Ronnie and Reggie Kray were twins born in Hoxton, East London, on October 23rd 1933 who became the most feared gangsters in the city during the 1950’s and 1960’s. They became involved in protection rackets, armed robberies, arson, assaults, and two murders in front of witnesses. They also owned a West End nightclub and mixed with film stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, George Raft, Barbara Windsor, and Diana Dors.
At the age of five, the twins and the family, who were of Irish and Romany Gypsy descent, moved from Hoxton to Vallance Road in Bethnal Green. Their grandfather, Jimmy Lee, persuaded them to take up boxing, which they did with some success. In 1952 they were called up for national service with the Royal Fusiliers , but although they reported they tried to leave after only a few minutes. A corporal who tried to stop them was seriously injured when Ronnie hit him on the jaw. The following morning they were arrested and taken back to the army.
They went absent without leave and assaulted a police officer who tried to arrest them. They were then held in the Tower of London (some of the last prisoners to be held there), before being transferred to a military prison in Somerset where they were court martialled. Found guilty, they were sent to jail in Canterbury. They were dishonourably discharged from the army.
Their boxing careers over as a result of their criminal records and other activities, they turned to full time crime. They purchased an old snooker club in Mile End from where they ran protection rackets, and worked for a gangster from Liverpool organising armed robbery, arson, and highjacking, the proceeds of which enabled them to buy more clubs and properties. In 1960 Ronnie served a prison sentence for running a protection racket and while he was away Reggie was given a nightclub called Esmeralda’s Barn in Knightsbridge by a notorious landlord called Peter Rachman.
In 1964 the Sunday Mirror published an article which suggested that Ronnie Kray had a sexual relationship with Conservative peer Lord Boothby, although no names were mentioned. This was at a time when homosexuality was still illegal. The Krays threatened the journalists that were involved and Boothby threatened to sue the Sunday Mirror with the help of Harold Wilson’s solicitor (Wilson wanted to protect MP Tom Driberg who was a homosexual known to associate with both Ronnie Kray and Lord Boothby). The Sunday Mirror backed down, paid Boothby £40,000, sacked the editor, and published an apology.
The police investigated the Krays several times, but their reputation for violence made witnesses afraid to testify.
On March 8th 1966 there was a shooting at a nightclub in Catford involving the Richardson gang of South London, during which an associate of the Krays, Richard Hart, was killed. Most of the Richardson gang were arrested, but not George Cornell who had not been present. The following day Cornell visited the Blind Beggar pub in East London which was only a mile from the Krays home. Ronnie Kray was drinking in another pub nearby and when he learned that Cornell was in the Blind Beggar had his driver take him there along with his assistant Ian Barrie. Kray walked into the pub with Barrie, went straight up to Cornell, and shot him in the head.
In December the same year, the Krays helped Frank Mitchell to escape from Dartmoor prison. Mitchell and Ronnie had become friends when they were both in Wandsworth prison, but Mitchell had a mental disorder and was difficult to control. He disappeared and the Krays were charged with his murder, but acquitted.
In October 1967 Reggie was allegedly encouraged by Ronnie to kill Jack “The Hat” McVitie who was a Kray gang member who had been offered a reward of £1,000 – half of which he had been paid up front – to kill Leslie Payne, but had failed to do so. McVitie was lured to what he thought was a party at a flat in Stoke Newington. When he saw Ronnie Kray he started verbally abusing him and cut him below the eye with a piece of broken glass. Reggie Kray pointed a gun at Mcvitie and pulled the trigger twice, but it failed to fire.
The twins cousin Ronnie Hart then grabbed McVitie in a bearhug and Reggie Kray knifed him to death with a very large carving knife. This murder began to turn people against the Krays and some were prepared to testify to Scotland Yard. On May 8th 1968 the Krays and 15 other members of their “Firm” were arrested.
In March 1969 the twins were both sentenced to life imprisonment, Mr. Justice Melford Stevenson remarking “In my view, society has earned a rest from your activities.”
Meet the actor who played Nick the Greek in Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on our Krays Tour. Learn about some of the methods used by some of the most feared gangsters in 1950s and 1960s London. Visit the location where Vinnie Jones had his first day of filming for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and other film locations including some from The Krays, Face, The Crying Game and Gangster No 1. At the end of the tour you can enjoy a Q&A session with Stephen.