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True crime. Casually done.

The Krays: Mythical Beasts of Clubland

Written by Chris Lake

INTRO

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It’s the 9th of March 1966, a quiet Wednesday night at The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, London. Legend says it was named for Henry de Montfort, brother of the famous Simon – de Monfort, that is, not Whistler – who was said to have posed as a blind beggar in order to escape detection after the battle of Evesham [eev-sham]. An inn or pub has stood on this spot since the late 1600s, and it’s always been a refuge for pickpockets, outlaws, and murderers. There’s no jukebox, so a lone barmaid is putting The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore by The Walker Brothers on the pub’s record player. Over in the corner, there’s a man in his late seventies nursing a pint and glancing every now and then at the television. Seated at a table are three men: George Cornell, Albie Woods, and Johnny Dale. Cornell’s a member of the feared Richardson Gang, and his companions are friends of his.

At about half past eight, two men walk in, one tall, square-jawed, and heavy set, the other an overweight dark-haired man in horn-rimmed spectacles. The square-jawed one pulls out a pistol and fires two shots into the ceiling. Cornell’s friends, Woods and Dale, hastily wipe their prints off tabletops and beer glasses before darting into the bathrooms to hide. Cornell himself turns to face the bespectacled man.

“Well, look who’s here,” he says sarcastically.

The bespectacled man pulls a 9mm Mauser pistol from his pocket and shoots him in the head. Cornell slumps forward. The two men leave. Cornell is rushed across the road to London Hospital but dies of his head wound two hours later.

The man in the spectacles was Ronnie Kray, one half of the iconic gangland pair known as the Krays. The other was his right-hand man, Ian Barrie. Despite the blatant nature of the crime and the presence of witnesses, it’s more than two years before anyone’s even charged. What Senior Investigating Officer Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read would come up against was the famous East End ‘code of silence’, a kind of Cockney omerta [oh-MARE-ta] where a man could literally stab another man in the eye in front of a crowd of witnesses and all anyone would say would be, “I never saw nuffink”[1].  

At least, this is one version of the story. According to Nipper[2] Read, there were thirty-two people in the pub that night, and they either melted away or became temporarily “blind” when the Krays walked in. And it was a Luger, not a Mauser. And herein lies the problem. The Krays were a self-conscious pop culture phenomenon even while they were operating, which means every story is embellished, disputed, or possibly just made up. They’ve had highly sympathetic representations from the likes of Spandau Ballet and Tom Hardy, multiple telemovies and cash-in books have been written by and about them, and celebrities of the time, looking for a bit of cool criminal cachet, all but endorsed their activities. There’s references to them in so many classic gangster films as well, and a weekly tour, starting at The Blind Beggar, is led by Stephen Marcus, the actor who played Nick the Greek in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The Krays are practically a commercial enterprise, and much of the viability of this business rests on the false narrative that they were gods of crime and dark public benefactors. But were they really? It’s hard to say because the truth, even down to the level of basic facts, is an early and frequent casualty of any attempt to build a legend.

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IN THE CRADLE OF BILL SYKES AND SWEENEY TODD

At around eight p.m. on Tuesday, the 24th of October, Violet Kray gave birth to the Krays. Reggie came first, and Ronnie about ten minutes later. The eldest child of this family was a boy, also called Charles, six years old when the twins were born. There had been a sister as well, but she died in infancy. Violet was of Romani extraction (vulgarly referred to as ‘gypsies’), and Charles, their father, was Irish. Dad was a travelling salesman known colloquially as a “pesterer”, who would roam the countryside buying and selling clothing, gold and silver, or anything else he might have found a demand for when he went “on the knock”. Their paternal grandfather, “Big Jimmy” Kray was a stall-holder in the Hoxton Market known for his hard drinking and even harder pub brawling. Their maternal grandfather Jimmy Lee was a teetotaller – an extremely rare phenomenon in East End London – or England – at the time. He was a multi-talented man – a born athlete, a bareknuckle boxer who fought under the name “The Southpaw[3] Cannonball”, and a music hall entertainer. He was reportedly capable of licking white hot pokers, walking on bottle-tops, tap-dancing, and other music hall staples.

If this all sounds a bit Dickensian, that’s not an accident. Where they lived in Hoxton, as well as Bethnal Green, where the family moved in 1939, was a sort of temporal anomaly – the last remnant of Dickens’ dark old London. These were basically ghettoes, especially the Bethnal Green house on Vallance Road – chaotic cesspools of vice, illegal gambling, sly grog[4], and prostitution. It’s no surprise that Dickens planted the villain Bill Sykes in this very neighbourhood, that Jack the Ripper killed one of his victims here, and that so many of the mythic figures of London crime, including Sweeney Todd[5] and the Krays themselves, emanate from this area.

