- "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. I always wanted to be recognized as the king of the clubs, but I chose the path I chose, so now I must walk it."
- ―Reggie Kray in his autobiography Born Fighter, 1990
Reginald "Reggie" Kray (24 October 1933 – 1 October 2000) was an English gangster and the twin to his brother Ronnie Kray. Active in the 1960s in London, the twins were the foremost perpetrators of organised crime in the East End of London during the 1950s and 1960s. With their gang, known as "The Firm", the Krays were involved in armed robberies, arson, protection rackets, assaults, and murder.
As West End nightclub owners, the Krays mixed with politicians and prominent entertainers such as Diana Dors, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. The Krays were much feared within their social environment; in the 1960s, they became celebrities, being photographed by David Bailey and interviewed on television.
Reggie married Frances Shea in 1965 and shortly after her death in 1967, he killed Jack McVitie at a party in Stoke Newington, London. The Krays were arrested on 8 May 1968 and convicted in 1969, as a result of the efforts of detectives led by Detective Superintendent Leonard "Nipper" Read. Reggie subsequently spent 33 years in prison for the murder of McVitie and was released from prison on compassionate grounds in August 2000, eight and a half weeks before his death from bladder cancer, aged 66.
- 1 Background
- 2 Criminal Careers
- 3 Jack McVitie
- 4 Arrest and trial
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Death
- 7 In popular culture
- 8 Sources
Reggie was born on October 24 1933, at 68 Stean Street, Hoxton, ten minutes before Ronnie, to Charles Kray, a scrap gold dealer, and Violet Lee. Reggie's parents already had a six-year-old son, Charlie Kray (9 July 1927 – 4 April 2000). A sister, Baby Violet was born in 1929, but she died in infancy.
Reggie and his brother 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 the Second World War, 32-year-old Charles Kray was conscripted into the army, but he refused to go and went into hiding, who remained in and out of Reggie's earlier years. 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 to have never lost a match before turning professional at age 19. It has said Reggie was the twin who could have been a professional boxer if he hadn't had turned to crime.
Reggie won several boxing tournaments, including the 1948 Hackney Schoolboy Boxing Championship. During their teenage years, Reggie and his brother Ronnie formed a gang, which became infamous in the area, and narrowly dodged prison sentences on several occasions. The longest legitimate job the twins had in their lives was a six-month stint at a fish market. Ronnie had some success in the sport, but his brother was considered the real contender. Outside of the ring, Ronnie was later known for his temper and willingness to fight anyone that slighted him. Ronnie and his twin left school in December 1948 and initially had ideas about getting into the building trade, and worked for a roofer as a labourer. On 8 January 1949, they began working for Farren and Barrow at Billingsgate Market, earning £2 a week via their Uncle Joe.
The Kray twins were notorious for their gang and its violence and narrowly avoided being sent to prison many times. Young men were conscripted for national service at this time, and they were called up to serve with the Royal Fusiliers in 1952. They reported but attempted to leave after only a few minutes. The corporal in charge tried to stop them, but Ronnie punched him on the chin, leaving him seriously injured and the Krays walked back to the East End. They were arrested the next morning and were 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 Buffs' Home Counties Brigade Depot jail in Canterbury, Kent. Their behaviour in prison was so bad that they both received dishonourable discharges from the army.
They tried to dominate the exercise area outside their one-man cells during their few weeks in prison when their conviction was certain. They threw tantrums, emptied their latrine bucket over a sergeant, dumped a dixie (a large food and 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. They were moved to a communal cell where they assaulted their guard with a china vase and escaped. They were quickly recaptured and awaited 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 Reggie and his brother turned to crime full-time. They bought a run-down snooker club in Mile End 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 Ronnie 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 a bistro called Joan's Kitchen. The location is where the Berkeley Hotel now stands.
