Ronald "Ronnie" Kray (24 October 1933 – 17 March 1995) was an English gangster and the twin to his brother Reggie 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.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. Ronnie was found guilty of the murder of George Cornell in 1965 and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. He was recertified insane and died in Hetherwood Hospital, Ascot, from a heart attack in March 1995, aged sixty-one.
Ronnie was born on October 24 1933, at 68 Stean Street, Hoxton, ten minutes after Reggie. He has a six-year-old brother, Charlie, and also later had a sister, Violet (born 1929) who died an infant before Ronnie was born. Born to Charles Kray and Violet Kray, both twins suffered from diphtheria as newborn, but Reggie recovered well. Ronnie, however, was close to death and doctors in the hospital kept him away from his mother and Reggie. Violet soon walked into the hospital and told the doctors she would take him home, and that the only thing he needed was for her to nurse him and his twin brother near him. After she took him back to Stean Street in Hoxton, she laid him next to Reggie and Ronnie's health dramatically improved and within three or four days, he was back to normal. It is claimed that this illness as a newborn would later have a profound effect of Ronnie, who in his adolescent developed mental health issues.
Education and boxing
Ronnie and his twin Reggie 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, their father Charles Kray aged 32 at the time, was conscripted into the army, but he refused to go and went into hiding to avoid being drafted. In 1942, Ronnie suffered a head injury while fighting with his brother, again considered a possible cause for his later mental health problems. Ronnie has spoken about his fond memories of growing up in 1940s Bethnal Green, in which he and other local children would play in the rubble created by the Blitz. Inspired by their maternal grandfather, Jimmy "Cannonball" Lee, both took up amateur boxing and even made it to the finals of the London Schools Boxing Championship and the influence of 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, the training at the Repton Boys Club. Ronnie, whose temperament was more spontaneous and unpredictable than that of his twin, was a real ‘slugger’, winning by sheer brute force and relentless onslaught.During their teenage years, Ronnie and his brother Reggie 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.
National serviceIn 1952, Ronnie along with his twin were drafted for National Service National service in the Royal Fusiliers, a British Army infantry regiment, but frequently deserted, only to be recaptured every time. While on the lam, the twins assaulted a police officer who tried to apprehend them and were arrested. After a brief stay in the Tower of London (they were among the last to serve prison time there), they were sent to a military prison where they frequently assaulted guards and caused mayhem. 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. Finally, the twins were dishonourably discharged, and their criminal records ended their boxing careers, and so subsequently began a life of full-time crime.
In 1956 the local Watney Streeters - most of them dockers, descendants of an earlier Watney Street gang who defended their patch against rivals from Bethnal Green - were involved in brawls with the Kray twins and their associates. 'Their' pub was The Britannia, at 44 Morris Street (run by Watney's Brewery, by coincidence), a few yards behind Watney Street: here Ronnie Kray bayonet-stabbed Terry Martin, a member of the gang, while the rest escaped through the back door.
In retaliation they beat up Billy Jones, who ran a West End club, which in turn led to one of their leaders, Charlie, being 'worked over' by Bobby Ramsey at The Artichoke in Stepney Way. Ronnie Kray was convicted and served three years in jail for GBH and firearms possession after this incident.
Ronnie and his twin bought a run-down snooker club in Mile End, The Regal, 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 Krays' 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 Krays' rivals, the Richardsons, based in South London.
In Bethnal Green, a district of the East End of London, the twins bought an old billiards club with a loan from their older brother, formed a gang with Cockney and Scottish criminals they called "The Firm" and began running several protection rackets, escalating to armed robbery, hijacking, and arson in the late 1950s. They also extorted money from other, lesser local criminals. In 1956, Ronnie shot a car dealer in the leg during a botched deal and was identified by the victim as the attacker, but got away from prosecution by pretending to be Reggie, who had a solid alibi.
On November 5 that year, Ronnie was sent to Wandsworth Prison for an unrelated assault in The Britannia public-house, leaving Reggie in charge of the Firm. He opened a night-club called The Double R in the East End in 1957. The brothers also brought in their older brother to handle their nightclub accounts. Ronnie was known to be very intimidating, although he would usually be sedated on strong doses of Stemetil, his almost Jekyll & Hyde mood swings would instil fear into members of The Firm. His violence was ruthless and somewhat sadistic, whereas Reggie's was reasoned and level-headed. Ronnie's behaviour would flip within minutes and would become erratic and hellbent on getting what he wanted.
