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Twin brothers Ronald “Ronnie” Kray (24 October 1933 – 17 March 1995) and Reginald “Reggie“Kray (24 October 1933 – 1 October 2000) were English gangsters who were the foremost perpetrators of organized crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s. With their gang, the Firm, the Krays were involved in armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, assaults, and the murders of Jack “the Hat” McVitie and George Cornell.
As West End nightclub owners, they mixed with politicians and prominent entertainers such as Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland. The Krays were much feared within their milieu; in the 1960s, they became celebrities, even being photographed by David Bailey and interviewed on television.
They were arrested on 9 May 1968 and convicted in 1969, by the efforts of detectives led byDetective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment. Ronnie remained in Broadmoor Hospital until his death on 17 March 1995; Reggie was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, eight weeks before his death from cancer.
Ronnie and Reggie Kray were born on 24 October 1933 in Hoxton, East London, to Charles David Kray (10 March 1907 – 8 March 1983), a scrap gold dealer, and Violet Annie Lee (5 August 1909 – 4 August 1982).
They were identical twins, Reggie being born 10 minutes before Ronnie. Their parents already had a seven-year-old son, Charles James (9 July 1927 – 4 April 2000). A sister, Violet (born 1929), died in infancy. When the twins were three years old, they contracted diphtheria. Ronnie almost died in 1942 from a head injury suffered in a fight with Reggie.
The twins first attended Wood Close School in Brick Lane, and then Daniel Street School. In 1938, the Kray family moved from Stean Street in Hoxton, to 178 Vallance Road in Bethnal Green. At the beginning of World War II, 32-year-old Charles Kray was conscripted into the army, but he refused to go and went into hiding.
The influence of their maternal grandfather, Jimmy “Cannonball” Lee caused the brothers to take up amateur boxing, then a popular pastime for working-class boys in the East End. Sibling rivalry spurred them on, and both achieved some success. They are said never to have lost a match before turning professional at age 19.
The Kray twins were notorious locally for their gang and its violence, and narrowly avoided being sent to prison several times. Young men were conscripted for National Service at this time, and in 1952 the twins were called up to serve with the Royal Fusiliers. They reported, but attempted to leave after only a few minutes. The corporal in charge tried to stop them, but Ronnie punched him in the chin, leaving him seriously injured. The Krays walked back to the East End “just in time for tea”. The next morning they were arrested and turned over to the army.
While absent without leave, they assaulted a police constable who tried to arrest them. They were among the last prisoners held at the Tower of London, before being transferred to Shepton Mallet military prison in Somerset for a month, to await court-martial. They were convicted and sent to the Home Counties Brigade Depot jail in Canterbury, Kent.
Their behaviour in prison was so bad that they both received dishonourable discharges from the army. During their few weeks in prison, when their conviction was certain, they tried to dominate the exercise area outside their one-man cells. They threw tantrums, emptied their latrine bucket over a sergeant, dumped a dixie (a large food/liquid container) full of hot tea on another guard, handcuffed a guard to their prison bars with a pair of stolen cuffs, and set their bedding on fire.
When they were moved to a communal cell, they assaulted their guard with a china vase and escaped. Quickly recaptured and awaiting transfer to civilian authority for crimes committed while at large, they spent their last night in Canterbury drinking cider, eating crisps, and smoking cigarillos courtesy of the young national servicemen acting as their guards.
Their criminal records and dishonourable discharges ended their boxing careers, and the brothers turned to crime full-time. They bought a run-down snooker club in Bethnal Green, where they started several protection rackets. By the end of the 1950s, the Krays were working for Jay Murray from Liverpool and were involved in hijacking, armed robbery and arson, through which they acquired other clubs and properties. In 1960 Ronnie Kray was imprisoned for 18 months for running a protection racket and related threats. While he was in prison, Peter Rachman, head of a violent landlord operation, gave Reggie a nightclub called Esmeralda’s Barn on the Knightsbridge end of Wilton Place next to Joan’s Kitchen, a bistro. The location is where the Berkeley Hotel now stands, on the corner opposite the church.
This increased the Krays’ influence in the West End, by now making them celebrities as well as criminals. They were assisted by a banker named Alan Cooper, who wanted protection from the Krays’ rivals, the Richardsons, based in South London.
