Over the years, I've met many lovely people through the Crime Writers' Association, and especially its Northern Chapter. In recent times, I've got to know Ricki Thomas mainly through conversations at Chapter lunches in Yorkshire, although we've never had time so far for a really long chat. Ricki is one of those authors who is, like me, interested in true crime as well as in fiction, and a chance remark she dropped about a particular collection led me to ask her to contribute a guest post, which I found quite fascinating. She calls it: "The A6 Murder, the Night Stalker...and Me." The A6 case has played a notable part in British criminology although attempts to prove that James Hanratty was innocent of the crime foundered once DNA testing became available. But Ricki has a very different slant on the case. Over to you, Ricki:
"I was ten when my best friend’s mum died of a heart attack. She was only 34 and it was tragic. Herdistraught mother fundraised tirelessly for the hospital she had been treated in, eventually helping toopen a new wing, named in her honour, using her maiden name, Valerie Storie. And that was that.
Until a couple of years later, when I became curious about serial killers and the psychology behind their crimes. I came upon a chapter about the A6 Murders, the case now notorious for having been reopened in 2003 due to doubt of James Hanratty’s guilt.
For those unaware of the case, married Michael Gregsten and his lover, Valerie Storie, were abducted in Dorney Reach, Berkshire, in August 1961. The kidnapper commanded Gregsten to drive along the A6 at gunpoint, finally stopping at aptly-named beauty spot Deadman’s Hill, near Clophill in Bedfordshire, where he shot Gregsten dead and raped Storie, before shooting her five times and leaving her for dead. She survived.
Intrigued by the possibility of the victim being my friend’s mother (we lived near Dorney Reach at the time), I spent hours at Slough library poring through newspaper articles and photos, heart pounding as I noted the likeness of the pretty woman in the dated pictures to the memories I had from spending time with the family, aged seven to ten, before Valerie’s untimely death. I was convinced they were one and the same.
I was wrong; the courageous survivor of the A6 atrocity lived until she was 77, dying in March this year, but the intense research had set a fire blazing inside me and studying the psychology of killers has since become my lifelong passion, in particular Richard Ramirez, America’s Night Stalker.
Ramirez was of interest because his savage spree was happening (1984-1985) as my intrigue in killers developed. A drifter from El Paso, Texas, he brutally murdered his way through Los Angeles, famously listening to AC/DC while on the prowl. Unlike most serial killers, he didn’t have a type, and his victims ranged from painfully young to old, male and female. He would sometimes abuse sexually, always murder viciously, and left a trail of destruction in his wake, before being apprehended by the public following the release of his mugshot in a newspaper. He was sentenced to death and remained on death row in San Quentin State Prison, California, before dying of liver disease in 2013.
Regardless of what was then an unusual hobby, I was sensible and became an accountant rather than the detective I would love to have been, and for years while I developed a successful business and raised a family, my free time was spent devouring true-crime books. Turning thirty, I couldn’t wait any longer to fulfil the burning desire to share the knowledge I had on the subject in novel form, and I wrote Unlikely Killer, a thriller about a copycat serial killer recreating past British murders.
It wasn’t published for a further ten years, during which time I wrote prolifically, including screenplays as well as novels, short stories and articles. Last year my seventh novel was published, and this year has been spent polishing my books and releasing second editions of all but two so far.
In 2011, still endlessly trying to understand why a person would step across that line and choose to take another life, I wrote to Ramirez, stating my interest and work. We shared a brief correspondence - 8 letters – before I couldn’t deal with his intense interest in my children any more (particularly my youngest son, who was 7 at the time); I stopped writing to him.
Which leads to one of the most exciting parts of my career so far: having visited the True Crime Museum in Hastings last year and been absorbed by their wonderful collections, which mainly centre on serial killers, I asked if they would be interested in exhibiting my collection, and luckily they agreed. So later this year I’ll be heading south to lend them the letters, complete with photos, hand-drawn pictures and cards. As far as I know it will be the first Ramirez exhibition in Britain, a useful study for those who, like me, find the psychology of killers fascinating.
I have a million and one more ideas for novels and screenplays, finding inspiration in the most trivial of events. I can’t imagine following a different career now, and I hope that my work will help readers in some way to realise that killers are vastly a product of a broken society, a series of greys between the accepted black and white, rather than simply ‘evil’.
My books are:
Rings of Death