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Ronald & Reginald Kray
The Kray twins, Reginald (left) and Ronald (right), photographed by David Bailey
|Born||24 October 1933 (both)
Hoxton, London, England
17 March 1995) (aged 61)
Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, Berkshire, England
1 October 2000) (aged 66)
Norwich, Norfolk, England
|Alias(es)||Ronnie & Reggie|
|Conviction status||Both deceased|
|Occupation||Gangsters and club owners|
Frances Shea (m. 1965–1967)
Roberta Jones (m. 1997–2000)
Elaine Mildener (m. 1985–1989)
Kate Howard (m. 1989–1994)
|Parents||Charles Kray and Violet Lee-Kray|
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 organised crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s. Ronald, commonly called Ron or Ronnie, most likely suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
As West End nightclub owners, they mixed with prominent entertainers including Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and with politicians. The Krays were much feared within their milieu, and in the 1960s became celebrities in their own right, even being photographed by David Bailey and interviewed on television.
Ronnie remained in Broadmoor Hospital until his death on 17 March 1995, but 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 "Charlie" Kray, Sr., (10 March 1907 – 8 March 1983), a scrap gold dealer, and Violet Lee (5 August 1909 – 7 August 1982). Reggie was born about 10 minutes before his twin Ronnie. Their parents already had a six-year old son, Charles Jr, (9 July 1926 – 4 April 2000). A sister, Violet, born 1929, died in infancy. When the twins were three years old, they contracted diphtheria but recovered. Ron Kray almost died in 1942 from a head injury suffered in a fight with his twin brother.
In 1938, the Kray family moved from Stean Street, Hoxton, to 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green. At the beginning of the Second World War, 32-year-old Charles Kray was conscripted into the army, but went into hiding rather than serve.
The influence of their maternal grandfather, Jimmy "Cannonball" Lee, caused both boys to take up amateur boxing, at that time a popular pastime for working class boys in the East End. Sibling rivalry spurred them on, and they both achieved some success. They are said to have never lost a match before turning professional at age 19.
The Kray twins were notorious locally for their gang and its violence. They narrowly avoided being sent to prison several times, and 1952 both were called up for national service with the Royal Fusiliers. They reported, but they deserted several times, always being recaptured.
While absent without leave, the brothers assaulted a police constable who tried to arrest them. They were held at the Tower of London (among the very last prisoners ever kept there) before being transfered 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. For 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 camp kettle) full of hot tea on another guard, handcuffed a guard to their prison bars with a pair of stolen cuffs, and burned their bedding. Before their conviction, when they were moved from a one-man cell to a communal one, they assaulted their guard with a china vase and escaped. Quickly recaptured, while 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 they turned to crime. They bought a run down local snooker club in Bethnal Green, where they started several protection rackets. By the end of the 1950s, the Krays were involved in hijacking, armed robbery and arson, through which they acquired a few clubs and other 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 celebrities rather than 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 such as the 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 eye when an exposé in the tabloid newspaper Sunday Mirror alleged that Ron had had a sexual relationship with Lord Boothby, a UK Conservative Party politician. Although no names were printed, when the twins threatened the journalists involved in the story and Boothby threatened to sue, the newspaper backed down, sacked its editor, printed an apology and paid Boothby £40,000 in an out-of-court settlement. As a result, other newspapers were unwilling to uncover the Krays' connections and criminal activities.
The police investigated the Krays on several occasions, but the twins' reputation for violence meant witnesses were afraid to come forward to testify. There was also a political problem for both main parties. It was in the interests of neither the Conservative Party to press the police to end the Krays' power lest the Boothby connection was again publicised and demonstrated, nor the Labour Party as their MP Tom Driberg was also rumoured to have had a relationship with Ron.
On 12 December 1966 the Krays helped Frank Mitchell, "The Mad Axeman", to escape from Dartmoor Prison (Frank Mitchell should not be confused with the contemporaneous Frankie Fraser, "Mad Frankie Fraser", who allied with the Krays' rivals, the Richardson gang). 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. However, as a large man with a mental disorder, he was difficult to deal with. He disappeared and his body has never been found. The Krays were acquitted of his murder. Freddie Foreman, a former member of The Firm, in his autobiography Respect claimed that Mitchell was shot and the body disposed of at sea.
Playwright Gill Adams wrote the play 'Jump to Cow Heaven', based on Frank Mitchell's time in hiding in the flat in Barking Road and his relationship with his minder and with an escort sent by the Krays to keep him company. The award-winning original production included Martin Freeman in the cast.
Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel on 9 March 1966. Ronnie was drinking in another pub when he heard that Cornell was in the Blind Beggar. Taking Reggie's driver John "Scotch Jack" Dickson and Ian Barrie, his right-hand man, he then killed Cornell. Just before Cornell died, he remarked "Well, look who's here." There had been a confrontation at Christmas 1965 between the Krays and the Richardsons at the Astor Club, when Cornell, an associate of the Richardsons, referred to Ronnie as a "fat poof". However, Ronnie denied this and said that the reason for the killing was because he was threatening him and Reggie.
The result was a gang war between the two, and Kray associate Richard Hart was murdered at Mr. Smith's Club in Catford on 8 March 1966. Ronnie avenged Hart's death by shooting Cornell. "Mad" Frankie Fraser was taken to court for Hart's murder but was found not guilty. A member of the Richardsons gang claimed that he saw him kicking Hart. Cornell was the only one to escape from the brawl in top condition so it is likely that Ronnie thought that he was involved in the murder. Owing to intimidation, witnesses would not cooperate with the police.
Jack "the Hat" McVitie
The Krays' criminal activities continued 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 by the Krays 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, Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at his head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge. Ronnie Kray then held McVitie 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. 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
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 Reg and Ron; during the first half of 1964 Read had been investigating their activities, but publicity and official denials surrounding allegations of Ron's relationship with Boothby had made the evidence he collected useless. Read tackled the problem of convicting 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 evidence against the Krays. Witness statements incriminated them, as well as other evidence, but none added up to a convincing case on any one charge.
Early in 1968 the twins used a man named Alan Bruce Cooper who hired and sent Paul Elvey to Glasgow to buy explosives for rigging 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 he had been involved in three botched murder attempts. However, this evidence was weakened by Cooper, who claimed to be an agent for the United States Treasury Department investigating links between the American Mafia and the Kray gang. The botched murders were his work, in an attempt to pin something 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 Ron and Reg, but they stayed away from 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 that provided a lot of the information to the police was arrested yet only for a short period. Out of the 17 official firm members, 16 were arrested and convicted.
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 jailed 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 seven months later in March 1983, to avoid the publicity that had surrounded their mother's funeral.
Reggie Kray was a Category A prisoner, denied almost all liberties and not allowed to mix with other prisoners. However, in his later years, he was downgraded to Category C and transferred to Wayland Prison in Norfolk.
In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ron's, which prompted an investigation that revealed the twins – incarcerated at separate institutions – along with their older brother, Charlie, and another accomplice who was 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 revealed that Frank Sinatra hired 18 bodyguards from Krayleigh Enterprises in 1985.
During incarceration, Reggie became a born again Christian. After serving more than the recommended 30 years he was sentenced to in March 1969, he was finally freed from Wayland on 26 August 2000, at almost 67 years old. He was released on compassionate grounds due to 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 Kray died in his sleep. Ten days later, he was buried alongside his brother Ronnie, in Chingford Mount Cemetery.
Elder brother Charlie Kray was released in 1975 after serving seven years, but returned to prison in 1997 for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine worth £69m in an undercover drugs sting. He died of natural causes in prison on 4 April 2000, six months before Reggie's death.
Ronnie was openly bisexual, evidenced by his book My Story and a confession to writer Robin McGibbon on The Kray Tapes where he states, "I'm bisexual, not gay. Bisexual." He also planned on marrying a lady 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. He 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 he still had feelings for her and his love for her is very clear. He refers 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 to his mother Violet, sent from prison in 1968, also gives references to 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." Reggie once had a one night stand with Barbara Windsor, whose EastEnders character Peggy Mitchell was reputedly based on Violet Kray (i.e. her matriarchy over two thuggish sons).
In an interview with author John Pearson, Ronnie indicated a strong identification with Gordon of Khartoum, explaining: "Gordon was like me, 'omosexual, 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 the Krays' prison records were both marred by violence towards other inmates. The campaign gathered momentum after the release of a film based on their lives called The Krays in 1990. Produced by Ray Burdis, it starred Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp, who played the roles of Reggie and Ronnie respectively.
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, however, 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 in 1965 lasted eight weeks, although the marriage was never formally dissolved. An inquest came to the conclusion that she committed suicide in 1967, but in 2002 an ex-lover of Reggie Kray came forward to allege that Frances was actually murdered by a jealous Ronnie. Bradley Allardyce spent three 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."
In 2009 a British television documentary, The Gangster and the Pervert Peer, was aired which showed that Ronnie Kray was a man-on-man rapist (commonly referred to in criminal circles as a "nonce case"). The programme also went on to detail his relationship with Tory Lord Bob Boothby as well as an ongoing Daily Mirror investigation into Lord Boothby's dealings with the Kray brothers.