This increased the Kray’s influence in the West End by making them celebrities as well as criminals. They were assisted by a banker named Alan Cooper who wanted protection against the Kray‘s rivals, the Richardsons, based in South London. Reggie created a signature move called the cigarette punch. He acted as if he was going to place a cigarette in his intended target's mouth and then hit him while his mouth was open. The blow was meant to make it easier to break the victim's jaw. To date the deadliest move performed by Kray was the infamous half-clock, which was intended to seem as a usual punch when really as the punch landed an immediate counter punch was inflicted from the other side causing the victim to be utterly dazed and distraught.
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. The Krays also came to public attention in July 1964 when an exposé in the tabloid newspaper Sunday Mirror insinuated that Ron had conceived a sexual relationship with Robert, Lord Boothby, a Conservative politician
- Main article: The Murder of George Cornell
In 1966, Reggie's twin Ronnie shot and killed George Cornell a member of the Richardsons (a rival gang), at the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel on 9 March 1966. According to some sources, Ronnie killed Cornell because Cornell referred to Ronnie as a "fat poof" during a confrontation between the Krays and the Richardson gang at the Astor Club on Christmas Day 1965.
Although Ronnie Kray may have suspected Cornell of having an important role in Hart's murder, when Ronnie was tried for the Cornell killing in 1969, he denied both that he had been insulted by Cornell at the Astor Club in 1965 and that Cornell's murder was in retaliation for Hart's death. Instead, he claimed that the reason for the murder was that Cornell had been threatening the Kray brothers.
- Main article: The Murder of Frank Mitchell
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 that the authorities should review his case for parole, so Ronnie thought that 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. He was a large man with a mental disorder, and he was difficult to control. He disappeared, but the Krays were acquitted of his murder. Freddie Foreman, a friend of the Krays, claimed in his autobiography Respect that he shot Mitchell dead as a favour to the twins and disposed of his body at sea.
- Main article: The Murder of Jack McVitie
Reggie's downfall began in 1967 when he killed Jack "the Hat" McVitie. The Kray‘s criminal activities remained hidden behind their celebrity status and "legitimate" businesses. Reggie was allegedly encouraged by his brother in October 1967, four months after the suicide of his wife Frances, to kill Jack "the Hat" McVitie, a minor member of the Kray gang who had failed to fulfil a £1,000 contract, half of which was 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. Upon entering, he saw Ronnie Kray seated in the front room. As Ronnie approached him, he let loose a barrage of verbal abuse and cut him below his eye with a piece of broken glass. It is believed that an argument then broke out between the twins and McVitie. As the argument got more heated, Reggie Kray pointed a handgun at McVitie's head and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun failed to discharge.
McVitie was then held in a bearhug by the twins' cousin, Ronnie Hart, and Reggie Kray was handed a carving knife. He stabbed McVitie in the face and stomach, driving the blade into his neck while twisting the knife, not stopping even as McVitie lay on the floor dying. Reggie had committed a very public murder, against someone who many firm members felt did not deserve to die. In an interview in 2000, shortly after Reggie's death, Freddie Foreman revealed that McVitie had a reputation for leaving carnage behind him due to his habitual consumption of drugs and heavy drinking, and had in the past threatened to harm the twins and their family.
Tony and Chris Lambrianou and Ronnie Bender helped clear up the mess and tried to dispose of the body. With the body being too big to fit in the boot of the car, the body was wrapped in an eiderdown and put in the back seat of a car. Tony Lambrianou drove the car with the body and Chris Lambrianou and Bender followed behind. Crossing the Blackwall tunnel, Chris lost Tony's car and spent up to fifteen minutes looking around Rotherhithe area. They eventually found Tony, outside St Mary's Church, where he had run out of fuel with McVitie's body still inside the car. With no alternative than to dump it in the churchyard, and attempt to plant a gang south of the River Thames, the body was left in the car and the three gangsters returned home. Bender then went on to phone Charlie Kray informing them that it had been dealt with. However, upon finding out where they had left McVitie's corpse, the twins were livid and desperately phoned Foreman, who was then running a pub in Southwark, to see if he could dispose of the body. With dawn breaking, Foreman found the car, broke into it and drove the body to Newhaven where, with the help of a trawlerman, the body was bound with chicken wire and dumped in the English Channel.
