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A woman who was raped and shot in a car with her lover – and was then hounded by people who were convinced her attacker was innocent, has told her story in a new book from beyond the grave.
The author now hopes that the posthumous autobiography will be turned into a film so that more people can learn about what she endured.
Valerie Storie was left paralysed after James Hanratty attacked her and killed her boyfriend in August 1961.
Valerie and 36-year-old Michael Gregsten were held captive in their car for five hours by a gunman who forced them to drive 60 miles from Buckinghamshire to Bedfordshire before shooting them.
Sixty years ago today, on April 4, 1962, their attacker was one of the last eight people in the UK to be executed when he was hanged at Bedford Prison.
Valerie Storie, who was raped and shot in a car with her lover, and then hounded by people who were convinced her attacker was innocent, has told her story in a new book
Valerie’s lover Mr Gregsten (pictured with his wife) was a 36-year-old research scientist. He and his wife Janet had two children when he was shot and killed in the murder in August 1961
James Hanratty (pictured) was convicted of the murder 60 years ago today on April 4, 1962. He was one of the last eight people in the UK to be executed at Bedford Prison
But for the next 40 years Valerie was slammed by campaign groups and celebrities who were convinced Hanratty was innocent, making her reluctant to speak to the media during her lifetime.
She wanted to write a book to finally give her version of events but did not get round to this before her death in 2016.
The 1998 Daily Mail front page covers the story of when Hanratty’s matched the crime
Her wish was honoured when The Long Silence was released with the title that Valerie had planned to give to her book.
Author Paul Stickler said: ‘This is a story that really does need to be told and it’s not been told in the way that it should be before now.
‘There’s a very powerful human story in this. A strong, disabled woman’s story. People need to know what this poor woman went through.’
Mr Stickler, a former Hampshire Constabulary police officer who specialised in murder investigations, compiled the book during lockdown using thousands of records and annotated documents left behind by Valerie.
He was struck by how calm and measured she was throughout the whole ordeal.
Even once she had been shot and was passing in and out of consciousness, she still managed to wave her petticoat to try to attract attention.
And when she was found the following morning she was able to give a hugely detailed description of what happened.
Valerie and her boyfriend were parked in Dorney Reach, Bucks when Hanratty got into the car and made them drive to Clophill, Beds where he shot Mr Gregsten twice in the head, killing him
Valerie (pictured), who had been paralysed by the attack, was hounded for years by the media and celebrities, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, convinced of Hanratty’s innocence
Hanratty’s uneducated London accent and his ‘very large icy-blue eyes’ enabled Valerie to identify him from a line-up and she later testified at his trial.
Mr Stickler said: ‘She was absolutely measured and calm and wholly consistent from minute one to the very end. She didn’t change her story one iota.’
Despite this, she was hounded by the media and celebrities, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who criticised her for allegedly sending an innocent man to his grave.
Journalists such as Paul Foot and Bob Woffinden campaigned for years to prove Hanratty’s innocence, casting doubt on Valerie’s evidence.
Even Valerie’s own Member of Parliament, Joan Lestor, insisted Hanratty was innocent.
In 2002 Valerie was finally vindicated when DNA evidence proved beyond reasonable doubt that Hanratty was guilty.
Against the wishes of his parents, Hanratty’s body had been exhumed and his DNA was compared to that found on Valerie’s underwear and the handkerchief in which the murder weapon had been hidden. It was a conclusive match.
Valerie criticised the journalists who campaigned to prove Hanratty’s innocence in an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2002. She said: ‘They have built their case on this myth and it has grown to become pure folklore.
Valerie was universally pilloried by the media celebrities and pressure groups who were convinced that Hanratty hadn’t done it. His case was picked up by John Lennon and Yoko Ono seen here meeting Hanratty’s parents during a campaign in the 1960s
What happened on the night of August 22, 1961?
At about 9pm on August 22, 1961, Michael Gregsten, 36, and his girlfriend Valerie Storie, 22, were sitting in their Morris Minor 1000 car in a lay-by at Dorney Reach, Buckinghamshire, when there was a tap on the driver’s window.
When Michael rolled down the window, Hanratty thrust a large black revolver into his face and said: ‘This is a hold-up, I am a desperate man, I have been on the run for four months. If you do as I tell you, you will be all right.’
After holding them at gunpoint for two hours, Hanratty told Michael to start driving because he wanted food.
They drove via London Heathrow Airport, up through the Middlesex suburbs, on to the A5 and then on to the A6 to Clophill, Bedfordshire.
During the 60 mile journey, Michael and Valerie made 22 separate attempts to escape or frustrate the driver. Valerie hid pound notes in her bra to stop Hanratty from taking them.
At about 1.30am on August 23, Hanratty told Michael to pull into a lay-by at Deadman’s Hill and to hand over his duffle bag. But when Michael reached for the bag Hanratty shot him twice in the head, killing him instantly.
Hanratty put a cloth over Michael’s bloodied head before raping Valerie on the back seat of the car. He then ordered her to drag Michael’s body out of the car to the edge of the lay-by before ordering her to show him how to operate the vehicle.
The gunman then made to leave but suddenly turned back and shot Valerie several times, with five bullets hitting her.
Believing that he had killed her, Hanratty drove south in the direction of Luton.
‘What I do find distasteful is that the family’s belief in their son’s innocence has been boosted by campaigners who have given them false hope.’
Professor Adrian Hobbs, a close friend of Valerie who worked with her at the Road Research Laboratory in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: ‘I think she was just waiting to be vindicated. She was always absolutely certain that she was right, there was no question about that.’
Professor Hobbs described Valerie as a ‘bloody minded and determined’ woman with a charming character.
Despite being left paralysed and having to spend several months undergoing therapy at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, she returned to her job as a member of the on-the-spot accident team at the Road Research Laboratory just ten months after the ordeal.
After her retirement she remained an active member of her community, giving presentations on family history and helping to establish a minibus service in her hometown of Slough.
Professor Hobbs said: ‘She never felt sorry for herself. She was of the opinion that it is for all of us to make the most of what we have been dealt.’
As executor of Valerie’s will, Professor Hobbs was the first to come across the documents and notes she left behind and he worked with Mr Stickler to ensure that the ‘posthumous autobiography’ was an honest and truthful account.
Professor Hobbs said: ‘It is important that people understand that it is very easy to jump on a bandwagon and come up with a conclusion that is wrong.’
The Long Silence, published in August 2021, is the first book to explain in detail the ‘cat and mouse’ drive and it has been heralded by many as a much overdue account.
It details 22 attempts made by Michael and Valerie to escape or frustrate the gunman, including hatching a plan to drive into a policeman if they came across one on the journey in order to get his attention.
Mr Stickler remains interested in pursuing the story further and is looking into another case which he believes might have inspired Hanratty.
The case involved the death of a man who lived not far from Hanratty and Mr Stickler thinks he could have heard about it while he was in prison for house breaking.
Paul Stickler’s book is available on Amazon here.
Source: Daily Mail