4 April 1962 – James Hanratty
A letter to the home secretary saying ‘I did it’ would be enough to warrant a stay of execution wouldn’t you think? Especially when that man had precise details of the murder and knew things only a murderer or someone on the inside could.
But not if the then Conservative Home Secretary had anything to do with it. And so James Hanratty was executed – the eighth to last person to be hanged in England.
He was found guilty of the now infamous A6 murder, in which Michael Gregson was murdered, while his companion Valerie Storie was left paralysed after having been raped and then shot five times.
The murder took place in the aptly named Deadman’s Hill just off the A6 and, despite having an alibi that placed him in Rhyl at the time of the murder, Hanratty was nevertheless branded a killer and sentenced to death. But the case wasn’t closed there.
There was another man on the scene. Peter Alphon was another suspect and he was the person who’d written to the Home Secretary purporting to be the killer, and he definitely knew aspects of the case that only an insider could. Alphon confessed to having been paid off to end the couple’s alleged affair. When they failed to split, he said he blew Gregson away.
Despite all this Hanratty was ultimately hanged in 1962 for the crime, but his family took up his battle to clear his name posthumously. They even supplied DNA samples, but those ironically only served to strengthen the case against him – apparently after those tests, there was a mere 1 in a billion chance that it was not Hanratty. But there was no guarantee that the DNA samples were not tainted.
According to a retrospective in the Independent, there was a whole cavalcade of celebrities who lent their support to the condemned man’s cause, among them in 1969 ‘John Lennon and Yoko Ono produced a 40-minute documentary and even lent the Hanratty family their Rolls-Royce to visit the scene of the crime’.