During their early childhood, Ronnie and Reggie saw even less of their itinerant father, it being WWII and he being on the run from conscription. Interestingly, they went to the same school as George Cornell – the man Ronnie shot in The Blind Beggar – and were reputed to be childhood friends. Their elder brother Charlie, who was so into boxing he and Grandpa Lee converted part of the family home into a gym, taught them the art, but Charlie left for national service and fought as a welterweight for the Royal Navy. Under Grandad and Charlie’s tutelage, Reggie and Ronnie went on to become prominent in schoolboy boxing, with Reggie winning a championship, and Ronnie making the finals. They fought an exhibition match against each other as part of a travelling show which came to the East End, for which they were paid, and after this they would call themselves professional boxers. Many people look for clues to their future career in this period of their lives, citing the lack of male role models (despite the fact they had several strong ones), the doting permissiveness of their mother (which might be a factor), and the general deprivation of the East End at the time (which probably had something to do with it). In reality, though, the thing which really marked them out was their propensity to violence – a theme which was to carry on throughout their lives. And there was the fact of them being identical twins. Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, the hero twins of the central and south American civilisations – mythic twins are a perennial feature of human social memory, and their twinhood was often commented on, and was almost certainly a factor in the creation of the Kray mythos.  

Once the boys left school at fifteen, they worked odd jobs in the Billingsgate fish market until it was time for them to do their national service. This was a mandatory two-year enlistment for males over eighteen years of age, which endured in Britain until 1960. They were reported to the Royal Fusiliers, at the Tower of London, but didn’t even get past the entry process, with Ronnie seriously injuring a corporal who tried to stop them from leaving. Once they’d made their escape, they assaulted a police officer, were arrested, and earned the distinction of being the last prisoners to be held in the Tower of London. They spent the entirety of their service either in the stockade or on the run during one of their repeated escapes, and were far from model prisoners, burning their bedding, assaulting guards, and generally raising hell. Once they were dishonourably discharged, they transferred to a civilian prison to serve out the rest of their sentences. On their last night of ‘service’, they spent the evening drinking cider and smoking cigarillos they’d charmed out of the young conscripts who were guarding them. This duality – senseless violence and winning charisma – was to characterise their later careers.

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THE GRIM BROTHERS AND LONDON CRIME

When people talk about the Krays, they generally say “Ronnie and Reggie”, despite Reggie being the eldest and spending more time in charge of the gang. Probably the main reason for this is that Ronnie was always far more committed to the idea of being a gangster and all that went with it. He revelled in violence, necessary or otherwise, was the driving force behind their iconic image – the sharp suits and narrow ties – and was throughout his entire life someone who wanted to be a purveyor of regal largesse. It seemed an essential part of Ronnie’s happiness to be able to scatter coins and gifts among the lowly and the favoured, and he once racked up a £7000 tab at Harrods while incarcerated, mostly spent on luxuries and gifts for his boy toys. This was another attention-grabbing feature of Ronnie’s, the fact he was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal. Interestingly, some Kray confidantes say both Ronnie and Reggie were gay initially, but that Reggie ‘went straight’, so to speak, later. It’s also noteworthy that the women who married Ronnie (who came out as bisexual in the ‘80s) when both brothers were serving life sentences, had begun by courting Reggie. Additionally, an unconfirmed and somewhat dubious report says that Reggie’s first wife, who committed suicide, was found to be a virgin at the post-mortem.

For me, though, their sexuality is the least interesting part of their story, except where it intersects with their criminal careers. And it was a criminal career they deliberately set out to pursue, their past convictions making it impossible for them to continue in boxing, and their (and especially Ronnie’s) grand ambitions making a life of humble employment untenable. Once they’d got out of prison after their glorious military careers, they found their little patch of the East End unchanged. Brother Charlie had been invalided out of the Navy with migraines, probably from boxing, and had married his childhood sweetheart. He was living in the family home – he’d converted the boxing gym back into a bedroom – and was working with Dad in the family business. The twins moved back in as well and, with a small loan from Charlie, bought a run-down snooker hall in Mile End. This they deliberately set out to turn into a den of iniquity. Ronnie loved the movie gangster aesthetic, and would often go around the snooker club handing out cigarettes saying, “smoke up – it’s not smoky enough in here”. They also let it be known that if there was dodgy business to be done, theirs was a safe place to do it. So long as you were willing to throw a percentage towards the house, of course.