Lord Boothby and Tom Driberg
- Main article: The Boothby Affair
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 that the Boothby connection would again be publicised, and the Labour Party, in power from October 1964, but with a wafer-thin majority in the House of Commons and the prospect of another General Election needing to be called in the very near future, did not want Driberg's connections to Ronnie Kray (and his sexual predilections) to get into the public realm. Much later, Channel 4 established the truth of the allegations and released a documentary on the subject called The Gangster and the Pervert Peer (2009).
By the 1960s, Ronnie had established himself in the London scene with his glamorous nightclubs and had celebrities such as members of parliament, famous actors, and singers as customers. In the 1960s, the twins 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.
Murder of George Cornell
- Main article: The Murder of George Cornell
Even though there were several witnesses, none dared to testify against the Krays and Ronnie was released. Legend has it that the fight started when either Dixon or Cornell (sources vary) called Ronnie a "fat poof", but according to Frankie Fraser, an associate of the Krays, it didn't happen. Ronnie himself also denied the story, claiming that he shot Cornell because he was making threats against him and Reggie.
- Main article: The Murder of Frank Mitchell
On December 12, 1966, Ronnie helped one of their associates, Frank "The Mad Axeman" Mitchell, out of Dartmoor prison and let him stay in a friend's apartment. Being very large and suffering from a mental disorder, Mitchell proved very difficult to handle. 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 with the help of Albert Donoghue and Teddy Smith, held him at a friend's flat in Barking Road, East Ham. 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
The Krays' criminal activities remained hidden behind their celebrity status and "legitimate" businesses. Reggie was allegedly encouraged by Ronnie 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, resulting in Reggie stabbing McVitie.
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.
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 led by Scotland Yard Inspector Leonard 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.
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 to stand for Mitchell. Ronnie and Reggie were found guilty of killing Cornell and McVitie and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. Charlie Kray was sentenced to 10 years as an accessory to the murders.
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
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 his brother 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.
In 1985, officials at Broadmoor Hospital discovered a business card of Ron's, which prompted an investigation. It revealed that the twins – incarcerated at separate institutions – were operating a "lucrative bodyguard and 'protection' business for Hollywood stars", together with their older brother Charlie Kray and an accomplice not in prison. Documents released under Freedom of Information laws revealed that officials were concerned about this operation, called Krayleigh Enterprises, but believed that there was no legal basis to shut it down. Among their clients was Frank Sinatra, who for instance used the service by hiring 18 bodyguards on his visit to the 1985 Wimbledon Championships.
Ronnie Kray was a Category A prisoner, denied almost all liberties and not allowed to mix with other prisoners. He was eventually certified insane in 1979 and lived the remainder of his life in Broadmoor Hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire.
In his book My Story and a comment to writer Robin McGibbon on The Kray Tapes, Ronnie states: "I'm bisexual, not gay. Bisexual." He also planned on marrying a woman named Monica in the 1960s who 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. Ronnie 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 Ronnie 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 Ronnie to his mother Violet also makes reference 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." Ronnie subsequently married twice, marrying Elaine Mildener in 1985 at Broadmoor chapel before the couple divorced in 1989, following which he married Kate Howard, whom he divorced in 1994.
In an interview with author John Pearson, Ronnie indicated he identified with the 19th-century soldier Gordon of Khartoum: "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 (film). 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.
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 Conservative peer Bob Boothby as well as an ongoing Daily Mirror investigation into Lord Boothby's dealings with the Kray brothers.
Found legally insane due to his paranoid schizophrenia, Ronnie was placed in the Broadmoor Hospital. He remained there until he died of a heart attack on 17 March 1995 at the age of 61 at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, Berkshire and his funeral was held at St Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green on 29th March 1995. Onlookers crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the famed gangster's coffin as it was taken through the East End. He was buried beside his parents in Chingford Mount Cemetery, where Reggie and Charlie would later be buried.
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.
In addition to films explicitly about the twins, James Fox met Ronnie whilst the twins were held at HM Prison Brixton as part of his research for his role in the 1970 film Performance, and Richard Burton visited Ronnie at Broadmoor as part of his preparation for his role as a violent gay gangster in the 1971 film Villain.
- Kray, Ronnie (1994). My Story. Autobiography
- Kray, Ronnie (1994). Our Story. Autobiography with Fred Dinnege
- Ronnie Kray is mentioned in the Blur song "Charmless Man", in the line: "I think he'd like to have been Ronnie 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)
|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|