This is a stick up. I’m a desperate man.
Michael Gregsten is a 36-year-old research scientist at the Road Research Laboratory at Langley, near Slough. Michael is married and he and his wife Janet have two boys, Simon, eight, and Anthony, nearly two.
But Michael is having an affair with his 22-year-old lab assistant, Valerie Storie. Their relationship started over a mutual love of car rallies, music and theatre. It had quickly stopped being platonic.
One Tuesday after work, Michael picks up Valerie in his Morris Minor and drives her to the Old Station Inn for a drink. Later, at around 9pm, the pair drive to a nearby cornfield in Dorney Reach by the Thames in Buckinghamshire. Once they think they’re away from prying eyes, they have sex.
It’s not known for how much of the next 45 minutes they are unobserved.
But they abruptly stop when someone taps on the driver’s window. After the sound, comes the sight of a gun. And then a Cockney voice says;
“This is a stick up. I’m a desperate man. Open the back door and let me in.”
Valerie tries to make Michael drive off, but frightened they couldn’t get away without injury, Michael lets the man in.
The man takes the keys from Michael and sits in the back seat. The bottom of his face is covered with a handkerchief. With that, and the darkness, it’s difficult to identify what he looks like. His words are distinct enough though:
“If you do as I tell you, you will be all right”
His intentions are, however, far from clear. He forces the couple to drive further into the field.
They then sit there for about an hour:
“Why is he in a field that’s relatively isolated; isolated enough for a courting couple to be able to have sex? I think the most likely suggestion was that he was driven there by someone else or drove there and his car broke down...There were enough isolated houses locally that one might think he was there because he was burglarizing houses...and whoever had brought him there had left without him. There had been some disagreement? Or the car that he personally drove to get there had broken down and he was looking for some other way to get back?
But crucially we’ve got some opportunism here. We’ve got some opportunistic criminal behaviour being displayed by someone who was not used to being in control of two people who were at his mercy.“
David Wilson, Criminologist
The gunman then orders Michael to drive to London:
“He said he was hungry – he knew a place where he could get some food... They had to stop at a milk bar...They had to stop for more petrol. And the ride took them all over the place, with this man chatting all the time. He said he’d...just done a five-year stretch in prison - he’d been on the run for four months - he hadn’t eaten for two days. And this carried on for a number of hours, until eventually he said;
‘I need a kip. I’m tired – I need to kip.’
And he repeated the phrase two or three times.”
John Eddleston, Author
He orders them off the main road - and then back onto it.
The couple try to offer him money. But he won’t leave them.
At around 1.30am they’re driving south on the A6. He orders Michael to pull into a lay-by at Deadman’s Hill:
“The gunman is clearly wondering what he should do with these two people that in effect he’s kidnapped...So he decides that he’s going to tie up Valerie Storie. He asks for Michael Gregsten’s tie, and for some rope, which is in the boot...There’s enough to tie up Valerie Storie’s arms, but not enough rope to tie up Michael Gregsten.”
But then the man notices a bag in the car:
“...he asked Gregsten to pass it over. Gregsten made the move towards the bag to pass it over - and two shots rang out.”
John Eddleston, Author
Two bullets rip through the back of Michael Gregsten’s head killing him instantly:
“This, for me, reveals a lack of understanding, a lack of insight. That kind of spontaneous behaviour that often you find with some offenders who aren’t particularly skilled or sophisticated.”
“The first thing Valerie said was,
‘You’ve shot him, you b******! – Why have you done that?’
‘He moved too quickly. He spooked me, he frightened me. It was an accident – I didn’t mean to do it.’
He then said, a couple of times; ‘Be quiet – I’m thinking’ – but he pronounced the word, ‘finking’, as a Cockney would, so twice;
‘Be quiet, I’m finking; be quiet, I’m finking.’
Valerie is now trapped in a car with a killer. She tries to build a rapport with him. She hopes to avoid the fate of her lover. The man tells her to call him ‘Jim’.
“He then – again...the opportunism – he then decides that he would like to kiss Valerie Storie. She refuses. He uses the gun to threaten her.
And he rapes her.
These are very opportunistic behaviours. These aren’t planned behaviours. Nothing about the A6 murder seems to me to be characterised by planning and organisation.”
A passing car’s headlights illuminate the man’s face. Does he notice she’s seen him clearly? Is ‘Jim’ worried she’s could identify him as the murderer?
He orders her to drag Michael’s body out of the car. She begs not to but at gunpoint, she does.
Michael’s body is dumped by the side of the road:
“Surprisingly...he asked Valerie to show him how the car worked: How the gears worked; what the pedals were for; how to start the car - which is strange - because later on, of course, Hanratty’s name comes in the frame. He’s an accomplished car driver and car thief.”
Indeed, when the engine cuts out, ‘Jim’ has to ask Valerie to show him how to get it going all over again.
Valerie is just 22-years-old. She has seen her married lover, her boss, shot dead in front of her. She has been raped by his killer.
She has then been forced to give him driving lessons.
She just wants it all to be over.
And then he fires.
Valerie feels the first two shots. She falls to the ground.
She lies motionless. Still he shoots another three times.
“She has the foresight to stay lying perfectly still, and the assailant believes that she’s dead. He gets into the car, and he drives off. But as he does, the gears are screaming and screeching – he’s not accustomed to driving, certainly this particular model, a Morris Minor.”
Valerie lies in shock. She’s been shot through the chest and the spine.
She’s been through six hours of hell.
Now she’ll lie bleeding in a lay-by for another three.