It’s worth talking a little bit here about how London crime worked back then. In the decades prior, there had been a certain type of London wrong-un, sharply dressed and willing to dabble in everything from black market goods to armed robbery. During and just after the war, these were called “Spivs”, who then evolved into “Teddie Boys”, and then finally the famous “Mods and Rockers”. After this, American criminal archetypes began to dominate the scene, but it’s worth remembering that until the sixties or thereabouts, it was in fact the British Empire which occupied the cultural, economic, and artistic space where the USA sits today, and London was its beating heart. So the gangster tropes of the Kray twins weren’t at all their own creation. They were drawing on a long tradition of English criminality and combining it with newer American influences to craft their image.

Regardless of outer trappings, English organised crime during this period was loosely divided between “Mobs” and “Firms”. Mobs did armed robbery, and it was during the fifties and sixties that this particular crime reached epidemic proportions, with the world-famous Flying Squad being formed specifically to combat it. Firms, on the other hand, were more the business administration side of the coin. They were almost exclusively concerned with tips and commissions, sometimes selling information to the Mobs, collecting a percentage of the takings, and also conducting illegal gambling, “Long Firms[6]”, and protection and various other rackets.  It’s also worth noting just how little conception the public, and the police force, had of organised crime. They knew it existed, of course, but had next to no idea of how to deal with it or even how it operated. This sounds ridiculous today, but at the time England’s police forces were municipally controlled – they still are – with little or no intelligence sharing between boroughs, and much of networked and organised crime was invisible to law enforcement. A similar situation endured in the USA, with the FBI having no concrete evidence of the mafia’s existence before the famous Valachi hearings in 1963.

Ronnie and Reggie were very much on the Firm side of things – they, in fact, ended up calling their outfit “The Firm”, a somewhat arrogant statement of their intent to become the only game in town. They started working for some of the most famous Firms in London and became embroiled in a falling out between the Billy Hill Gang and Jack “Spot” Comer, the two kingpins of gangland at the time. This flamed out with Spot retiring to become a furniture salesman and Billy Hill going to join all the other superannuated British gangsters living in villas in Spain. The resultant power vacuum was initially filled by an Italian gang operating out of a social club on the Clerkenwell Road. Rumours abounded that these Italians had a vendetta with the Krays, so Ronnie went round there one night, fired three shots at them without hitting anyone, and walked out. This was apparently sufficient to cement their early reputation, and Ronnie is said to have declared, “We’re not playing kid’s games anymore.”

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MYTHICAL BEASTS OF CLUBLAND

With the snooker hall bringing in good money, and the twins frantically self-promoting as the kings of London, they were soon in a position to buy a nightclub, which they called The Double R, for “Reggie” and “Ronnie”. It’s worth pointing out just how bleak England was in this immediate post-war period. Rationing endured for many years after the war, making fertile ground for black marketeers, and late-night drinking was illegal, as was most gambling, and of course prostitution and most drugs. This created opportunity for edgy operators to fill the market’s demand for these commonplace pastimes, and with the staged legalisation of gambling over the course of the twentieth century, fifties London became the Las Vegas of its day. Given the money involved, police corruption, especially in big cities, was rampant to the point of ridiculous. Unfortunately, documentary records on police corruption at this time are sealed until 2037, so we’ll have to wait a while for hard information, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence in the meantime. The Krays were neck deep in all these trades, either taking a slice or operating rackets themselves.

More than anything, the Krays were a public relations phenomenon. They had a long list of celebrities visit their clubs including Barbara Windsor, Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Peter Sellers, Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, that utter prick Jimmy Savile, and more. Ronnie was known to revel in just how easy it was to get celebrities to socialise with them. The Krays also had significant political connections, with Tory peer Lord Boothby – who was, in fact, the senior Tory in the House of Lords – on the one hand, and Tom Driberg, a prominent and basically openly gay Labour MP on the other. This connection was so sensitive that it repeatedly hampered Scotland Yard’s attempts to investigate the brothers. It was a scandal involving Lord Boothby, where Daily Mirror crime reporter Norman Lucas outed Ronnie as both a criminal and a gay lover of Boothby, which contributed significantly to the Krays’ national and social profile. The Mirror published this story, leaning heavily on the homosexual angle (because of course they did), and were subsequently sued by Lord Boothby, who was awarded £50,000 in damages. It’s rumoured that anywhere between five grand and the whole lot of this settlement went to the Krays. On a side note, it seems much more likely that the relationship between Ronnie and these pillars of society was based around procuring young men for their “amusement”. And on top of all this, the Krays did what most East End gangsters do when it comes to burnishing the old image and became prominent philanthropists, organising charity events at their clubs and generally living it large for the paps.