In the 1960s, they were widely seen as prosperous and charming celebrity nightclub owners and were part of the Swinging London scene. A large part of their fame was due to their non-criminal activities as popular figures on the celebrity circuit, being photographed by David Bailey on more than one occasion; and socialising with lords, MPs, socialites and show business characters including actors George Raft, Judy Garland, Diana Dors, Barbara Windsor and singer Frank Sinatra.
They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world… and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable…
– Ronnie Kray, in his autobiographical book, My Story.
Lord Boothby and Tom Driberg
The Krays also came into the public attention when an exposé in the tabloid newspaper Sunday Mirror alleged that Ron had had a sexual relationship with Robert Lord Boothby, a Conservative politician. Although no names were printed, after the twins threatened the journalists involved and Boothby threatened to sue, the newspaper backed down. It sacked the editor, printed an apology and paid Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement. Because of this, other newspapers were unwilling to expose the Krays’ connections and criminal activities. Much later, C4 established the truth of the allegations and released a documentary on the subject, The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009).
The police investigated the Krays on several occasions, but the brothers’ reputation for violence made witnesses afraid to testify. There was also a problem for both main political parties. The Conservative Party was unwilling to press the police to end the Krays’ power for fear the Boothby connection would again be publicised, and the Labour Party‘s MP Tom Driberg was rumoured to have had a relationship with Ron Kray as well.[
On 12 December 1966 the Krays helped Frank Mitchell, “the Mad Axeman”, to escape from Dartmoor Prison. Ronnie had befriended Mitchell while they served time together in Wandsworth prison. Mitchell felt the authorities should review his case for parole, so Ronnie felt he would be doing him a favour by getting him out of Dartmoor, highlighting his case in the media and forcing the authorities to act.
Once Mitchell was out of Dartmoor, the Krays held him at a friend’s flat in Barking Road, East Ham. As a large man with a mental disorder, he was difficult to control. He disappeared, but the Krays were acquitted of his murder. Freddie Foreman, a former member of the Firm, claimed in his autobiography Respect that Mitchell was shot by him and his body disposed of at sea.
The Blind Beggar pub in 2005
Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell, an associate of the Richardsons, leaders of a rival gang, at the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel on 9 March 1966. Ronnie was drinking in another pub when he learned of Cornell’s location. He went there with his brother’s driver John Dickson and his assistant Ian Barrie but killed Cornell alone. Just before he died, Cornell remarked “Well, look who’s here.”
There are differing motives offered for the murder: Cornell’s position as a leader of an opposing gang; Cornell was threatening the Krays; he had previously insulted Kray; Cornell was thought to have a part in the murder of Ronnie’s former associate, Richard Hart. Ronnie Kray was already suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the killing.
According to some sources, Ronnie killed Cornell because on Christmas 1965, during a confrontation between the Krays and the Richardson gang at the Astor Club, Cornell referred to Ronnie as a “fat poof”. The confrontation resulted in a gang war, and about three months later, on 8 March 1966, Richard Hart, Ronnie’s associate, was murdered at ‘Mr Smith’s Club’ in Catford. A member of the Richardson gang “Mad” Frankie Fraser was taken to court for Hart’s murder but was found not guilty. Another member of the Richardson gang, Ray “The Belgian” Cullinane testified that he saw Cornell kicking Hart. Due to intimidation, witnesses would not cooperate with the police in Hart’s case, and the trial ended inconclusively without pointing to any suspect in particular.
Cornell was the only one to escape the brawl without major injuries, and was probably suspected by Ronnie as having an important role in Hart’s murder. But, at court, Ronnie denied that he had been insulted and that the murder was in order to avenge Hart’s death. Instead, he claimed that the reason for the murder was because Cornell had been threatening the Kray brothers.
Jack “the Hat” McVitie
The Krays’ criminal activities continued to be hidden behind their celebrity status and “legitimate” businesses. In October 1967, four months after the suicide of his wife Frances, Reggie was alleged to have been encouraged by his brother to kill Jack “the Hat” McVitie, a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to fulfil a £1,500 contract paid to him in advance to kill Leslie Payne. McVitie was lured to a basement flat in Evering Road, Stoke Newington, on the pretence of a party. As he entered, he saw Ronnie Kray seated in the front room as Ronnie approached him he gave him a load of verbal abuse and cut him below his eye with a broken glass.After these events it was belived that a argument broke out betweeen the twins and McVitie. As the argument got more heated Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at McVitie head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge then McVitie was held in a bearhug and Reggie Kray was handed a carving knife. He stabbed McVitie in the face and stomach, driving it deep into his neck, twisting the blade, continuing as McVitie lay on the floor dying.lthough it was thought that Reggie never intended to kill McVitie and he was lured to the basement flat to be put straight by the twins not killed.]
