARS ABLE TO CARRY OUT SUCH A BESTIAL ACT.NOR WAS HE ANYWHERE NEAR THE EVENTS THAT LED TO THE RAPE AND MURDER.PROOF OF THAT HAS BEEN DOCUMENTED.THE MADMAN WHO WAS THE CULPRIT HAS SINCE ADMITTED GUILT.HE KNOWING THAT AS JAMES HAD PAID THE PRICE WITH GIS LIFE,HE COULD SAY WHAT HE WANTED.STOREY THE BITCH THAT CAUSED ALL THIS EVIL AND THEN LET ALPHON WALK HAS THE DEATH OF JAMES ON HER HANDS.ACOTT FRAMED JAMES TO CLOSE THE CASE.HE KNEW ALPHON WAS HIS MAN.WHAT A RAT HE WAS.BACK THEN THAT CRIME HAD THE WHOLE COUNTRY ON HIGH ALERT.JAMES WAS A PATSY.IN THE MORNING I SHALL KNEEL BY MY BED AND OFFER A PRAYER FOR JAMES HANRATTY.HOW HORRIFYING IT MUST HAVE BEEN FOR HIM WHEN HARRY ALLEN DARTED INTO THE CONDEMNED CELL TO STRAP HIS ARMS KNOWING HE WAS ABOUT TO BE KILLED FOR NOTHING HE HAD EVER DONE.I USED TO LIVE IN BLACKPOOL AND,WHEN I EVER PARKED ON THE OLD CENTRAL STATION SITE.I WOULD SIT AND STARE AT THE STEVONIA CAFE WHERE JAMES SPENT HIS LAST MOMENTS OF FREEDOM.ALL I COULD OFFER VACK THEN WERE PRAYERS JUST AS I WILL IN THE MORNING.APRIL 4TH ALWAYS STIRS ME TERRIBLY.GOD REST YOUR INNOCENT SOUL JAMES HANRATTY,GOD BLESS,COLIN.

      1. Meaghan says:

        Even if Hanratty was innocent, “worst crime in British legal history” is unnecessary hyperbole. He would be far from the only innocent person executed in the U.K., and what about the innocent people (or “heretics” and “traitors” peprsecuted for their religious beliefs, or “witches”, or people who only committed petty non-violent crimes like pickpocketting that would have got a very short custodial sentence or even just probation or a fine today) who were burned to death, or drawn and quartered, or some other gruesome and painful method of execution?

  3. westhamboy says:

    Unclegru

    The DNA was not miniscule. It was the semen left by Hanratty. And as for the ‘contamination’, yes it is possible but it wasn’t contaminated by humans. The ONLY human DNA was from Valerie Storie and Hanratty!!!! They took it from one of his teeth!!! It is unequivocal!!!

  4. unclegru says:

    LCN DNA evidence is unreliable to say the least. The amount of DNA is miniscule but all that was available. Contamination of sample by Hanrattys DNA cannot be dismissed as court exhibits were stored together in the same box and taken to court that way. The samples were then handeled by a court usher every day and even taken to the jury room where one presumes there was more handling. So why was there no other DNA on the sample? One assumes that as said above the sample was minute and unfortunately for Hanrattys case only had his DNA in the sample. Another point many people make is that the DNA sample came from semen. LCN cannot determine the origin of the DNA so that statement is not true.
    Defence were very naive when requesting the tests as they should have known that there was a good chance Hanratty DNA would be present. The fact that when it was shown to be so the defence protested contamination didn’t sit well.
    Personally if I were Hanratty’s defence I would never have called for DNA testing so that if by chance the prosecution ever did then the contamination argument would have looked more plausible.
    I for one am not sure whether Hanratty is innocent or guilty but in my oppinion there is still reasonable doubt that he comitted the crime

  5. Co says:

    I was honestly starting to have my doubts about Hanratty until I found out about the lastest DNA sample results. Truly evil man, he deserved to hang.

  6. Fiz says:

    It’s okay, FIz: pity is like love. There’s always more to go around.

  7. Fiz says:

    I firmly believed that Hanratty and Roger Coleman were innocent, when my pity might have been used on more deserving people!

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