This event started turning many people against the Krays, and some were prepared to testify to Scotland Yard as to what had happened, fearing that what happened to McVitie could easily happen to them. Leonard "Nipper" Read reopened his case against them.
Arrest and trial
Inspector Leonard "Nipper" Read of Scotland Yard was promoted to the Murder Squad and 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 Ron's relationship with Boothby made the evidence that 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.
Early in 1968, the Krays employed 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 on the air in 1964, later renamed Radio City. After police detained him in Scotland, he confessed to being involved in three murder attempts. The evidence was weakened by Cooper, who claimed that he was an agent for the US Treasury Department investigating links between the American Mafia and the Kray gang. The botched murders were his attempt to put the blame on the Krays. Cooper was being employed as a source by one of Read's superior officers, and Read tried using him 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. At dawn on the 8th May 1968, the police team lead by Nipper Read simultaneously arrested the twins and twenty-four other members of the Firm. The twins were found at Braithwaite House in Finsbury (at this time, 178 Vallance Road had been demolished as part of the East End slum clearances) where they found Ronnie curled up with a young fair-haired man and Reggie sleeping with a girl from Walthamstow.
Exceptional circumstances were put in place so as to stop any possible co-operation against any of the accused. Nipper Read then secretly interviewed each of the defendants and offered each firm member one chance to come onto the side of law and order. Whilst in prison, the Krays had come up with a plan, which included Scotch Jack Dickson to confess to the murder of Cornell, Ronnie Hart to take the McVitie and Albert Donoghue (Reggie's right-hand man) to stand for Mitchell. Donoghue told the twins directly that he wasn't prepared to be cajoled into pleading guilty, to the anger of the twins. He then informed Read via his mother, who set up another interview in secret and Donoghue was the first to tell the police everything that he knew. Ronnie Hart had initially not been arrested and was not a name initially sought after by the police. With Donoghue's testimony, Hart was hunted down found and was arrested. Offering the same terms as the others arrested, Hart then told Read exactly everything that had happened during McVitie's murder, although he did not know anything about what happened to the body. This was the first time that the police knew exactly who was involved and offered them a solid case to prosecute the twins for McVitie's murder.
Although Read knew for certain that Ronnie Kray had murdered George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub no one had been prepared to testify against the twins out of fear. Upon also finding out that twins intended to cajole him, 'Scotch Jack' Dickson also turned in everything he knew about Cornell's murder. Although not a witness to the actual murder he was an accessory having driven Ronnie Kray and Ian Barrie to the pub. The police still needed an actual witness to the murder. They then managed to track down the barmaid who was working in the pub at the time, gave her a secret identity and she testified to seeing Ronnie killing Cornell. Frank Mitchell's escape and disappearance was much harder to obtain evidence for since the majority of those arrested were not involved with his planned escape and disappearance. Read decided to proceed with the case and have a separate trial for Mitchell once the twins had been convicted.
The twins' defence under their counsel John Platts-Mills, QC consisted of flat denials of all charges and discrediting witnesses by pointing out their criminal past. Justice Melford Stevenson said: "In my view, society has earned a rest from your activities." In March 1969, 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 ten years for his part in the murders.
Ronnie and Reggie Kray were allowed to attend the funeral of their mother Violet on 11 August 1982 (she had died of cancer the week before), under tight security. However, they were not allowed to attend the graveside, which was at Chingford Mount Cemetery in East London where she was interred in the Kray family plot. The funeral was attended by celebrities including Diana Dors and underworld figures known to the Krays, such as James Kemmery. 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. Reggie Kray was locked up in Maidstone Prison for 8 years (Category B). In 1997, he was transferred to the Category C Wayland Prison in Norfolk.
Reggie married Frances Shea (1944–1967) in 1965 at St James The Great Church, Bethnal Green. It 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."
In 1997, Reggie married Roberta Jones whom he met while still in prison. She was helping to publicise a film being made about Ronnie.