In popular culture
- Piranha Brothers, Monty Python sketch
- The Krays, 1990 film
- The 'Two Rons' characters in The Management series of sketches and spin-off series featuring UK comedians Hale and Pace
- The former singer of The Smiths and solo artist Morrissey mentions each Kray brother by name in his song The Last of the Famous International Playboys saying, "Reggie Kray do you know my name?" and "Ronnie Kray do you know my face?". It is also said that he sent a wreath to Ronnie Kray's funeral.
- Ray Davies repeats the line "...and don't forget the Kray twins" in his song "London", later adding, "very dangerous people those Kray twins".
- Our Story, by Reggie & Ronnie Kray (1989) – ISBN 0-330-30818-1 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Born Fighter, by Reggie Kray (1991) – ISBN 0-09-987810-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- My Story, by Ronnie Kray (1994) – ISBN 0-330-33507-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Ronnie Kray is mentioned in the Blur song Charmless Man in the line "I think he'd like to have been Ronnie Kray".
- A Way of Life: Over Thirty Years of Blood, Sweat and Tears, by Reggie Kray (2001) – ISBN 0-330-48511-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- The television drama series Whitechapel include a three episode mini-series which was first aired 11 October 2010. In this series two twin brothers were portrayed as the alleged biological sons of Ronnie Kray
- The Krays Not Guilty Your Honour (2012), by JH Gaines
- Watson-Smyth, Kate (15 July 1997). "Flowers, but no champagne at Reggie Kray's wedding". The Independent (London). Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Clydesdale, Lindsay (13 October 2009). "Roberta Kray on her life as a gangster's widow". Daily Record newspaper online (Scotland). Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Hobbs, Dick (18 March 1995). "OBITUARY:Ron Kray". The Independent (London). Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- "Ronald and Reginald Kray". The Biography Channel. Retrieved 8 August 2007.
- "Ancestry of the Kray twins". Wargs.com. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- Charlie Kray's grave
- Kray, Reg. Born Fighter. p. 8.
- "Reggie Kray with his grandfather, 1964", photo (c) Brian Duffy, telegraph.co.uk, slideshow with "Fashion and portrait photographer Brian Duffy dies aged 76" by Roya Nikkhah, 5 June 2010 12:30 pm BST. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
- "WordNet Search – 3.1". Wordnetweb.princeton.edu. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- Metropolitan Police, The Krays. Retrieved 28 October 2007
- The Krays, accessed 28 October 2007
- David Barrett "Letters shed new light on Kray twins scandal", Sunday Telegraph, 26 July 2009
- "Obituary of Reggie Kray". BBC News. 1 October 2000. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- "Lords of The Underground", Channel 4 TV, 23 June 1997 + The Spectator, 28 June 1997
- "''The Krays jailed in 1969'' Metropolitan Police, accessed 28 October 2007". Met.police.uk. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- "Metropolitan Police, The Krays, accessed 28 October 2007". Met.police.uk. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
- Read, Leonard. Nipper Read, The Man Who Nicked The Krays. Time Warner Paperbacks 2001. p.291-292. ISBN 0-7515-3175-8 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- "1968: Krays held on suspicion of murder". BBC News. 8 May 1968. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- "Kray decision attacked". BBC News. 7 May 1998. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- Hamilton, Fiona. "The Kray twins". The Times (London). Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- 1982: Krays let out for mother's funeral accessed 28 October 2007
- Vanessa Allen (2 January 2010). "How the Krays ran a protection business for Sinatra and Co from behind bars". London: Daily Mail (online). Retrieved 28 August 2010.
- Can you really predict a prisoner's death? accessed 6 August 2010
- Gangster Charlie Kray dies BBC; accessed 28 October 2007
- Kray, Ron. My Story. p. 94.
- Hill, Amelia (25 March 2001). "Kray's deathbed secrets revealed". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- "Kray 'murdered brother's wife'". BBC News. 12 January 2002. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- John Pearson (24 August 2010). "Psychopaths on parade: How National Service transformed the Krays into gangland thugs". London: Daily Mail (online). Retrieved 28 August 2010.
- Reggie Kray: Notorious gangster BBC. Retrieved 5 November 2007
- "Frances Kray (née Shea) (died 1967), Wife of Reginald ('Reggie') Kray". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 9 August 2007.
- "Kray 'murdered brother's wife'". BBC News. 12 January 2002. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
- The Kray Twins: Brothers In Arms at the Crime Library
- Krays BBC TV interview (1965)
- BBC: On this day...1969: Kray twins guilty of McVitie murder, Richard Whitmore's BBC report on the Kray murder trial
- Professional boxing record for Reg Kray from BoxRec
- Professional boxing record for Ron Kray from BoxRec
- "200 years of The Krays' Family History" from Time Detectives