It wasn’t all champagne and stars, however, away from the tabloid’s cameras. Reggie was the less antisocial and more calculating of the two, and it seems he was also less deluded. From all we can make out, it seems Reggie’s greatest ambition in life was something known then as “possession” – we’d say “respectability”. He appears to have wanted desperately to own a family home, have a wife and kids, and be generally respected and acknowledged in society. To this end he harried a sixteen-year-old girl named Frances Elsie Shea into marrying him, then promptly sold the rights to cover the wedding. Their married life together lasted a total of eight weeks, until Frances fled both Reggie’s possessiveness and the realities of a life of crime. The marriage limped along for a while, conducted bizarrely through the window of her parents’ house, before she finally attempted suicide twice at the age of twenty-three – first by gas (presumably an oven), and then successfully through a barbiturates overdose. Frances’ funeral was a tabloid sensation, and the Krays made quite a packet selling the rights to that too.

Both brothers continued recklessly violent – especially Ronnie, who was slowly losing his mind. Some reporters trace this mental instability to the twins contracting diphtheria at age three, but I have my doubts. In any case, Ronnie, after one of his many randomly violent incidents, was sentenced to a prison term during which he was so troublesome he was certified insane and sent to a mental institution. He hated it there, missing both the lavish prison lifestyle he’d been able to sustain, and deeply offended by the stigma of being considered nuts. What we know now is that Ronnie was a paranoid schizophrenic – a difficult and subtle diagnosis which the health system at the time didn’t pick up.

There’s an amusing story about how Ronnie got out of the loony bin. Reggie and Frances arranged to visit, bringing along the aforementioned Norman Lucas, the journalist, who was busy ingratiating himself with the twins to get a story and, in his own words, “expose” them. The Krays kept up a close correspondence with journalists and publicists of all kinds, being at least as interested in staying in the limelight as they were in the crime business. Reggie wore a fawn raincoat over his sharp suit, and they all met in a visiting room. Residents weren’t allowed to leave this room, but visitors could. So with a quick switcheroo of the raincoat, identical twin Ronnie was able to step out to “make a cup of tea”. Norman Lucas says, “Eventually we drove away, in quite a hurry, I thought, and I turned to what I thought was Reggie and said, ‘So how do you feel Ronnie is holding up?”.  He turned back to me and said, ‘I am Ronnie you fucking idiot.’” Later, Norman was able to negotiate a deal with the Home Office where Ronnie would give himself up with no penalties, a manouevre which allowed him to avoid further time in the booby hatch, serving out the rest of his sentence in a regular prison.

When they were at the height of their career Nipper Read, by now one of the Met’s youngest Inspectors and a generally excellent operator, was intensively investigating the Krays. He was hampered not only by the East End code of silence, but also by the random, almost manic, pattern of the Krays’ expansion. They were involved in a dizzying number of rackets, from the protection racket – which their celebrity made much easier – to jewel smuggling scams, stolen car rackets, gambling, and murder and maiming for hire. There were now a couple of dozen hardnuts in The Firm, and they were beginning to set their sights well beyond than the tiny triangle of London known as the East End which was, in reality, all the territory they ever controlled. They were meeting with representatives of the Genovese crime family – the most prominent of the American mafia families at the time – as well as investing in businesses and nightclubs at a dizzying rate. They’d also hooked up with a mysterious man named Alan Cooper, a banker and gold smuggler who was seeking protection from the Richardson Gang, their principle rivals south of the river Thames.

Ronnie, afraid that his American counterparts weren’t taking them seriously enough, decided in his Ronnie way that what they needed to was a series of high-profile assassinations. Alan Cooper introduced him to a hitman (who turned out not to be one), and they hatched a plan to assassinate Maltese club owner and rival George Caruana via car bomb, which was all the rage at the time. Cooper hired a cut-out to procure the explosives, but Nipper Read had Cooper under constant surveillance, and was able to intercept the shipment. Nipper brought Cooper in and threatened to charge him, only to find that the banker claimed to be working for Scotland Yard. It seems that Cooper was a US Treasury asset tasked with uncovering the extent of the Krays’ involvement with government figures such as Lord Boothby. It’s important to stress this is just a rumour, but Cooper’s story stinks to high heaven of undercover work and is probably worth a post of its own. Or would be, if there was any reasonable prospect of finding out anything important about him. We can maybe table that one for 2037.