Several other members of the Firm including the Lambrianou brothers (Tony and Chris) were convicted of this. In Tony Lambrianou’s biography, he claims that when Reggie was stabbing Jack, his liver came out and he had to flush it down the toilet. McVitie’s body has never been recovered.
Arrest and trial
Photograph of London gangster Reginald Kray(second from left) taken in the months leading up to his trial in 1968. The evidence from this file and others resulted in he and his brother Ronald being sentenced to life imprisonment.
When Inspector Leonard “Nipper” Read of Scotland Yard was promoted to the Murder Squad, his first assignment was to bring down the Kray twins. It was not his first involvement with them. During the first half of 1964, Read had been investigating their activities, but publicity and official denials of allegations of Ron’s relationship with Boothby made the evidence he collected useless. Read went after the twins with renewed activity in 1967, but frequently came up against the East End “wall of silence”, which discouraged anyone from providing information to the police.
Nevertheless, by the end of 1967 Read had built up enough evidence against the Krays. Witness statements incriminated them, as did other evidence, but none made a convincing case on any one charge. Reginald’s gold mk10 jaguar DMX by day and MOF by night ‘Shadow’ was seized but the search for evidence was fruitless ,the car was later released. [‘Walls of silence’ around Krays]
Early in 1968 the Krays employed a man named Alan Bruce Cooper, who sent Paul Elvey to Glasgow to buy explosives for a car bomb. Elvey was the radio engineer who put Radio Sutch, later renamed Radio City, on the air in 1964. Police detained him in Scotland and he confessed to being involved in three murder attempts. The evidence was weakened by Cooper, who claimed he was an agent for the United States Treasury Departmentinvestigating links between the American Mafia and the Kray gang. The botched murders were his attempt to put the blame on the Krays. Read tried using Cooper, who was also being employed as a source by one of Read’s superior officers, as a trap for the Krays, but they avoided him.
Conviction and imprisonment
Eventually, a Scotland Yard conference decided to arrest the Krays on the evidence already collected, in the hope that other witnesses would be forthcoming once the Krays were in custody. On 8 May 1968, the Krays and 15 other members of their “firm” were arrested. Many witnesses came forward now that the Krays’ reign of intimidation was over, and it was relatively easy to gain a conviction. The Krays and 14 others were convicted, with one member of the Firm being acquitted. One of the firm members who provided a lot of the information to the police was arrested yet only for a short period.
The twins’ defence, under their counsel John Platts-Mills, QC, consisted of flat denials of all charges and the discrediting of witnesses by pointing out their criminal past. The judge, Mr Justice Melford Stevenson said: “In my view, society has earned a rest from your activities.” Both were sentenced to life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders of Cornell and McVitie, the longest sentences ever passed at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court, London) for murder. Their brother Charlie was imprisoned for 10 years for his part in the murders.
On 11 August 1982, under tight security, Ronnie and Reggie Kray were allowed to attend the funeral of their mother Violet, who had died of cancer the week before, but they were not allowed to attend the graveside service at Chingford Mount Cemetery in East London where their mother was interred in the Kray family plot. The service was attended by celebrities including Diana Dors and underworld figures known to the Krays. The twins did not ask to attend their father’s funeral when he died in March 1983, to avoid the publicity that had surrounded their mother’s funeral.
In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ron’s, which prompted an investigation. It revealed the twins – incarcerated at separate institutions – plus their older brother Charlie Kray and an accomplice not in prison, were operating a “lucrative bodyguard and ‘protection’ business for Hollywood stars”. Documents released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that officials were concerned about this operation, called Krayleigh Enterprises, but believed there was no legal basis to shut it down. Documentation of the investigation showed that Frank Sinatra hired 18 bodyguards from Krayleigh Enterprises during 1985.
Ronnie Kray was a Category A prisoner, denied almost all liberties, and not allowed to mix with other prisoners. Reggie Kray was locked up in Maidstone Prison for 8 years (Category B). In his later years, he was downgraded to Category C and transferred to Wayland Prison in Norfolk.]
