The Richardson Gang were an English crime gang based in South London, England. They began operating in the 1950s, but gained a reputation as some of London's most sadistic gangsters, in the 1960s. They were also known as the “Torture Gang”. Their alleged specialities included pulling teeth using pliers, cutting off toes using bolt cutters and nailing victims to the floor using 6-inch nails.
Charles "Charlie" William Richardson (18 January 1934 – 19 September 2012) was born in Brentford, Middlesex to Eileen Elizabeth Mary (née Allen) and Charles Frederick Richardson, who had married the previous year in Camberwell, South London. The family soon moved back to Camberwell, where younger brother, Edward "Eddie" Richardson, was born in January 1936, followed by youngest sibling, Alan (born 1940). Charlie and Eddie turned to a life of crime after their father deserted the family.
An important member of the Richardson gang was George Cornell. Cornell was heavily involved in drug dealing, in purple hearts and dexys, uppers, downers and cannabis. He was also involved in pornography and may have been associated with Jimmy Humphreys, who was responsible for the exposure of corrupt police officials in 1971, including Commander Ken Drury of the Flying Squad. Humphreys was under investigation by another squad, and Drury refused to acknowledge his association with Humphreys even after Drury reportedly received a "Wish you were here" holiday postcard from him.
Cornell was originally a member of an East End gang called "The Watney Streeters" and later became involved with the Krays. However, he changed sides around 1964 and allied himself with the Richardsons. Cornell was unstable, unpredictable and nearly caused an all-out war between the two gangs before his death when Ronnie Kray shot and killed him in 1966.
Frankie Fraser teamed up with the Richardson gang in the mid-1960s. His criminal career began at age 13 with theft. During the Second World War his crimes escalated, including shopbreaking and desertion. He was a known associate of gangster Billy Hill throughout the 1950s.
After joining the Richardsons, he served as their enforcer. Reportedly, Fraser's favourite brand of punishment was extracting teeth with pliers.
Over his long criminal career, Fraser spent 40–42 years in prison. He died in 2014 of natural causes.
Notable characters in the gang included the hitman Jimmy Moody, Roy Hall (who operated the electric generator), Bartholomew (Barry) Harris (who was the getaway driver for the gang), Albert Longman, Alan Rigby, Frank Bailey and Tommy Clark.
Charlie invested in scrap metal, whilst Eddie operated fruit machines. These businesses were fronts for underworld activities which included fraud, racketeering, usury, theft and stolen goods. Eddie would on occasion "suggest" that a pub landlord should buy one of his slot devices; failure to do so meant running the risk of being beaten and the pub vandalised.
Charlie was at one point arrested for receiving stolen goods, but was acquitted through lack of evidence and, allegedly, with the help of a large "donation" to the Police Fund.
They preferred investing in fraud schemes known as long firms. A company would be set up by an acquaintance, who was well paid for the prison term he might eventually serve. The company would conduct normal business for some months, building lines of credit and winning the trust of suppliers. Eventually it would place a very large order on credit, the goods would then be sold for cash, the money pocketed, and the company and those involved in running it would suddenly disappear.
Mock trials and torture
The Richardson gang frequently used mock trials to punish transgressors and intimidate others. The accused were hauled in front of Charlie, Fraser and others in a kangaroo court. After the mock trial the punishments were meted out, ranging anything from beatings to more severe forms of torture such as whippings, cigarette-burning, teeth being pulled out with pliers (for which Fraser was especially notorious), nailing to the floor, having toes removed with bolt cutters and giving electric shocks until unconscious. The electric shocks were inflicted by an old Army field telephone, which included a hand-crank-powered generator, much like the notorious Tucker Telephone; the terminals were attached to the victims' nipples and genitalia and were then placed in a bath of cold water to enhance the electrical charge. After trial and punishment, victims who were too badly injured would be sent to a doctor who had been struck off the Medical Register. This process of trial and torture was known as "taking a shirt from Charlie", because of Charlie Richardson's habit of giving each victim a clean shirt in which to return home since the victim's original shirt was usually covered in blood.
On one occasion, a collector of "pensions" (protection money from publicans and others), was punished after being twice warned by the Richardsons for pocketing the money and spending it at Catford dog track. He was nailed to the floor of a warehouse near Tower Bridge for nearly two days, during which time gang members (for example, driver Harry Beard) frequently urinated on him.
In later years, however, Frankie Fraser claimed that the charges of torture were exaggerated. He cried "Rubbish!" to stories of electrified genitals. In reference to the allegations of foot-nailing and tooth removals, he said that it was "all false... Today, we wouldn't have even been charged, let alone gone to prison."
Feud with the Krays
Tensions came to a head in 1965–66. During a Christmas party at the Astor Club in December 1965, Cornell called Ronnie Kray a "fat poof" and a fight ensued.
On 7 or 8 March 1966, Richard Hart, one of the Krays's associates, was shot dead, intentionally or otherwise, during a brawl at Mr Smith's Club in Rushey Green, Catford. Mr Smith's was owned by Manchester-based businessmen Dougie Flood (a club/hotel/leisure business owner and alleged member of the Quality Street Gang) and Bill Benny. They had asked Eddie Richardson and Frankie Fraser to "protect" the club in exchange for gaming machines being placed there.
On the night in question, both groups were "drinking and chatting quite happily". That was according to a guest who was with his girlfriend in the bar but was suddenly ushered out of the club soon after midnight. At around 1.00am, Eddie Richardson told Peter Hennessey and the others to "drink up" and leave. In response, Hennessey called Eddie Richardson a "half-baked fucking ponce" and shouted that he could "take you any fucking time you like". Richardson and Hennessey began exchanging blows. Other fistfights had started when gun shots rang out.