DECLINE AND FALL

The question may well be asked, if the Krays were so untouchable – so well in with high society – why was Nipper Read so hot on their trail? Well, the answer is that their “untouchability” was basically a figment of their own self-marketing. They’d both spent significant stints in prison through their roughly ten-year reign in the East End, and they were both constantly in legal trouble, under investigation, contesting or losing criminal trials. What made it difficult to land a major, literally gangbusting conviction against them had much more to do with how criminal investigation worked at the time than with anything else.

With crime, organised or otherwise, police rely heavily on informants. This is still true today, but in the digital age, informants are supplemented by digital surveillance, especially when it comes to organised crime. In Australia in 2013, for example, 90% of drug trafficking convictions originated from mobile telephony intercepts. Back in the mid-twentieth century, however, it was informants, or it was nothing. And in the case of the East End of London, these were very few and far between. Nipper Read tells a story of a time when he had the Krays both in custody for a trumped-up charge – sort of a “convict Al Capone of tax evasion” gambit, which relied on the testimony of a female witness who had begged the police to arrest the twins and “save her life”. According to Nipper, when she heard they’d been arrested she dropped to her knees and hugged his legs in gratitude. And yes, that was a completely platonic gesture, you degenerates. In any case, Nipper told her to come back the next day to testify. “Well, that was a mistake,” Nipper said in a Granada interview, “because she comes back the next day resplendent in furs and jewels saying, ‘I’ve come to stand bail for my good friends, the Krays’.” The Firm, safe and strong in their East End community, had got to her. So strong were the walls of this shadow state that the murder of Cornell in The Blind Beggar, which we mentioned at the start, wasn’t sufficient to bring about their demise. It was another killing, of a straight up psycho known as Jack “The Hat” McVitie, which would eventually bring about their downfall.

Early in the formation of The Firm, Reggie had picked up a man called Leslie Payne. Payne was a savvy and intelligent operator who was instrumental in the expansion of The Firm in the early sixties. Left to themselves, the twins were little more than violent thugs. It was Payne who encouraged them to expand into clubs and rackets, and who’s generally acknowledged as the only reason the The Firm ever made any money at all in the early days. By 1966, however, the twins’ random acts of violent lunacy alarmed him enough to break with The Firm. By 1967, Ronnie had murdered Cornell and Reggie, having a bit of a breakdown after the suicide of his first wife, came to believe Payne was about to “grass” on them. He engaged Jack “The Hat” McVitie, so called because he was balding and always wore a hat – even in the bath, reputedly – to cover it. He offered McVitie somewhere between £500-1000 to kill Payne, paying £100-500 in advance, depending on who you believe. Now, McVitie was a bit of a disorderly chap, a psychopathically violent alcoholic and drug addict – far from the Hollywood vision of a cold professional hitman. He was, in fact, more like a builder, in that he accepted the job and then simply failed to carry it out.

It seems that up to this point, the Krays had never personally killed anyone. After Ronnie shot Cornell in the pub, he’d rushed back to Reggie saying, “I shot him! I actually shot him!”. This made both Ronnie and Reggie start thinking they should both “make their bones”, so to speak, so they decided to start with Mcvitie, who wasn’t only indebted to them, but was reportedly going round town bragging about taking money from “those nonces”. They arranged to have Chris and Tony Lambrianou, enforcers for the firm and friends of McVitie, to get him drunk at The Carpenter’s Arms and then invite him to a party at a house in Evesham Road which belonged to a couple who worked for The Firm. When Jack arrived, he found only the Krays and a random assortment of Ronnie’s “boys” and residents of the house. The twins took McVitie to a basement where Reggie attempted to shoot him, but the pistol jammed. A scuffle ensued, during which Ronnie managed to get hold of Jack and Reggie stabbed him multiple times in the face and abdomen, finally pinning him to the floor via a stab wound to the neck.