Funerary monument, Chingford Mount Cemetery
Ronnie was eventually certified insane in 1979 and lived the remainder of his life in Broadmoor Hospital inCrowthorne, Berkshire.[ He died on 17 March 1995 of a heart attack, aged 61, at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire.[
During his incarceration, Reggie became a born-again Christian. After serving more than the recommended 30 years he was sentenced to in March 1969, he was freed from Wayland on 26 August 2000. He was almost 67, and was released on compassionate grounds for having inoperable bladder cancer. The final weeks of his life were spent with his wife Roberta, whom he had married while in Maidstone Prison in July 1997, in a suite at the Townhouse Hotel at Norwich, having left Norwich Hospital on 22 September 2000. On 1 October 2000, Reggie died in his sleep. Ten days later, he was buried beside his brother Ronnie in Chingford Mount Cemetery.
Older brother Charlie Kray was released from prison in 1975 after serving seven years, but was sentenced again in 1997 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine in an undercover drugs sting. He died in prison of natural causes on 4 April 2000, aged 73.
Ronnie was openly bisexual, evidenced by his book My Story and a confession to writer Robin McGibbon on The Kray Tapes, wherein he states: “I’m bisexual, not gay. Bisexual.” He also planned on marrying a woman named Monica in the 1960s whom he had dated for nearly three years. He called her “the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.” This is mentioned in Reggie’s book Born Fighter. Also, extracts are mentioned in Ron’s own book My Story and Kate Kray’s books Sorted, Murder, Madness and Marriage, and Free at Last.
Ron was arrested before he had the chance to marry Monica and, even though she married Ronnie’s ex-boyfriend, 59 letters sent to her between May and December 1968 when he was imprisoned show Ron still had feelings for her, and his love for her was very clear. He referred to her as “my little angel” and “my little doll”. She also still had feelings for Ronnie. These letters were auctioned in 2010
A letter, sent from prison in 1968, from Ron to his mother Violet also references Monica; “if they let me see Monica and put me with Reg, I could not ask for more.” He went on to say, with spelling mistakes, “Monica is the only girl I have liked in my life. She is a luvely little person as you know. When you see her, tell her I am in luve with her more than ever.” Ron subsequently married twice, wedding Elaine Mildener in 1985 at Broadmoor chapel before the couple divorced in 1989, following which he married Kate Howard, who he divorced in 1994.
In 1997 Reggie married Roberta Jones.]
In an interview with author John Pearson, Ronnie indicated a strong identification with Gordon of Khartoum and accepted as true an unproved theory about him: “Gordon was like me, homosexual, and he met his death like a man. When it’s time for me to go, I hope I do the same.”
There was a long-running campaign, with some minor celebrity support, to have the twins released from prison, but successive Home Secretaries vetoed the idea, largely on the grounds that both Krays’ prison records were marred by violence toward other inmates. The campaign gathered momentum after the release of a film based on their lives called The Krays (1990). Produced by Ray Burdis, it starred Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp, who played the roles of Reggie and Ronnie respectively. Ronnie, Reggie and Charlie Kray received £255,000 for the film.
Reggie wrote: “I seem to have walked a double path most of my life. Perhaps an extra step in one of those directions might have seen me celebrated rather than notorious.”[ Others point to Reggie’s violent prison record when he was being detained separately from Ronnie and argue that in reality, the twins’ temperaments were little different.
Reggie’s marriage to Frances Shea (1944–67) in 1965 lasted eight months when she left, although the marriage was never formally dissolved. An inquest came to the conclusion that she committed suicide, but in 2002 an ex-lover of Reggie Kray’s came forward to allege that Frances was actually murdered by a jealous Ronnie. Bradley Allardyce spent 3 years in Maidstone Prison with Reggie and explained, “I was sitting in my cell with Reg and it was one of those nights where we turned the lights down low and put some nice music on and sometimes he would reminisce. He would get really deep and open up to me. He suddenly broke down and said ‘I’m going to tell you something I’ve only ever told two people and something I’ve carried around with me’ – something that had been a black hole since the day he found out. He put his head on my shoulder and told me Ronnie killed Frances. He told Reggie what he had done two days after.
A British television documentary, The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009), showed that Ronnie Kray was a man-on-man rapist (commonly referred to in criminal circles as a “nonce case”). The programme also detailed his relationship with Tory peer Bob Boothby as well as an ongoingDaily Mirror investigation into Lord Boothby’s dealings with the Kray brothers.