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 Kray‘s 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.
During his incarceration, Reggie became a born-again Christian. He was freed from Wayland on 26 August 2000 after serving more than the recommended 30 years that he was sentenced to in March 1969. He was sixty-six and 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 in the Townhouse Hotel, Thorpe St Andrew in Norwich, having left the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on 22 September 2000. Freddie Foreman and Frankie Fraser visited him at the hotel and he featured in a documentary titled The Final Word. His funeral was held at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green on the 11th October 2000. Ten days later, he was buried beside his brother Ronnie in Chingford Mount Cemetery.
In popular culture
- The Krays (1990), film biopic starring Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp as Ronnie and Martin Kemp as Reggie.
- The Rise of the Krays (2015) a low budget film starring Simon Cotton as Ronnie and Kevin Leslie as Reggie
- Legend (2015), a biopic starring Tom Hardy as both Ronnie and Reggie.
- The Fall of the Krays (2016) a low budget sequel to the earlier 2015 film, again starring Simon Cotton as Ronnie and Kevin Leslie as Reggie.
- Gaines, J.H. (2012). The Krays Not Guilty Your Honour. Biography
- Kray, Reggie; Kray, Ronnie (1988). Our Story. autobiography
- Kray, Reggie (1990). Born Fighter. autobiography
- Kray, Reggie (1992) Villains We Have Known
- Kray, Reggie (2000). A Way of Life: Over Thirty Years of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Autobiography of Reggie Kray
- Ray Davies repeats the line "...and don't forget the Kray twins" in his song "London", later adding, "very dangerous people those Kray twins".
- 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 was reported that Morrissey sent a wreath to Reggie Kray's funeral in 2000.
- Renegade Soundwave released their first single, "Kray Twins", in 1986. They also recorded a video for the song. Lyrics reference the Blind Beggar pub.
- The Libertines song "Up the Bracket" references the Kray twins as "two shadow men on the Vallance Road."
- The television drama series Whitechapel includes a three episode mini-series which was first aired 11 October 2010. In this series, twin brothers were portrayed as the alleged biological sons of Ronnie Kray.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus parodied the brothers as the ridiculously violent gangsters Doug and Dinsdale Piranha and chronicled their arrest at the hands of Police Superintendent/amateur actor Harry "Snapper" Organs.
- The Kray twins were one of the subjects of the fourth episode of the UK version of the TV show Drunk History.
- The Kray twins were one of the subjects of the third episode of the 2014 documentary Gangsters: Faces of the Underworld.
- Wikipedia's article about the Krays
- TruTV's articles about the Krays
- The British Metropolitan Police's online history article about the Krays
- Murderpedia's article about the Krays
- 101 Crimes of the Century (2009)
- Bennett, John. Krayology (2015). Mango Books.
|People associated with The Krays|
|Kray Family||Ronnie • Reggie • Charlie • Violet • Charles|
|Shea Family||Frances • Frank • Elsie • Frank Sr.|
|Lee Family||Cannonball Lee • Grandma Lee • Aunt Rose • Aunt May • Uncle John|
|The Firm||Albert Donoghue • Ian Barrie • Leslie Payne • Big Pat • Ronnie Bender • Ronnie Hart • Teddy Smith • Jack Dickson • The Bear • Chris Lambrianou • Tony Lambrianou • Connie Whitehead|
|The Richardsons||Charlie Richardson • Eddie Richardson • George Cornell • Mad Frankie Fraser • Roy Hall • Jimmy Moody • Barry Harris • Albert Longman • Tommy Clark|
|Gangsters & Criminals||Freddie Foreman • Jack Spot • Billy Hill • Bert Rossi • Albert Dimes • Eric Mason • Johnny Squibb • Ginger Marks • Leslie Holt|
|Civilians||The Barmaid • Blonde Carol • Maureen Flanagan • Nipper Read • Lord Boothby • John Pearson • David Bailey|
|Victims||George Cornell • Frank Mitchell • Jack the Hat|