Several years after the incident, an unnamed gangster who was in the club at the time said that it was "like Dodge City". It was said that Hart was shot on or near the bottom of the stairs as he was making his getaway. For many years Fraser was held responsible for murdering Hart. Fraser always vehemently denied it. It is alleged that Billy Gardner confronted Fraser, asking, "You tooled up, Frank?", and shot Fraser through the thigh with a .38 pistol. Eddie Richardson, Frankie Fraser and others ended up in Lewisham Hospital. They denied all knowledge of the incident ("Shooting? What shooting?") when questioned by police. Hennessey sustained a bayonet wound to his scalp. Hennessey, Gardner and others sought help from Freddie Foreman after the altercation. Although most of the gang were arrested some were put up by Foreman until things had blown over. Fraser had been officially declared insane at least twice previously. It has been suggested though that Fraser acquired his "Mad Frankie" sobriquet from this incident. Apparently a Hayward associate named Henry Botton saw Fraser kicking Hart in the head and shouted, "You're fucking mad, Frank. You're fucking bonkers."
Fallout continued the next day. A member of the Richardson gang, Jimmy Andrews, was injured in the affray and went for treatment at the Whitechapel Hospital the day after. This was where George Cornell, an old friend of Andrews, went to visit him. That evening at about 8:30 Cornell was inside The Blind Beggar public house. Ronnie Kray arrived with two associates and shot Cornell through the head at close range. One of several local businessmen, in the saloon bar at the time, said he heard Cornell's last words: "Well, look what the dog's brought in."
The Krays and the Richardsons lived parallel lives in many respects. Both were working-class brothers with little formal education. Both had dodgy fathers who ended up deserting them. As boys, they were both good at boxing and got into scrapes. As men, they beat other men with untrammelled savagery and got into scams. All spent several decades in prison.
Unlike their infamous counterparts, Charlie and Eddie Richardson were not national names in their heyday. They didn’t go in for having their photograph taken for the papers with the likes of Bob (later Lord) Boothby. But in their own world, the Richardsons were everything the Krays were, and more. If anything, they were even more dangerous to cross. Their wider notoriety came via the so-called “Torture Trial” of 1967, of which the grisly details still resonate: “Mad” Frankie Fraser pulling out a victim’s teeth with pliers; the black box with the wind-up handle that directed electricity through the genitals; and, perhaps most chillingly, Charlie sending out for fish and chips when he got peckish in the middle of a torture session.
Before their downfall, the Richardsons and their henchmen were the English “goodfellas”. They dined in fine restaurants, dressed elegantly and exuded a spurious glamour that made stars such as Stanley Baker and Diana Dors want to befriend them. All of it, however, was bought with violence.
The downfall of the Richardsons came about because of the highly public nature of the Mr Smith's Club incident and because of mounting testimony to police.
In July 1965, one of the gang's victims reported the crime to the police. The victim told the tale of being severely beaten and bruised after being found guilty of disloyalty by a kangaroo court; he then had to mop up his own blood using his own underpants.
A member of the Richardson gang, Johnny Bradbury, turned Queen's Evidence. Bradbury was convicted of murdering a business associate named Waldeck in South Africa, allegedly on orders from Charlie Richardson. When sentenced to hang, Bradbury offered to inform on the Richardson gang in exchange for a pardon and immunity. This was arranged by a special squad of the CID, led by Inspector Gerald MacArthur.
Other victims of the Richardsons were granted immunity from prosecution in other crimes if they turned Queen's Evidence. With the assistance of the Home Office, which arranged different identities and passports, several witnesses fled the country immediately after the trial. A few went to South Africa and others to Spain or Majorca; many did not return to the UK for a considerable time.
Arrests and trial
Charlie Richardson was arrested for torture on 30 July 1966, the World Cup Final day. Eddie Richardson was sent to prison for five years for affray. There were also stories of Charlie being connected to the South African Bureau of State Security and an attempt to tap then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson's telephone. In July 1966 police arrested the remaining members of the Richardson gang following a series of raids in South London.
The so-called "Torture Trial" convened at the Old Bailey at the beginning of April 1967. The Richardsons were found guilty of fraud, extortion, assault and grievous bodily harm. Charlie Richardson was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Eddie had ten years added to his existing sentence. Charlie Richardson was not freed until July 1984.
In 1980, after many attempts to obtain release, Charlie Richardson escaped from an open prison. He went "on the trot" for almost a year, even dressing as Santa Claus and giving out presents to children to publicise his requests for release. He openly drank with friends and old associates (including police officers) at several pubs on the Old Kent Road before fleeing to Paris, where he gave an interview to a journalist. He was arrested with five other men in Earl's Court on suspicion of possession of drugs, having just been seen coming out of a sex shop which was known to be controlled by the Richardson family. His identity only came to light once arrested and in police custody in Kensington when his probation officer contacted the police, having been informed by other gang members that he had been arrested. In 1983, Charlie was able to go on day release to help the handicapped and was allowed to spend a weekend with his family. Charlie was finally released in July 1984.
In 1990, Eddie Richardson was sentenced to 35 years after being convicted of involvement in a £70 million cocaine and cannabis heist. He was originally sentenced to 35 years, but was released after 12, bringing his total number of years served to 23.
The brothers fell out badly after Eddie accused Charlie of fraudulent business deals during Eddie's time in prison.
Charlie Richardson died of peritonitis in September 2012. A heavy smoker, he had suffered from emphysema for several years.