Ronnie and Reggie don’t seem to have had much of an idea of what to do next, and they roused the whole Firm, as well as some random hangers-on, to get the place cleaned up and dispose of the body. Chris Lambrianou was one of the ones who helped – he later had a prison epiphany, became a born again Christian and ended up running a charity for recovering addicts, but that’s by the by. The murder of McVitie turned their community against the twins. Already by this time, their high profile and random violence had led many members of The Firm to see the twins as a liability, and it’s believed that if they hadn’t been arrested, they would have been murdered anyway. But the killing of McVitie led many to fear for their own safety. Especially Leslie Payne who, aware of the contract on his life, promptly went to Nipper Read. Ironically, Reggie’s decision to come over all mafiosi and tie up loose ends pushed the man who knew exactly where all the bodies were buried into the arms of the police, and pretty well the whole Firm was in the dock before very long. The trial was a media circus, helped along by Ronnie and Reggie’s insatiable appetite for publicity, and by the end the twins had been found guilty of the murders of George Cornell and Jack McVitie, and sentenced to thirty years’ imprisonment.

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WRAP-UP

The legacy of the Krays has had a revival recently, thanks to the film Legend starring Tom Hardy as both twins. In the years – in fact, decades – following their imprisonment, however, they were an absolute sensation. They set up several businesses and it’s believed merchandise sales alone were netting them £3000 a week. As many of their close associates, including Chris Lambrianou, said, the Krays made a hell of a lot more money selling mugs, t-shirts, and television rights than they ever did as criminals.

They also seem to have done better personally in prison as well. Reggie became a fitness fanatic and was continually calling journalists and publicists to advertise books he was publishing about exercise, when he wasn’t being paid to write and talk about his past life, that is. And Ronnie was married twice in Broadmoor– once to a graduate called Elaine Milder in 1985, and then again to Kate Howard, an ex-kissogram girl in 1990. Apart from the obligatory Krays book which she and everyone else who knew them wrote, possibly Kate Howard’s most interesting feature is that she used to live next door to Simon’s Nan.

Ronnie died in 1995 of heart trouble, unsurprising for a man who smoked 100 cigarettes a day. Charlie died five years later, and Reggie died of bladder cancer shortly after. Reggie passed his final weeks in the company of his second wife Roberta Jones in the honeymoon suite of a Norwich hotel. It’s telling that Ronnie’s funeral was better attended than Winston Churchill’s, a fact seen by some as a sad indictment of celebrity culture, and by me as proof positive that to be a true hero of the people, it’s important to be criminal. That being said, it’s clear that so much of the Krays myth is exactly that – a myth. Researching this piece, I’ve been mired in rumour, exaggeration, nostalgia, and outright fabrication laid out by what seems to be a whole generation determined to remember these two thugs kindly. The picture that’s emerged for me, however, is of two confused and none-too-bright wannabes who almost achieved a successful criminal career through some good luck and a whole lot of terrorism, but who ultimately were brought undone through their own weirdly childish vileness.

DISMEMBERED APPENDICES

  1. One of the businesses run by the Krays in prison was Krayleigh Enterprises, a security company. Krayleigh provided eighteen bodyguards for Frank Sinatra’s 1985 England visit.
  2. Constant campaigns to have the Krays released were run both by the Kray family and justice campaigners. In those days, a life sentence was somewhere between ten and twenty years – for context, a man who shot three policemen in the street was sentenced to a lesser term than the Krays. This anomaly led many to say that the greatest victim of the Kray trial was the reputation of the law, as the sentence seemed vindictive.
  3. The Krays’ trial was the longest and most expensive criminal proceeding in the history of the country to that time.
  4. A huge number of Kray associates made their nest eggs writing books or giving interviews on the twins. One of the last of these, Ronnie’s friend Laurie O’Leary, tells how Ronnie summoned him to prison to commission him to write his biography. “Don’t make me a nice person,” Ronnie said. “Just say I was nice to nice people, and a bastard to bastards.”

[1] This refers to Bulldog Wallis, who famously killed a Jewish man by stabbing him in the eye with the tip of an umbrella at the Blind Beggar. He was arrested, but no witnesses could be found to testify – all saying, “I never saw nuffink”. He was carried back in triumph to the Beggar to continue drinking. This happened in the early 1900s.

[2] A nickname from his boxing days, referencing his speed, i.e. ‘nippy’.

[3] Southpaws fight in left-handed or ‘goofy’ stance, with the right as the leading hand and the left the dominant.

[4] Unlicensed alcohol

[5] A barber reputed to have murdered his patrons and sold their flesh in meat pies.

[6] A Long Firm is a type of scam where a reputable business is established or taken over and run well for a period of time to establish the trust of the suppliers. They then make a series of massive orders, sell off all the stock at bargain basement prices, and then disappear. Sometimes the proprietor will take the rap in exchange for a lump sum payment or forgiveness of debt. Other times, all officers of the company will disappear without a trace.

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