|“||They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world... and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable.||”|
— Ronnie Kray in his autobiography.
Ronald "Ronnie" Kray and Reginald "Reggie" Kray were an English brother team of gangsters, arsonists, robbers, and killers active throughout the 1960s.
The Kray twins were born on October 24, 1933 in Hoxton, East England, Reggie ten minutes before Ronnie. They had a six-year-old brother, Charlie Jr., and also later had a sister, Viola, who died an infant. Their parents were Charles "Charlie" Kray and Violet Lee-Kray. When World War 2 began, Charles Sr. went into hiding to avoid being drafted. When the twins were three, both came down with diphtheria. Reggie recovered quickly, but Ronnie almost died. In 1942, Ronnie also suffered a head injury while fighting with his brother. 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. They 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.
In 1952, the Krays were drafted for 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. Finally, the twins were dishonorably discharged, ending their boxing careers, and began a life of crime.
Crimes, Incarcerations, and Deaths
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, 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.
By the 1960s, the twins had established themselves in the London scene with their glamorous nightclubs and had celebrities such as members of parliament, famous actors and singers as customers. In 1964, the brothers made headlines when The Daily Mirror claimed to have photographic evidence that a well-known member of the House of Lords was having a sexual relationship with a gangster; six days later, a German magazine named the two people as Conservative Party member Lord Boothby and Ronnie Kray. When Boothby threatened to sue, The Daily Mirror fired its editor, backed down with the story, apologized and settled out of court for £40,000. The first murder of which the Kray twins were eventually convicted was that of George Cornell, a member of the Richardson Gang; a rival local gang based in South London, on March 9, 1966. He and fellow member George Dixon were at the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel when the Krays and a bunch of associates walked in. When Dixon quipped "Look who's here", Ronnie walked up to Cornell and shot him in front of several customers. Reggie held Dixon at gunpoint, but let him live. Cornell was taken to a hospital but died around 3:30 a.m.
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. On December 12, 1966, the Krays 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. In 1967, he disappeared and his body was never found. Though the twins were never found guilty of killing him, an associate of theirs, Freddie Foreman, claimed in his autobiography that Mitchell was shot to death and his body disposed of at sea.
In 1967, Ronnie Kray had a fallen out with former business partner and con man; Leslie Payne over the Krays' violence. Suspecting that Payne was going to speak with the police about the Krays' activities, Ronnie paid a known associate and member of the Firm; Jack "The Hat" McVitie £500 to kill Payne with another £500 promised when the murder was done, the hit failed when McVitie and associate; Billy Exley went to Payne's home and was greeted by Payne's wife and was told that Payne wasn't home.
On the night of the 29 October 1967, McVitie was invited to a party at a house on Evering Road in Stoke Newington, London with several members of the London Underworld and their families. Ronnie and Reggie Kray had secretly arrived and had spend a hour clearing the guests away. Reggie Kray had then produced a pistol and pointed at McVitie but the pistol jammed, Reggie then pulled out a knife and stabbed McVitie repeatedly in the chest and face. Both Ron and Reg Kane left the scene, leaving Firm members; Tony and Chris Lambrianou and Ronnie Bender who dumped McVitie's body outside the St. Mary's Church in Rotherhithe.
On May 8, 1968, the Krays and several of their associates were arrested as a result of the efforts of Scotland Yard Inspector Leonard "Nipper" Read. Many of them, including the Kray twins, were convicted. 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. Found legally insane due to his paranoid schizophrenia, Ronnie was placed in the Broadmoor Hospital and remained there until his death from a heart attack in 1995.
Reggie was in prison until August 26, 2000, when he was released on compassionate grounds, having bladder cancer. He only spent a little over a month as a free man before dying in his sleep on October 1, at the age of 66. Ten years after finishing his sentence, Charlie Kray brokered the movie rights to his family's story and made a substantial amount of money, which he used to return to organized crime. In 1997, he was jailed again for trying to import £69 million worth of cocaine. On April 4, 2000, a few months before Reggie's death, he passed away from natural causes, at the age of 61.
The Krays killed George Cornell by shooting him. When they killed Jack "The Hat" McVitie, they tried to shoot him, but stabbed him to death instead when the gun jammed.
- Unspecified dates:
- Unnamed corporal (assaulted by Ronnie; punched in the chin)
- Unnamed police officer (assaulted only)
- Unnamed prison guard (assaulted with a China vase)
- March 9, 1966: George Cornell (shot three times in the head)
- December 24, 1966: Frank "Mad Axeman" Mitchell (possibly; disappeared; allegedly shot)
- October 29, 1967: Jack "The Hat" McVitie (attempted to shoot, then stabbed in the face, chest, and stomach instead)
- The Krays were subject of the 2015 British biopic Legend, where they were both portrayed by Tom Hardy through trick photography.
- The Krays were also subject of the 1990 drama film; The Krays starring brothers and members of the British New Wave band, Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp and Martin Kemp as the Kray Twins.
- The Krays were featured in series two of the British BBC crime drama, Whitechapel.
- The Krays were featured as minor characters in the 2019 British crime drama, Once Upon a Time in London, about the careers and the rivalry of gangsters, Jack "Spots" Comer and Billy Hill (who was a mentor to the Kray Twins).